If you have children, the divorce will probably be as difficult for them as it is for you. Children will normally feel fear, confusion, guilt, depression, anger, and other emotions. Although you will be feeling these emotions too, you have a lifetime of experience to help you. The children only have two parents to whom they look up. Who now seem to be a source of distress rather than reassurance.
You need to take steps to ease the burden on your children. Part of this involves how you tell them about the divorce and what you say about your spouse. If possible, it is usually better if you tell the children about the divorce together. Do not dump your bad feelings about your spouse on your children. Simply tell them that the grown-ups have decided it is better to live apart. Tell the children that the divorce is not their fault and that they will still have both parents. Avoid talking badly about the other parent, if there is any possible way to do so. A child is made from both parents. If they are forced to look upon a parent as bad, they cannot help but feel badly about part of themselves. Also, the judges do not like it. Tell the children it is all right to love both parents. Never get mad and compare your child to the other parent. “You are just as bad as your no-good mother/father,” are not words a child needs to hear.
In the Memphis area, you can attend a seminar entitled “Children Cope with Divorce.” I recommend that you take the seminar so that you can put its helpful advice into practice as early as possible.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also want to alert your children’s counselors and teachers to the family change so that they can be on the lookout for behavior changes. Counseling can help many children as they adapt to life after their parents separate. I will be glad to recommend a counselor if you want one. There are also some good books out there to help your children cope with divorce. For younger children, The Dinosaurs Divorce by Laurence Krasny Brown and Marc Brown is helpful because they can relate to the pictures. For school-age children, The Boys and Girls Book About Divorce by Richard A. Gardner is a good choice. Your public library can also help you with reading material for your children. The American Bar Association publishes My Parents Are Getting Divorced, A Handbook for Kids. If you would like a copy of the booklet, ask me and I will give you one.
Try to counsel with your spouse about the children. Many parents stand together on issues involving the children even though they are separating in a divorce. Do not let the children play the parents off against each other. Try not to let the children talk badly about the other parent to you. Your divorce is not a reason to fail to give your children the discipline they need. Be ready to say “no” when appropriate. Try to preserve as much of your children’s normal schedule and activities as possible. This stability will help offset the instability of the divorce. Remember that married or divorced, you are not a perfect parent. Love your children and do not obsess over your mistakes.
Divorce proceedings are very emotional, and parties sometimes use children to seek revenge. If I believe you are using your children to get at your spouse, I will not represent you. Try to keep the children out of this; if they must be involved, prepare them properly without poisoning their minds about your spouse. Do not use a child as your counselor. The children are not equipped for this and it will devastate them. At best, they can only give you childish advice. Your friends, family members, minister or a professional can do this for you. This will be better for you and your children. I will be glad to recommend a counselor if you want one.
If you are in a relationship with a new person, do not introduce your children to this person until after the divorce and after they have adjusted to the separation. If the divorce is pending, then you may have made your children witnesses to your adultery.
Discuss support and property division with your spouse, not your children. Do not use the children as messengers or spies. Make a special effort to spend time with your children during this difficult time. Give them your full attention. Reassure them that both parents love them, even if you do not believe it. Give them extra love now—they need it. Although it is your divorce, the children’s needs come before yours.