Divorce & Children
As hard as it is on the adults, children suffer even more in a divorce. Look at the situation from the kids’ perspective. They have no say in whether the parents are willing or able to keep the family together under the same roof. They have no control over the money. The children are the ones who are going to have to shuffle back and forth between two homes, or maybe even be moved to a different school, town or state. They are the ones who have to get used to Mom’s new boyfriend or Dad’s new girlfriend, and these new persons’ children, if they have any. It’s the children’s world that is being turned upside down even more than the parents. If your child starts acting up or withdrawing or becoming overly clingy, it’s no wonder.
How do I make the divorce as painless as possible for my child?
Don’t fight over your kids. Try to make as few changes as possible in your children’s routine. If at all possible, keep them in the same school and same activities and same church / synagogue / mosque. Encourage them to see their friends and extended family members. Keep telling them you love them, it’s not their fault, and you will do your very best to take care of them.
Don’t cut your children off from the other parent. Stick to a visitation or timesharing schedule. Be on time for the exchanges. Don’t start arguments with your ex during the exchanges. Don’t hold long discussions about the kids, the debts, the lawyers, etc. when your son or daughter is transitioning from your care to the other parent’s time.
Don’t put adult decisions on the child’s shoulders. How much a child understands about the break-up of the family depends on the child’s age and awareness, but never assume the child is protected merely because you think your little one can’t hear the arguments or see the tension in your face when you are talking to, or talking about, the other parent. Sitting down an 8 year old and asking “who do you want to live with – me or him/her?” is simply cruel. Asking the same question of a 12 or 14 year old is also not fair because it’s equivalent to requiring a child to make adult decisions. The older the child, the more input he should have in how to live his own life, but if a teenager were truly capable of living on his own and making adult decisions, then he would do it. You are both still the parents, so act like a mature, responsible one.
Don’t make the children the messenger. If child support is late, don’t tell you child to ask Daddy for the money. Don’t tell the child, “I wish I could buy you that new Xbox game, but your Mother didn’t pay me child support this month, so I can’t afford it.” Also, don’t have the child ask the other parent to change the visitation schedule. For example, if you have a family wedding you want to go to that’s not during your regularly scheduled time, don’t tell your daughter she can be the flower girl first and then have her ask her father if it’s okay to go to the wedding on a day he’s scheduled to have her. That’s setting up both your daughter and her father for disappointment and conflict.
Don’t put down your ex to the children. Very young children see themselves as extensions of their parents. When you attack or belittle the other parent, you’re essentially attacking or belittling your own child. Saying things like, “I didn’t break up our family. Your Daddy did that all by himself because he’s such a jerk and he’s the one who cheated on me” only makes your child want to defend Daddy. No child wants to believe his or her own parent is a jerk or a cheater, even if it is true. The child may think, “If Daddy is so bad, then I must be, too.” Divorce is one instance where, if you can’t say something positive, then say nothing at all.
Should I put my children in counseling?
Very young children – under age 5 or so – usually don’t need or benefit from individual counseling if it’s the parents’ behavior that is causing the stress. I am not a psychologist or therapist, so please consult one if you have concerns about your kids. However, in my years of being a divorce lawyer, I have heard many therapists say that the parents are the ones who need counseling, and if they get it and modify their behavior and interactions with the other parent, the child benefits even more than if only the child sees a psychologist.
Older children, preteens and teens sometimes derive great benefit from seeing a therapist – if they are open to the idea and participate in the therapy sessions meaningfully. If the child already feels powerless and views himself as a pawn in his parents’ fight, then mandating that the child see a therapist once a week just sets him up for failure. The child views it like being sent to detention at school. Also, how can you expect your child to do something – go into counseling – if you aren’t willing to do the same yourself? That’s a prime example of “do as I say and not as I do” and frequently backfires on the parents.