The Divorce Experience for Children

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The Divorce Experience for Children

One of the most difficult challenges confronting a parent is how to help children understand and cope with the divorce and resume their normal course of growth. This is a difficult task because, at the same time, parental resources are being stretched to the limit. It is also difficult because parents often lack information and appropriate role models for how to parent the children during and after the divorce.

Most separating parents are filled with worries about their children. Because of these concerns, par­ents want to know how to help their children “survive the breakup” and emerge as reasonably healthy, well‑adjusted adults.

Telling the Children

Parents often find telling the children about the separation or divorce a particularly difficult experi­ence. Some parents find their own emotions coming to the surface as they think about sharing the decision to divorce with their children. Other parents feel unsure about what is appropriate to tell their children and how to tell them. Children need information about the changes which will be occurring in their lives. It is best if parents are together when they tell the children.

What Children Need to Hear:

  • You will continue to take care of and provide for them.
  • While your feelings for each other as husband and wife have changed, the special rela­tionship between parent and child goes on forever.
  • Dad and Mom won’t be married anymore, but the child’s relationship with parents, siblings, grandparents and other relatives will continue.
  • The children did not cause the divorce.
  • Children often wish parents would get back together, but that is not going to happen.
  • The divorce or separation was not an easy decision. After a lot of effort to make the marriage work, you decided you could no longer live together.
  • When you married, you loved each other and hoped things would work out.
  • You are sorry for the hurt this decision is causing your child.

Tell the children as specifically as possible how they will live (where, with whom, when they will see each parent), plans for school, extra‑curricular activities, continued friendships and how and where each parent will live.

What Children Don’t Need to Hear:

  • Blame cast upon the other parent for the divorce. Don’t give children the message that one parent is the “good guy” and one the ‘bad guy’, even if you feel that way.
  • Details of what went wrong in the marital relationship (i.e. affairs, money problems, personality problems, etc.). Children don’t need this information and are burdened by it.
  • Negative statements about the other parent. While you may have negative feelings about the other person, expressing them to the children puts children in emotional con­flict.

Talking with the children is a process over time, not a one‑time event. There will be many opportunities. Children may respond immediately with questions, or the questions may come later. Children may not express their feelings at the moment, but emotional and behavioral changes, as well as questions, are to be expected over time. These emotional responses will vary, e.g. crying, silently withdrawing, temper tantrums. Talking with the children about family changes opens up communication and lets them know that their parents are willing to talk and to be available to them. Letting the children know that both parents want to hear their feelings and questions will reassure them that sharing their feelings will not cause distress to a parent.

What Parents Can Do To Help

  • Give nurturance and affection.
  • Provide verbal reassurance.
  • Both Mom and Dad saying “I love you.”
  • Maintain consistency of people and routines.
  • Reassure the child that he/she will be cared for.
  • Provide clear and concrete explanations of changes.
  • Provide opportunity for child to express feelings and fears through words and play.
  • Avoid angry expressions and emotional outbursts in front of child.
  • Don’t fight in front of child.

Seven Stages of Divorce

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Seven stages of divorce

The seven stages of divorce are outlined in this posting. Parents that have divorced are challenged with a series of psychological tasks which, if mastered, can lead to a posi­tive outcome for both parents and children.

Task 1: Ending the Marriage

Bring the marriage to an end in a civilized manner. When done well, this has the potential to ease future years for adults and children. Done poorly, it can set the stage for years of contin­ued anger, deprivation and suffering for everyone involved.

Task 2: Mourning the Loss

It is important to acknowledge and express sadness over the loss of one’s spouse, as well as the hopes and dreams of the marriage. Not mourning a marriage can result in preoccupation with the former spouse’s life and use of the children as voyeurs and spies, forcing continued conflict through prolonged litigation.

Task 3: Reclaiming Oneself

This involves detaching from the marriage and establishing a new sense of self identity. This is a move from the “we” to the “I.” Remembering and activating strengths that existed in one prior to the marriage helps in this task.

Task 4: Resolving or Containing Passions

Divorce brings on feelings that can engulf people for years. Emotional flashbacks or bitter feelings can be stirred up by contact with one’s former spouse or by life changes such as remarriage. These passions have the potential for destroying the individual who feels wronged. It is important to try to resolve these passions so that the trauma of divorce does not dominate one’s life. Children can be greatly harmed when used as weapons for revenge when a parent’s passions are unresolved.

Task 5: Venturing Forth Again

The essence of this task is finding the courage to try new relationships and new roles, which will allow one to regain confidence.  Taking chances and trying again allows people to move out of the “lingering shadow of divorce”.  When people divorce, they may be afraid of failure in the future.  Venturing forth helps people maintain confidence in their own judgement.

Task 6: Rebuilding

This task is built upon the earlier tasks. The goal is to create either a new, sustained relation­ship that will be better or a satisfying life outside marriage. Both of these should include the children.

Task 7: Helping the Children

Parents need to support their children not only through the divorce crisis, but through the post‑divorce years for as long as the children need them. Because children have experienced pain, loss and conflict through the divorce process, they particularly need the commitment of both parents to support and nurture them through their lives.

The seven stages of divorce have an impact on the individual and requires the person to make changes. Divorce also requires family relationships to change. Individuals need to complete psychological tasks to move forward in their lives, just as family relationships need to be reorganized.

Focusing on the children’s needs during this time is critical to their success after divorce. Being able to separate the parent’s difficulties from those which the children face helps to move the focus from spousal issues to parental issues. Being able to deal with the seven stages of divorce allows parents to move forward with a parental relationship devoted to meeting their children’s needs.



Difference Between a Lawyer and Mediator

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When people have disputes that are not being resolved, within a family or elsewhere, they may need help to reach a satisfactory solution. If they are willing to deal directly with one another they might find that mediation is an effective and less costly alternative to negotiating through lawyers or litigating in court.

For example, when a couple separates and plans to divorce, they need to create a parenting plan, work out child and perhaps spousal support and decide how to divide their assets and debts. Using a mediator to work out those details can be a quicker, less expensive way to proceed before getting independent legal advice.

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