Below is an extract from my new book, ‘Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice from a Top Divorce Lawyer’, which is to be available shortly to download from Amazon, free of charge. I’m aiming for just before the end of the month. This section looks at how to prepare children for divorce and I have included some useful dos and don’ts.
Telling your children that the family is breaking up will be one of the hardest things that you ever do. Whatever you do, make it very clear that you both love the children, that it is not their fault the relationship is over and that they are not “leaving” either parent.
Here are some other dos and don’ts:
Don’t involve the children in any rows. They may already feel that it is somehow their fault; being dragged into the middle of it all will only intensify their feelings of guilt.
Do give constant reassurance to your children that they are not to blame, that they are still loved by both parents and, whatever may happen in the future, that this will always be the case.
Don’t put any pressure upon your children to take sides. To subject them to this would be bordering on abuse. A child with torn loyalties to parents can grow up scarred and confused.
Do present a united front with the other parent in all discussions and decisions involving the children – even when this means that you must do this through gritted teeth. It is extremely distressing and disturbing for a child to discover that his parents are arguing over his future.
Don’t put pressure on younger children to make decisions about their own care. By all means take their feelings into account, but don’t expect them to choose.
Do encourage your children to express their opinions and feelings. Some children feel unable to do so, through fear of alienating one or other parent. But seething resentment and bottled-up unhappiness will keep them from moving on.
Don’t give into the temptation to pour your soul out to your children. Children are desperate for their parents’ good opinion and will often tell you what you want to hear, which will only compound their feelings of discomfort and guilt.
Do remember that divorce is just as frightening and bewildering for the children as it is for you. So keep them up-to-date with events and be honest with them, short of burdening them with the ugly details.
Don’t tell your children about the other parent’s misdemeanours. Just tell them that Mummy and Daddy are no longer happy living together. Children are usually tempted to try to push their parents back together. This rarely works out, and it’s easier for them to come to terms with their family breakdown if they have some idea of the reason behind it.
Do set boundaries. Successful boundaries, along with respect for the other parties, will benefit everyone. Don’t interfere when your former partner has care of the children and don’t permit your former partner to encroach on your space. Redefine your relationship to ensure that each of you respects the other’s choices and personal parenting styles – even if they differ.