The turmoil children go through when their parents are separating is unmeasurable. Not only are they facing the prospect of everything they’ve ever known being ripped apart, but they often question their own role in the break-up. Ever watched a movie or television program where a child thinks she must have done something wrong to cause her parents to separate? There’s a reason that storylines like these are often featured – it’s because it happens. Children do not deserve to feel responsible for their parents’ relationship breakdown, and parents owe their children the very best possible care throughout the bumpy road of a separation or divorce.
Here are 7 crucial rules to note and remember:
Rule 1: Do not, under any circumstances, argue and shout about your separation in front of your child. This is particularly important if you are fighting about the child. It’s so easy to let your frustration and anger lead you into yet another heated session of name-calling and blame-giving, but keep it out of earshot of your child. If she hears an angry debate that is about her then she might think the whole problem is with her. The last thing you want is your child to start thinking that she is the causes of her parents’ pain and anger. Take deep breaths and calm yourself down. Nothing you say at that moment is important enough to override the potential damage to your child if she hears you scream at one another about her.
Rule 2: Even without your child overhearing arguments between her parents that are about her, she may still blame herself for your separation and needs to be constantly reassured that it’s NOT her fault. Tell her that Mommy and Daddy have some trouble getting along. Tell her that NOTHING she has EVER done has caused this problem. Explain in kind and simple terms that no matter what happens both of you love her deeply and always will. Get the message through to her, and be sure to tell her again and again, as often as is needed. Do not assume that just because she hasn’t approached you to ask if it’s her fault that she isn’t blaming herself anyway. She is likely to be very confused about her role in your problems so do your absolute best to take away any guilt she may be feeling.
Rule 3: Do not use your child as a pawn, or a bargaining tool. For example, do not threaten to take your child away from your partner forever just to get what you want. Your child is there to be nurtured and raised in the best possible environment you can both provide. She is not a means to an end. If there is a genuine danger to your child from your partner then you should protect her at all costs with official intervention if necessary.
Rule 4: Do not use your child as a message carrier, a go-between, or try to poison her opinion of your partner. You may feel complete and utter hatred towards your partner but your child still loves her parent dearly. When it comes to bitter exchanges, “Tell your father this”, or, “Give your mother that”, is always a bad idea that will influence her opinions and actions. Encourage and plan positive meetings, pleasant phone calls, happy stay-overs, and fun days out, but messages of hatred delivered by an innocent child are not good for her.
Rule 5: Talk to your child. She is facing one of the most confusing and traumatic times of her young life, so talk her through it. Using her own terminology, explain what is happening and what is expected to happen next. Do not make wild promises to her that you will be forced to break, instead concentrate on spending as much time with her as you can and offering reassurance and explanation. You might think you are protecting your child, but shielding her from the reality of your situation is non-beneficial. She will be able to cope far better if she understands in her own terms what is going on.
Rule 6: Your child is not there for information gathering. No matter how tempting it may be to gain the edge in a messy divorce or separation, intrusive questions or spying techniques are to be avoided. The pressure on a child who is keeping secrets from a parent is immense, and similarly a mission to gain knowledge for a parent carries too much pressure. It’s simply not good for her to be deceitful in this way.
Rule 7: Remember to listen to your child. Many parents overlook the fact that their child wants to feel she has some control at a time where she has very little. Give her some control. If you are moving to a new area discuss the new living arrangements. Talk to her about her new school, get her to make simple decisions about simple things, like the decor in her new room, or deciding that a certain day of the week will be her day and what she wants to do. A few small positives will help her during a time when negatives are likely to be prominent.
Divorce, or separation is often unavoidable and the impact on any child or children involved will be huge. The potential for psychological and emotional damage to your child during this distressing time for her should be kept to a minimum. Seek professional help if you can, and use common sense always. Do not let your high-running emotions cloud your judgement or decision making. Your child is number one and she needs both parents to be thinking of her welfare before any other matter.