Divorce is hard. But if you have children, this is the time to put aside any self-pity and revenge and make sure they’re at the top of your priority list. This sometimes takes an inordinate amount of will power, self control and the rare trait of being able to unselfishly put your needs behind those of some one else. But look at the beneficiaries of these herculean tasks. Your children.
Words hurt as surely as physical violence. If it didn’t, you and your ex-spouse wouldn’t be so quick to verbally lash out trying to make the other feel the way you do. What you do on your own time is up to you. But hearing hurtful words between to adults that you love when you’re small has several affects, none of them in the child’s favor. If you must have an unkind discussion with another adult about the divorce, do it out of earshot of your children. What you say may be true, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to affect the children’s perception of another parent. Always be fair to the other parent when in front of the children. You wouldn’t want the other parent badmouthing you.
Douglas Besharov states in Recognizing Child Abuse: A Guide for the Concerned, “Emotional abuse is an assault on the child’s psyche, just as physical abuse is an assault on the child’s body.” This is a scary time for them and depending on their age comes with a host of potential problems. When you talk to your kids, one of the worst things you can possibly impart to them is that the divorce is in any way their fault. This will play into many of the issues a child has regarding the divorce and re-enforce the insecurities they’re feeling. Children are never to blame for these situations. Even if a parent does not want the child and that is part of the cause of divorce, it is important to let the child know that the feelings of the other parent are based on nothing the child did and there is nothing they could have done different.
Kids are going to want to talk about what is happening to their family, don’t exploit this critical need for your own benefit, that would be abusive. So many parents feel that they can “win” something by trying to harm their ex-spouses reputation with the kids. It’s important to remember that if your ex is truly the horrible person you believe them to be, in time, their true colors will show through in their relationship with the kids. Be there to pick up the pieces, not create more. If your assessment is based on fact and not emotion, your child will need you to help them through these hard times, not make them harder. You don’t need to tell them the other parent doesn’t love them, doesn’t want them, doesn’t care about them. If it is true, time will not hide this from the kids.
Many people are opposed to counseling, but at this point, especially in a particularly angry divorce, or if the children and family are isolated, this may be the time. Kids can benefit greatly from having a person who is not involved in the emotional roller coaster of the divorce. Some one who can give them a perspective on what is happening. This may also take some of the strain off parents, giving them a conduit to learn how to talk to their kids about these issues that are very stressful for everyone.
However you choose to handle your divorce, before dealing with your children, always take a deep breath and think before you act. Is this what you want to see your ex-spouse do if you were in their position? Is what you are about to say necessary? Will it cause more unrest for the kids or will it put them at ease? You know the right answers to these questions.