No kids, of any age, want to hear you tell them you and their mother are divorcing. You know, though, you owe them a clear explanation. A few constants will hold true regardless of age: they will either blame themselves or attempt to make things right; they may try to deny or bargain. Common issues children encounter during divorce are disruptions to their lives, fear of the unknown, and changes to their relationships.
For children ages 0 to around five, children crave stability and predictability. Their simple needs are repetitive and obvious:
- Food and drink
Reinforce with your young children that their routine may be slightly changed, but both Mommy and Daddy still love them, will stick by them, and will provide for them.
For kids six to 11, the disruption will seem to be targeted at them. Children of this age are very egocentric, and will feel you and your ex-wife are doing this to them. They may try to bargain back some power, or take out their stress on you or classmates. They see beyond the family unit and can compare themselves to other kids. They will amplify every disruption. Remind them that you both still have rules, still care about them, and expect them to talk to you. At this age, you may do more listening than talking anyway.
For pre-teens and teens, any natural rebellion against routine will be inflated. They will enjoy the disruption. This does not mean they want the disruption in their lives to go on forever. Get them to vent their anger in healthy ways, and reassure them that you and your ex-wife will establish new patterns that respect their growth and independence.
Children react differently to fear than adults. They cry; they scream; they tremble. Adults need a huge tragedy to react as viscerally as children do to much milder issues. Appreciate that as you talk to them about their fears regarding your divorce:
- Ages 0 to five, their fears will be immediate and fantastic; they will have no clear boundary between reality and imagination, so answer their questions in short, declarative sentences
- Ages six to 11, their fears may revolve around misinterpretations, such as thinking a single thing they did made you divorce; reassure them that they are not responsible for the decision you and your wife made
- Ages 12 and up, they will fear changes in their social status, their friends’ opinions, and their loss of independence; reassure them that you will create not one, but two homes (yours and your ex-wife’s) as safe havens for them and their friends
Families are evolution’s answer to offspring born too soon to fend for themselves. Relationships in a family are forged over precious, fast-moving years of childhood. The divorce throws all that out of kilter. Anything the family did together to keep the family intact often has to be replaced by expensive outsiders:
- Transportation via Uber, taxis or buses
- Home helpers and daycare
- House cleaners
- Meal delivery
- Dry cleaning and laundry services
No amount of outside help can replace the relationship you have with your kids. Talk to them, in age-appropriate ways, about how that relationship will endure, despite distance and difficulties.
For ages 0 to five, constant reassurance of your love for them, and overt acts of love, will give a foundation of comfort. Bedtime stories may have to be by Skype or phone, but they must continue. If you are out of the house and the kids are too young to read, send them drawings three times a week. As Psychology Today puts it, let every action in support of your kids speak louder than your words to them.
From five to 11, relationships create a safe “home base” for children to explore and interact with others. A divorce upends that safe harbor, so you have to talk to them about how your relationship will remain intact, and how you will strive to make common sense adjustments:
- You will continue to attend their sports events and mingle with other kids’ parents
- You will take them to friends’ parties and to Virginia Beach for summer vacation
- You will still share inside jokes and secret silly rituals
- You will come to every play, concert, art exhibition and academic banquet you are invited to, without exception or excuses
For older kids testing independence, you still support those emotional stretches beyond the nuclear family. You respect them, expect them to do the right thing, and support their decisions with financial support and practical help.
The dreaded moment itself is actually very fleeting; you tell any age group of children that Mom and Dad will move apart but continue to share in the joy of raising them. It is the follow-through that will reveal your strength. It is the simple act of being there. It is listening as much as it is talking.
At The Firm For Men we have seen many clients wrestle with divorce issues related to their children. We can help; please call us at 757-383-9184 or contact us online. With offices in Virginia Beach and Newport News, we’re only just a short drive from anywhere in Hampton Roads, and we stand ready to serve you!