Divorce is complicated. Divorce and children? That’s when uncomplicating things really matters. A “normal” family dynamic looks different to all of us. But those relationships and routines—the warmth, safety, energy, and feeling of support a family provides—is something none of us wants to lose. The benefits of a close-knit family seem obvious when you look at your children and think about what is best for them and their future.
It often feels like the whole of society dedicates itself to family ideals, to the conventional, to sizing up our families and judging how they fit into the mold. But the conventional is not reality. Most families don’t fit into the mold at all, and yet they are wonderful in their uniqueness. Every family functions its own way. Whether you’re divorced or not, if your children know that their parents are there for them, then that is all it takes to make a family.
There are many ways divorce can affect a family, but thankfully, there are also many ways your family can continue to function after divorce. This is the time in your children’s lives when they need your support, patience, and understanding the most. Parents are not the only ones who go through a divorce, and the experience can be very confusing for children of all ages.
What children of divorce need
When it comes to children and divorce, know that your kids can come through the other side of divorce as stronger people. There are positive lessons to learn even in what seems to be an endless series of negative experiences. Divorce can teach your children a lot about life and help them become the capable young adults you want them to be.
Overcoming obstacles is a huge part of life, and divorce is full of life lessons for adults and children alike. The old saying “pull together in times of crisis” rings true. Your loved ones need to love and be loved even during stressful or uncertain moments in their lives (perhaps especially in these moments). A divorce may represent the first big upheaval and genuine challenge your children face—it’s important to help them get through it.
Tell your children that divorce is unfortunate but not unusual. That both you and your Ex love your children and that neither of you is going anywhere. No one is getting left behind. Tell your children that life is full of changes, and this is just one of them. It is no one’s “fault.” In fact, leave out the details altogether until your children are old enough to understand but do respect their right to know the truth—whatever you do, don’t outright lie. Lying is never a good example to set, and no one deserves to be kept in the dark when everything they are experiencing is confusing enough already.
Make sure that, when possible, you and your Ex are still present and involved in your children’s lives. Organizing regular time to spend with both parents and having similar rules for each household will help create stability for your children. Custody schedules can be a big help at this stage. While you and your children adjust to your new situation, it is better to minimize schedule changes, and if possible, avoid changing schools too. Consistency and routines are important. That doesn’t mean adopt a rigid parenting plan. You need to allow room for flexibility because no one is perfect. Just try to keep some form of routine until everyone can settle in.
Be prepared for changes
A big fear for many parents after getting a divorce is that their children will start to act out and show signs of bad behavior. It’s common for children of divorce to experience mixed emotions, stress, or anger—to feel hurt—just like you. If you notice these warning signs, you need to do the best you can to address your child’s emotions as soon as you can so that they don’t develop into behavioral problems.
If your children tell you they are okay, don’t automatically take their word for it. Make sure to check on how your children are behaving in school and speak to them as often as you can without being overly nosy. Create a safe space where your children feel they can talk to you about things openly. Speaking to an impartial person can also help your children so you shouldn’t rule therapy out. However, you shouldn’t force your children to go to therapy either. Extended relatives can be really helpful in this regard, someone close to your children but not too close for them to share time with. Children love and need every member of their family so try not to cut any of these family figures out of their lives.
That being said, be prepared for a variety of reactions amongst your extended family. It’s natural for family members to try to take sides, but this is the last thing you want. Children pick up on hostility, and it’s not fair to put them in situations where they may feel forced to choose a side. Talk to your in-laws, grandparents, and everyone else you can think of. Express your concerns and try to keep your disagreements with or prejudices against your Ex private. Focus on the positives instead.
Tell your extended families how you see yourselves moving forward together in the future. No matter your feelings towards your Ex or his family, your children don’t deserve a damaged relationship with him as this can be hard to overcome.
Divorce and children—what really matters
The experts don’t always agree about how much divorce affects families. The main thing to focus on is your children’s wellbeing in the wake of all these big changes. The end of a marriage often affects children of divorce the most, and you need to reassure them while respecting their right to their emotions. It’s impossible to completely protect children from everything. Children of divorce are stronger than you can imagine. Most children will not go on to develop problems after divorce but, like you, may have painful memories.
You, your children, and your Ex will always be a family. Your children need to realize this. It’s your job to make sure that they do. Every family is different and deals with divorce in their own way, but a family is still a family—there’s no changing that. The structure of a family can change over time, but that won’t stop you from growing together like all people in relationships do. Divorce can be healthy and so can the family relationships that blossom after it.
SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future. “Divorce can be on your terms.” – SAS For Women
This article was authored by Krishan Smith: senior editor and content specialist at Custody X Change, a custody software solution. Custody X Change provides software for developing and managing custody agreements, parenting plans, and schedules.