Divorce, as necessary as it may be, is difficult for both parties. When children are involved, however, they can struggle with the new reality even more than their parents do. The departure of a parent from the household represents a significant change to their everyday life, especially if that parent had been the primary caregiver. With that in mind, you and your partner both have a responsibility to help your child understand the situation and grow through it. Here are some suggestions for how to guide your child through a divorce.
Though you don’t need to allow for full transparency at all times, there will come a point where you will have to explain divorce to your child in plain terms. Explain that one parent will be leaving, and that while the living situation may change, both parents will still love their child with all their hearts. Clearly explain any joint custody agreement and make sure they understand they will still see both of their parents.
Not having both parents in the home anymore is an extremely significant change to a child’s routine. To compensate for this, work hard to establish routines that will introduce more normality into the child’s life. Try to maintain existing schedules or introduce new, regularly scheduled activities that will bring more structure into the child’s life, such as sports or other extracurricular activities. Try to get both parents involved in supporting your child’s activities.
Manage the Change of Surroundings
One of the most jarring changes for a child is not only the absence of a parent, but the change to their surroundings as one parent takes his or her personal belongings from the home. This can mean electronics, artwork, furniture, kitchenware, and other personal effects that come to define what “home” is for the child. As impossible as some of these items may be to replace, don’t let the emptiness they left behind come to define the household. Redecorate rooms or replace items, with your child’s help, to fill the empty space.
Even after the divorce takes place, check in with your child to make sure he or she is handling the developments well. Encourage them to share their feelings and concerns, but make sure they understand they are not at fault. As time goes on, their feelings may shift from guilt to blame to resentment. Allow your child to work through these feelings. Learning how to guide your child through a divorce is not a one-time crash course, but an ongoing journey—for more insights and support as the journey continues, don’t be afraid to reach out to others yourself.