6 Things Your Child Needs to Hear You Say During the Divorce Process

No matter what people try to tell you, divorce is an adult centered process. The Child has little or nothing to say about the huge changes happening in their life. In a previous post, I mused about the impact of divorce on children. It is the duty of the parent to support the child and make the process, the changes as easy as possible. To conquer the challenges together.

I Love You!

I Love You!

1. ‘I Love You’

It seems like an open door. Of course you tell your child you love him/her, but this can be a time of extreme emotional turmoil for kids, especially young kids. They need the assurance of your love during this time. They need to hear it!

2.’It’s Not Your Fault’

Teenagers respond different to divorce then young children, but unless they are really young, at some point they are going to wonder if they are at fault for causing the divorce. Assure your children that they are not the cause of the divorce.

3. ‘Both Parents Will Stay Involved in Your Life’

Joint custody or sole custody for 1 parent should make absolutely NO difference, the other parent will always be the other parent and as such should contribute to, and be part of the child’s life. Sometimes children (and parents for that matter too) think that because there are 2 houses, 1 parent is less important than the other. They are not! Research has shown time and time again that it is not the amount of time a parent spends with the child, but the quality of the time. Assure the child the other parent is still important, regardless of living in a different house, regardless of how much time they spend with the child.

4. “It’s OK to Love the Other Parent”

Because there are 2 houses some children think they have to choose sides. Nothing is more damaging to the long-term emotional wellbeing of children then having to ‘split’. I recently read the book by Melissa Jesperson Moore “Shattered Silence“. She is the daughter of a serial killer and despite the horrific things her father did, she still loved him. I doubt your ex is a serial killer. Assure your child they can express love for the other parent.

5. “Talk to me about your Feelings”

Just like parents go through stages before accepting and moving on from the divorce, children have stages of grief to get to acceptance. It is the parents job to help them with this. If you are too absorbed with the emotions of the divorce, it can be helpful to get the assistance of a qualified therapist. Realize that kids may express anger with you and/or your ex. Make sure the child’s emotions are reality based and don’t cultivate emotions (negative towards your ex and positive towards you) that are unjustified.

6. “It will be OK”

Their lives are up-side-down, your life is up-side-down, and you’re supposed to tell them “It will be OK”? But it will, it will be ok after some time. You can empower your children! Take this opportunity that life gives you, to teach resilience. You can teach them to overcome adversity by modeling how the negative things in life can lead to personal growth and success. When they see you succeed, they are armed with resources to overcome what life throws at them. And it will be OK, it just may take some time.

In the tumultuous time that is called divorce, parents can be a source of strength and stability for the child. You can help your child, hopefully together with your ex. Even if your divorce is high-conflict, you individually can ease the pain of divorce for your child(ren). That is what being a parent is all about, help them grow.

The Impact of Divorce on Children

I love watching TED talks, they get the leading experts in a certain field to hold compelling, yet for us novices, interesting talks. In relative short time they talk about a subject and when done, they leave, at least me, with lots to think about and I often feel enlightened.

Dr Tamara Affifi is a professor in Communications at UCSB and is the presenter in the video below. Her recent research examines the impact that various factors like divorce, economic uncertainty and parents’ communication patterns (e.g., conflict, reoccurring stressful disclosures, social support) have on adolescents’ physiological stress responses (e.g., hormones).

In the video below, Dr Affifi touches upon the subject of how children feel about divorce. Some kids are much impacted, some less. The level of conflict is what makes the difference. I’ll admit, spit has a different taste to me now and watching the video made me ponder a few things.

Conflict, by definition, is a state of instability, disarray and uncertainty. It raises our ‘flight or fight’ responses; heart rhythm, blood pressure and alertness. Useful responses in emergency situations, when you need to get out of danger. It is a physical reaction that results in action, but to innocent children it is just stress, they can not change the situation, which has long-term psychological effects.

Children in high conflict marriages suffer the most. It is the continuous exposure to conflict that is damaging.

Conflict can take many different forms and shapes. From outright domestic violence, (sexual) child abuse, spouses continuously arguing, to psychological abuse. Psychological abuse is just as damaging, though so much more difficult to proof and quite frankly, so much harder to get away from. Psychological abuse is ever-present, there is a continuous conflict.

In psychological abuse there is continuous gaslighting. The victim is paralyzed because of the arbitrary and unpredictable inconsistencies. No matter what you do, it is wrong.

Psychological abusers need complete control over their victim and both male and female perpetrators exhibit a cluster of traits and high rates of personality disorders. Abusers can be very manipulative, often recruiting friends, law officers and court officials, even the victim’s family to their side, while shifting blame to the victim. Abusers are convincing. Why else would you have married him or her? But this makes the victim extra vulnerable, when the justice system sides with the convincing abuser, the victim gets victimized all over again.

Perpetrators need a high level of conflict and drama. By externalizing their inner chaos and projecting onto others, it diverts them from resolving their inner problems. Spouses and children suffer. Yes, children suffer. Not only because they see what happens to a parent, how the abuser treats the adult is how (s)he will treat the children, a double whammy.

Psychological abuse erodes the soul, it erases the identity. Isolated and alone, who can come to the victims aid? Who will believe them? Paralyzed, victims have a hard time leaving their abusers, I was no different. I fought long and hard to safe the marriage. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the fact that divorce was actually in the best interest of the children.