Meeting children’s needs during divorce is one of the most difficult challenges a parent can encounter. Awash in emotional turmoil and financial anxieties, divorcing parents are hardly at their best precisely when their children need them the most. It can’t get much worse than that, right?
Unfortunately, it can. A number of popular misconceptions about what’s best for kids during divorce make things worse by misleading parents-and many divorce professionals-into making poor decisions. In this series of posts, we’ll examine eight myths about divorce parenting, and what it means for kids when parents hand over their decision-making authority to the courts.
MYTH #1: Parents should “insulate” their children from their divorce.
In reality, it’s impossible to “insulate” from divorce any but the youngest of children. And even if it were possible, children don’t want or need it. What kids do need is to be given appropriate information about the divorce in an appropriate way and at the appropriate time.
There’s a huge difference between trying to insulate children altogether from a divorce, and shielding them from their parents’ conflict. As a divorcing parent, you should absolutely shield your children from your disputes with your spouse. Children who experience high conflict between their parents, even in intact families, are at heightened risk for emotional disorders.
But freezing kids out by refusing to discuss the divorce only adds to their anxiety. Kids are much better off when their parents share key pieces of information, without judgments or unnecessary detail. Agreeing with your co-parent on how, when and what to tell your children is a critical first step toward healthy post divorce co-parenting.
You should not discuss finances with a child, or the specific reasons for the divorce. A general statement, appropriate to the child’s stage of development, is sufficient. For example, you might tell your child that you’ve been unable to solve some adult problems and have agreed that it would be best for the family if you didn’t stay married.
Your children will need additional facts as well, such as whether they will be moving, and if so, where, when, with whom, and whether the move might necessitate a change of schools. If you and your spouse are still living in the family home, your children need to know when and how that will change.
You may not yet have the answers to those questions. If so, tell your children that. Assure them that you and your co-parent are working the answers out, and that you will let them know as soon as you do. While you’re at it, assure your children as well that the divorce is in no way their fault, and that both of their parents will continue to care for them, and will always love them. And make sure to repeat those messages from time to time during and even after the divorce.
If you are having difficulty agreeing with your co-parent on child-related issues, consider seeking advice from an experienced mental health professional or divorce coach on how to best communicate with, and help your children get through this awful juncture in their lives.
Children don’t need “insulation” from divorce. They need mindful co-parenting that supports and protects them.