Children, Parenting and Divorce
What should be your focus — in your new
life as a divorced or separated parent? How do tell your
children of your decision (or the decision of your spouse or
co-parent) to separate or divorce? What parenting behaviors
and strategies should be avoided, and which ones embraced, to
foster your children’s
Although it was not always the case,
divorce researchers and child experts now agree on much.
Although we offer many resources (to support and detail these
understandings) later in this section of our website, a
summary of current wisdom on these topics follows. Feel free
to browse our reviews of recommended
divorce and parenting-related books and
video tapes and DVD's, as well.
Parenting At the Time of Divorce
Focus on the Future & Goals in
Once parents have made the difficult
decision to separate their lives and/or divorce, it is
important for them (as difficult it may seem, initially) to
change their focus from a rehashing of the past to a
reshaping of their future. When children are involved,
couples must also separate their role as parents from
that as former spouses or partners. Their task is
clearly that of forging a new identity as a parenting couple
and, if necessary, a new pattern of relating with each other.
Finding a way to cooperate as two parents
is thus the pre-eminent goal for separated couples.
Surprisingly to some, even when parents did not share common
values or easily manage their personal relationship during the
marriage, this goal is an achievable one — if a few basic
principles and parenting strategies are adopted by both
Divorce and parenting mediation promotes these objectives (just
as divorce litigation often sabotages them). Working together in an
atmosphere promoting cooperation, as mediation does, can
assist you in defining new roles as co-parents. Good mediators
work to assist you in improving your communication skills as
you work together with each other in this process as well.
Talking With Your Children About Your Divorce
One of the first and most difficult
issues faced by a divorcing couple is: “How do we tell our children about our divorce?”
Although it is natural to be apprehensive or even dread this
task, it’s obviously a very important one. Managing this
task also presents a first opportunity to establish new roles
as cooperative parents, rather than as conflicted spouses or
Tell the Truth and Simply
Begin the dialogue with your children by
way of a simple and straightforward acknowledgment that you
are separating your lives (and divorcing, if you know that to
be the case). Take care to do this in a non-blaming way and
making clear that you (as the adults) are responsible for the
divorce and your children had no role in your decision. And,
delay. Experts agree that unnecessarily withholding disclosure
of the divorce from your children does them no favors.
Children simply cannot, of course, be shielded from the
reality, pain and loss of your separation and divorce.
Children differ in their perceptiveness.
It is “old news” to many children that a divorce is
forthcoming, while others are absolutely blind-sided by their
parents’ revelation. Regardless of their disposition,
children provided forthright, consistent and accurate
information by their parents tend to feel safer and thus more
easily express, explore and process, their reactions and
Agree on a Mutual Story, If Possible
Many children will ask only basic
questions; generally, avoid volunteering adult details not
truly inquired of by your children. More than
just basic information, however, may be sought by children who
are older or more mature.
In this case, most experts recommend that parents
discuss privately and agree on the outline of the “story”
of their divorce or separation that will be mutually shared
with older or more mature children. A shared story (describing
how parents find themselves separating their lives) carries
the message to children that their family, while changing,
remains stable and their lives secure. It signifies their
parents’ commitment to cooperation as well.
Moreover, children have a need to
perceive “one truth” and a mutual story satisfies this
need and protects them from having to evaluate and thus choose
between their parents’
differing views. Forcing children to assess or choose between
descriptions of the split-up is to force them to “choose
loyalties.” This loyalty bind, of course, is directly at
odds with children’s
innate desire for mutual parental love and approval, as well
as their need to see both parents as worthy and deserving of
Of course, if you have concerns about the
approach and content of these special and initial discussions
with your children, seeking out the assistance of a trained
mental health professional can make great sense.
Feel free to call us for recommendations in this
Other Suggestions For Talking With Children
Authorities also recommend the following,
in talking with your children about your divorce or
As detailed above, in your “shared
story,” provide only a basic statement of the reasons
for your separation, while sparing children the
Reassure children, as part of your
first dialog, that both parents love them, will always be
there for them and will always be involved in their lives.
Approaches & Tools to
Encourage Children's Conversations About Divorce
To ease your children's transition, consider also:
reading with your
books geared to their experience of divorce;
encouraging your children's
art expressive of their feelings regarding the changes in
your family; and
using other unique tools
designed to open up communication with your children during
the transitions of your divorce or separation.
Talk About It - Divorce™ conversation
cards. The front of each child-friendly illustrated card
poses a common question asked by children of divorce. The
back of each card has an answer by “Abby” or “Dusty”, and
then asks your child a follow-up question ... to begin their
conversation with you or other friends!
don't miss the upbeat and compassionate
Lemons 2 Lemonade children’s divorce video-DVD. Finally! Kids and some very
cool adults (okay, they are therapists, but not the stuffy
type!) provide a bit of relief and reassurance amidst all
the gloom and doom. Families, they remind everyone, are
truly forever, so let's make the best of it, yes? A
remarkable breath of fresh air for divorce youngsters.
Affordable and highly recommended! See our
divorce videos page for a free preview.
Parenting After Divorce
Consider our website's next section, to learn about strategies to embrace and behaviors to avoid — for more effective
parenting, after divorce or separation.