By Emsie Martin
Divorce does not ask who you are, what type of work you do, where you live or how long you’ve been married – it just happens! To tell a child his parents are divorcing is no easy task, even if you are a psychiatrist or counsellor by profession. Sometimes the children are still too young to understand, but often there are older children involved.
Parents going through a divorce must themselves work through a variety of emotions such as anger, disappointment or fear of an uncertain future. Most parents try to avoid the topic of divorce until there is no way of getting out of it. Children begin asking serious questions when things start to change and one parent, for example, moves out. Then it is best to talk to your child honestly about the situation.
Some of your children’s friends might possibly have divorced parents and they hear their stories about life as a divorced family. Most parents want to do what is best for their children, but sometimes they differ about how to convey the news to their children and this only exacerbates the situation.
Tips on how to convey the news to your children:
- Both parents should be present when conveying the news.
- Don’t argue in front of the children.
- Explain in an age-appropriate way that you have tried to resolve your differences, but that it isn’t working, which is why you are getting a divorce.
- Emphasise to your child that it’s not his fault and that nothing he does will reunite the two of you.
- Be patient with your child and answer questions honestly; it will take time to take in, process and accept the reality of the situation.
- Confirm the love both of you have for your child. Children need to know that even though you are separating from each other, you are not separating from them.
- Be polite towards each other and respect each other.
- Never say, ‘Mom or Dad is leaving because she/he doesn’t love us anymore’. This will cause heartbreak and confusion in your child’s life and will have a very negative impact on his life.
- Always remember that someone might be a poor marriage partner, but a very good parent.
- You might consider that destroying your relationship completely is a way to spite your husband/wife, but it only causes heartbreak in your child’s life. Your child needs both his parents.
- Do what is best for your child without allowing the hurt and bitterness to take over your conversations.
Children are worried about concrete things such as: Where are we going to live, how will I get to school and what about extramural activities, where will the cat or dog stay, how often will we visit Mom/Dad, what will happen during the holidays? Try answering these questions yourself before talking to the children.
Practical arrangements to be made
- With which parent will your child live.
- What will be taken along when they visit the other parent.
- Arrangements for school holidays.
- Birthdays and other special days.
- Visits to grandparents and other family.
- What about other activities and sports meetings.
- Both parents need to maintain discipline in the same way.
A child’s reaction to the news
Children react in different ways to their parents’ divorce. The process of working through the situation can cause them to experience different emotions at different times:
- Sadness – The disappointment and less time with a parent and uncertainties all contribute to this emotion.
- Anger – Anger can be directed at his parents, himself or life in general.
- Depression – Emotions such as sadness, despair and helplessness can lead to depression.
- Uncertainty and anxiety – The child will have questions about the future and will probably also not know how to handle the situation.
- Rejection – Some children feel rejected, especially in cases where the parents don’t make time to communicate with them and where they fight over the children.
- Separation anxiety (especially in younger children) – Separation anxiety is a child’s fear om being separated from his parents. As one parent is no longer living in the home, your child develops fear that the other parent will also leave him.
- Rebellious and problematic behaviour – For young children their behaviour is the only way in which they can get rid of their sadness, anger and frustration, for example by becoming bullies or throwing tantrums.
- Concentration problems and academic deterioration – As so many changes are taking place at home and your child is struggling with his own thoughts and emotions, he finds it difficult to concentrate on his schoolwork.
- Acceptance – When your child has worked through the process in his own time and a new routine had been established, he can begin to accept the divorce.
More tips for divorcing parents
- Your child is not the messenger to the other parent.
- Don’t belittle or be negative regarding the other parent in front of your child.
- Make quality time for your child.
- Give your child a measure of control and choices. It wasn’t his choice for you to get divorced. All the changes are beyond his control.
- Get professional help should your child’s behaviour and emotions become a cause for concern.
Solidarity understands that any career can sometimes become demanding and no-one is safeguarded from divorce, which is why Solidarity Occupational Guilds network for you. Visit the link https://gildes.solidarity.co.za/ for more information.