In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have worked
with divorcing parents and their children for over two decades.
The divorce of parents is a major life event, and it is something a
child might still be coping with, sometimes well into adulthood.
If they are smart or not too embattled, there are a number of
considerations that wise parents might entertain before “doing the
deed.” And, if done right, the potential damage from divorce at
least can be mitigated. In some cases, some kids can and do thrive
after their parents’ divorce. But, setting it up before the divorce
actually occurs is a crucial first step. (In other articles, this
author has discurrsed what parents might do for their kids “after”
the divorce. See below for the link.) This article is in three
parts. The first part deals with the general considerations.
Part II will describe the nine specific points that really make a
difference in your child’s experience, before and during the
separation/divorce, and that set up successfully negotiating the
very murky and unsettling waters that follow. Part III describes
the child’s point of view, which are the biggest and best reasons to
try to do this right…
One of the best things parents can do for the children is to
actually plan the divorce before speaking to the kids. The following
is a list of ideas to consider before actually “pulling the plug.”
First, be absolutely certain that the divorce or separation will
actually happen before you tell the kids. Don’t say the parents are
going to separate, then not separate. Do not say the parents are
going to separate, and then separate and later re-unite. This will
make the kids crazy. Once, said, the parents really should follow
through with what is communicated.
Try to confer with the other parent and for the sake of your
children, put aside hurt and angry feelings. If you must have them,
and in all likelihood you will, share them with each other as adults
when the kids are elsewhere. Make decisions together about the
details that need to be told to the child(ren). As a parent, if you
do not have this conversation beforehand, you may end up having it in
front of, or worse, through your kids. Agree ahead of time that the
children will not be conduits through which adult information travels.
Sometimes counselors can help if the parents can’t communicate.
Then, think about how much advance warning your child(ren) will
need once you know what to tell them. There is no magic formula, but
as parents, you know more about your child’s emotional maturity than
anyone else–or you should. If you have an older child, talk to him
or her at least a month before you and your soon-to-be-ex begin living
apart. Toddlers don’t need as much time so parents can wait until a week
or two before introducing any big changes. Little children have little
sense of time. Regardless of their age, children need to know they are
safe and well taken care of, so if parents presage upcoming changes,
even if they can’t yet understand the precise meaning of your words,
children will take the news better if they know their basic needs are
and will be met.
Continued in Part II. For the complete ebook on this subject and
a related ebook (“Child Visitation and the Formation of Self-Esteem”),
follow the links below.

-Dr. Griggs

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