Divorce is a topic that frequently pops up when I hold group discussions with parents. Parents love their children more than anything else in the world and want to do the very best for them. However, divorce is a situation that challenges all aspects of our “best.”
Preparing this article allowed me to revisit my gatherings of articles, research notes, and the wise musings collected by fellow parent educators from parents in their parent groups.
The outcomes for children depend so very much on how divorce is handled: how parents behave in front of their child, how parents take into account their child’s feelings and needs, and how parents create a positive future plan. If you’re going through a divorce, try to see the world through your child’s eyes. If you have young children, imagine what it would be like to be in a confusing place where you don’t understand what is happening and have limited ability to communicate your thoughts and feelings.
You are your child’s first and best teacher. In any difficult time, it’s important to remember these five things:
1. Children need to know they are safe. If children are moved to another home, make sure they each have a place (even if it’s just a drawer) of their own that is protected at all times.
2. Tell yourself the behavior is just for today. Like you, your child’s emotions will be all over the place if there’s a change in the home. But unlike you, your young child does not have experience to understand these confusing emotions and the conflicting feelings that arise. Understanding it’s just for today means their resulting behavior today is not representative of the rest of your lives! It is just for today.
3. Teach respect and support differing rules wherever they occur. Styles of living and rules of the house will be different at each new home, and children can deal with that, but being consistent within your home is of paramount importance. Discuss co-parenting techniques. Develop shared rules that support the values you both cherish.
4. Ask your child how he feels and if there’s anything he needs. This technique affirms that your child is very much a part of your thoughts, and what he thinks is valued. Having a voice during a major change is reassuring for your child.
5. Be honest. Children will ask questions as they try to understand what is happening to them. By encouraging questions, you can learn what your child is thinking and what fears are present. If you don’t know the answer, tell them. Suggest that you find the answer together. While divorce does create difficult times, focused adults centered on their child’s welfare can find a path that will resolve the issues of the divorce while preserving the humanity and self-respect of all involved.
Vicki Thrasher Cronin is the director of community and civic engagement at Ready 4 K. She is an award-winning parent educator who has worked in the field of early childhood care and education for nearly 30 years.