Working Towards a Successful Divorce Process with Your Children
Published on: October 12, 2020
Announcing separation to your children is difficult and Family Therapist and Counselor Piyachat Finney explains how to team up to support your children after a decision to divorce from your partner.
By Piyachat Finney
Whether it be falling out of love, transforming into another stage of life or wrong matching to begin with, you now have ONE thing in common: your love for the little one(s). Separation and divorce does not need to be a painful process. Yes, your children may feel sad but they can get through it well if both parents work cooperatively.
Once it has been decided that you do want to part from your partner, your role shifts from being lovers to being co-parents. Teaming up for the best interests of your children should be your number one goal. Most couples dread the announcement of their decision to the children. If possible it is best to be there together in this moment so that you can answer genuinely, jointly and explain from both parents’ perspectives. They may cry because they feel sad and scared of change. It is alright to cry with them. The important message is to be a role model and to be open in this vulnerable moment together. They may be angry and ask “why?” During this challenging transitional stage, be attentive to your children’s needs and feelings. Allow a safe space for the children to express themselves even if it includes negative thoughts or feelings. Externalizing feelings by talking about them is much healthier than suppressing feelings and pretending that things are going on as normal. Types of comments that are dismissive and avoiding like, “You don’t need to feel sad, Mummy is still here” can actually be more harmful than helpful. Do acknowledge and validate their anger and sadness, for example, “I can see that you are sad and perhaps angry. We can feel these feelings together.”
Clear and concise communication is another keyword. While children are feeling sad and disappointed, speak genuinely and explain that even though things will change like one parent will move out, “Daddy loves you and Mummy loves you” that part will not change.” During this period, you can introduce an art process to help them express, reflect and to explore their feelings. They may have a lot of questions to ask, do try to reply honestly. When you want to protect them by denying their reality, it will confuse them even more and once the separation process begins, they may feel betrayed, “You said this will not happen.”
Discuss with your partner, a timeline of how things will change and when. Get a big piece of art paper, write/draw the timeline. Along the timeline, each family member can draw how they anticipate what will happen and how they are feeling using color to identify different feelings. Put this timeline where everyone can add more feelings as the process moves along. Alternatively, parents can use a big calendar to mark down and everyone can fill it in with little drawings of how they are dealing with the process. It is important to make the timeline tangible and accessible to all. When children learn about the possible divorce, emotionally, they feel that they are no longer able to control the situation and may feel overwhelmed and jostled between households and schedules. At least the implementation of the timeline/calendar can help them predict what and when things will happen. Not knowing at all can invoke more anxiety and it can also increase their unimaginable fears.
While planning a move to a different location, plan to have a bedroom available for your children. Allow them to participate in choosing their bedsheets and decorating their new room. Again, this process is to help them regain that sense of internal control and the feeling that they do belong in the new apartment/house. Assist children in creating new routines. Try to keep things consistent during the transition. They need to feel grounded and not too vulnerable or disorganized. In the beginning stage of switching between the two places (in a case of shared custody), allow the other parent to visit and help settle the children into the new apartment or the house. Resentment, anger and hatred between the couple can be worked out in therapy sessions.
At school, when there is a parent/teacher conference, both parents can make efforts to attend so children can see that you are a team and that both of you are there for them. Some parents may want to keep a separation/divorce private. Eventually, the school may find out anyway through your children’s behaviors. It may be a choice to keep the school in the loop so they can be extra pairs of eyes to observe reactions of the children. They may be quiet, withdrawn and subdued or they can appear irritable and aggressive in classes or on the playground. By informing the school, they can help support and prevent children letting out their anger by acting out.
At some point along the line, one or both parents may have a new partner. You may slowly introduce him/her to your children. Emphasize that new partner(s) will not be there to replace the other parent in the role of father/mother. Observe the children’s reactions. Do not push to introduce the new partner too soon. Wait until the child is ready.
From my clinical experience with families, the majority of children shared that they were much happier because they could have quality time with both parents in their two houses. Some even said they wished their parents could have split much sooner to avoid so many fights and negative experiences. Co-parenting can help reduce stress levels in children. This united sense of effort can be achieved by teaming up.
About the Author
Piyachat Ruengvisesh Finney is a US licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and a US licensed Mental Health Counselor. She also utilizes art psychotherapy and other creative processes to access an individual’s internal resources to bring about changes. Investigations on intergenerational patterns can assist clients to gain further insights. Contact: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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