When parents get divorced, it is often a very hard blow to their children. They no longer have to listen to the constant fights, though, but their sense of security has been dealt a harsh blow. What can parents do to help their children through this time?
Spare the children the vicious fighting. Realistic or not, children often think they are somehow to blame for their parents’ fighting. They feel a deep sense of failure when the fighting continues or gets worse. Fight somewhere else, where the children cannot hear you. Don’t expect your children to choose sides or act as a messenger or go-between.
Don’t expect your children to be your caregiver. You are the adult here. Taking care of you is not your child’s responsibility and you should guard against treating them like adults here. It will stop them from expressing what they are really feeling.
Try and be as consistent as possible. Don’t suddenly change their normal routines. Keep bedtimes and mealtimes at the same time and don’t change your rules suddenly. This will only make them feel insecure and as if there is nothing predictable in their lives any more.
Your children need you to be healthy. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, go for help. Remember, strong people go for help. Rely on good old friends for support and social interaction. Eat and sleep properly. Your children need you now, more than ever.
Reassure your children that you'll take care of them. They may be lying awake at night worrying about whether they will have food, clothing or shelter. They need to be reassured that their basic needs will be take care of. Remember their sense of security has just been dealt a shattering blow.
Don’t disrupt your children’s social and schooling lives. Try and keep them in the same schools or daycare and encourage their existing friendships. Even if it means spending another ten minutes in the car on the way to school. Encourage them to carry on with their normal activities and routines.
Be affectionate. Your children need your hugs and kisses now, but don’t overdo it. They might suspect you of being insincere if you have never been very affectionate before.
Never say anything horrible about your ex. Children are not stupid and will pick up if you are trying to influence their affections. Children are also more likely to side with your ex if you constantly trash him. Remember that he is still their father and will always be, regardless of the fact that you are divorced. It will be much easier for all concerned if you do not spit venom at regular intervals.
Keep your promises to them. If you promise to fetch them at a certain time for the weekend, be there. It is better to not make any arrangements than it is to make some and then not pitch. Don’t promise them presents that you cannot afford.
Don’t expect them to simply accept a new partner. This is simply expecting too much. They have just been through a huge adjustment and you should respect that. While there might be no chance at all of a reconciliation, the last thing a 9-year-old can cope with three months after her parents have separated, is the arrival of someone else in her father’s place.
If the children are not living with you, it should be easy to avoid this situation for a while. Anyway, you are probably not ready to get seriously involved with anyone at this point.
(Susan Erasmus, former school counsellor, Health24)