Riley had tried everything to work it out with her husband, Dave. They had gone to couples counselling, and she had tried to be flexible with his needs. It seemed like no matter how hard she tried; he wasn’t happy. She felt anxious and trapped in her marriage. As much as she wanted to stay married for the kids, she thought that the constant conflict was harming them.
Regan had stepped outside of his marriage and was dating another woman. He felt terribly guilty about it. He told his wife the truth, which left her feeling hurt and betrayed. She wanted to go to couple’s counselling, but he had already decided that he wanted to leave and be with someone else. He felt torn between wanting to keep his family together and his desire to be with his new girlfriend. He felt a deep friendship towards his wife, but he felt smothered by her. The thought of staying in his marriage made him depressed.
Parents often want the best for their children, and most try to avoid psychological harm. When children have a secure home with nurturing and protective parents, they tend to be resilient. Children are harmed when they are caught in the middle of conflict, put in adult roles or situations or when they are neglected and abused.
Grief is a normal response, so children might be sad during a separation or a divorce. They might feel anxious because of the unpredictability. Here are some ways to separate or divorce while keeping your child’s best interest in mind.
1. Create predictability
Change can be difficult because of the fear of the unknown. Predictability allows your child to feel secure. For example, you will see mom or dad on these days, you will do these activities today, tomorrow we will…
2. Keep routines
If your child has an everyday routine, stick to that as much as possible. If there is a change in their routine, let them know well in advance.
3. Answer their questions
Children might ask a lot of hard questions to answer. They might also ask the same question over and over again. They are trying to make sense of what is happening. If you don’t have an answer, you can tell them that you will try to find out, or you will let them know as soon as you know. Then ask them how they feel about what you said.
4. They are loved
Let them know they are loved and wanted. Your children mustn’t feel rejected or abandoned by either parent.
5. Let them be children
Sometimes children worry if they think that one of their parents is sad or suffering. Children should be allowed to be children without worrying about adult matters such as affairs, finances or protecting their parents. Remind them that it is your job to protect them and not the other way around.
6. Picking Sides
Don’t make them pick sides, turning your child against the other person is a bad idea. It will psychologically stress and hurt your child.
7. Acknowledge their emotions
You might be experiencing big emotions yourself but try to make space for your child’s feelings. Ask them how they feel and listen without judging or dismissing those feelings.
8. It’s not their fault
Help them understand this is not their fault – Children might blame themselves; they might think if they were a better child, maybe this wouldn’t be happening. Explain to your child that it has nothing to do with them.
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