Once a couple finally reaches a decision on divorce, their next dreaded feat is to talk to the children. Some worry their children will become angry. Others are concerned their child may suffer from depression or a sense of blame. Still others may wonder if, after years of hearing their parents argue, children might be at least a little relieved.
All or none may be the case, but it may not be as bad as you are thinking. You should prepare yourself, however, since children do often experience negative feelings during the divorce process. The following can help you understand how age may influence those feelings, and their needs, during and after the divorce.
Infants and Very Young Toddlers
Most parents know that consistency is fairly important for infants and young toddlers. Nap time, bed time, bath time rituals – they are all a part of daily life. Disrupt that ritual and you have a fussy tot on your hands. Divorce, and its effects, are about the same. Yet younger children, who do not have the same level of awareness as older children, typically respond less to the fluctuations that occur within the home (i.e. moving to another state, divorce, etc.) when the parenting remains consistent. As such, parents should try to adhere to the pre-divorce schedule as much as humanly possible. For example, if daddy can no longer read the bedtime story at night, mommy should read it instead.
By the time children reach about preschool age, mommy and daddy have usually become the center of their universe. Typically, they are also becoming more social at this age, and much of that social life revolves around the parents. As such, preschool age children are at a bit of a risk for regression once the divorce starts. They may latch onto one parent or the other in an intense way, and may refuse to sleep alone or start wetting the bed, thumb-sucking, or throw tantrums. This can be especially painful for parents, but it is important to give your child the love, reassurance, and attention they need while also resisting the urge to cave in because of guilt. If things get really tough, consider family counseling, parenting classes, or a divorced parent support group.
School-aged children (including preschoolers) may blame themselves for divorce. They may also attempt to “fix” the marriage, and they may be at risk for having fantasies about mom and dad getting back together. At this time, it is important to reassure your child that they are not the reason for the divorce, but it is also equally important that you preserve your child’s love for both you and your ex-spouse. Never talk badly about your ex in front of them, encourage parenting time, and never put your child in the middle. Talk to them about the divorce together, but do not give them more details than they need. Further, be mindful of family outings and interactions. You do not want to create a stressful situation for your child, but you also do not want to give the impression that there may be hope for you getting back together.
Teens and Preteens
Once children start heading into their preteen and teenage years, they become especially at risk for blaming one or both of their parents for the breakup. They might feel embarrassed. They may try to separate themselves from the drama by “adopting” another family. They may even feel as though you, as parents, have violated a basic trust and they may rebel and try to distance themselves from you and your ex-spouse. Strict boundaries, close monitoring, and reaching out for help are especially important at this stage. Also, it is important that you be as honest without giving too much detail, and that you take the time to really listen to their fears, feelings, and concerns. Again, if things get really tough, seek professional help.
Need Help Crafting a Parenting Plan? Contact Our Naperville Family Law Attorneys
Whether you are working together to create a parenting plan or each plan on submitting your own proposals, Sullivan, Taylor & Gumina, P.C. can help. We will explain your options, ensure your rights and your child’s best interests are protected, and guide you through the entire process. Contact our Naperville family law attorneys today to learn more. Call 630-665-7676 today.