Parents contemplating divorce often worry about their children. They may have heard stories from both ends of the spectrum: Either children never recover, or children bounce right back. As with most extremes, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. How do children feel during divorce? There is no way to predict their feelings, and each day is different. The only constant is that parents need to present a united front.
A child’s emotions may ping-pong dramatically during a week, and even several times during a day. Divorcing parents may see a wide range of emotions until they wonder if their children will finally regain an even keel. They will, but not for some time. Divorce is unsettling for everyone. Adults need to parent up and do the right thing for their children. Mom and dad need to put the boxing gloves down and remain calm at home.
Consider a network of professional support
When you see dark storm clouds of anger, fear, sullenness, apathy or any other sign of depression in one or more children that lingers more than a day or two, immediately seek family counseling. This is one time where parents need to act decisively, quickly and in a unified manner to head off severe problems down the road. Use family counseling as a vehicle for the children.
Parents should each find legal counsel early on. A good family law professional knows the stress families undertake when divorce is on the table. A caring attorney can suggest reputable professionals such as marriage or family counselors, if needed, to help smooth the divorce process.
Take refuge in family rules
If a family has never used rules, it will be hard to start, but setting up a routine and firmly adhering to it helps provide the structure everyone needs when emotional waves wash parents and children alike onto foreign shores. A strong framework provides the security children need to get back to a safe place. Parents must set the tone. Together, they can draw up a set of simple but firm daily rules for the family. They should consist of three items: dinner time, bedtime and a daily chore. Setting up the plan is best done when the parents are alone.
Draw up the framework
First, select three age-appropriate chores for each child. Allow the child to choose one of them for the week. That will be his or her chore each day. Parents may need to help smaller children complete a task. If older children object, step right in and help that child as well. Children need to see that their parents will not abandon them, no matter how unusual or childish their request or actions may appear. Do not enforce any rules with punishment or anger. Invite the child to pitch in. If he or she refuses, step in and help. Let them choose a new chore each week.
Parents who put children first during a divorce will be less likely to live with regrets and self-recrimination. They will also set the stage for amicable joint parenting after divorce, and they will greatly ease their children’s fears and anxieties.