What can children of divorced parents tell us about how to get through our divorces?
When you get divorced, if you are a parent, one of your first thoughts is how to protect your kids from the pain of divorce. The quick answer is that you can’t completely, but there are things you can remember to try and avoid unnecessary hurt. We asked adults whose parents divorced in our Divorce Club network to reveal some of the things they wanted to tell their parents when they were divorcing.
“I might actually be relieved because it’s better than when you were fighting.”
Although most children want their parents to be together, those that were in the middle of a war zone/ frosty atmosphere might actually be relieved when the intolerable tension in a house is lifted.
“Don’t tell me TOO much…”
Children are not your confidantes. If your spouse has acted dishonourably, remember they are still a parent to your child. Avoid telling them any gory details and use your friends and family to let off steam.
“But don’t be too secretive either.”
Your children need something to hang onto to explain why the divorce is happening. If you fought really badly, let your children know that mummy and daddy can’t get along. There are schools of thought that say you should tell children that mummy and daddy still love each other but don’t want to stay married any more but arguably that’s just confusing if it’s not true. Stick to an age appropriate version of the truth.
“I don’t want a new Mum/Dad”
Take a LONG time before introducing anyone new on the scene (at least a year, we advise two). Do not introduce them as your new mummy/daddy.
“I love both of you”
Children generally love both parents and feel part of them. Respect that and remember that when you badmouth your spouse, your child may feel that you do not like them either as they are intrinsically connected to them.
“You can’t buy my love but I’m happy for you to try!”
Kids are savvy about getting stuff out of parents, but long term it is the time you spend with your children, and the love you give them that will build your relationship, not material things.
“I wish you were together”
Don’t be surprised if your children feel this years and years after your divorce, even if they adore your new partner and are to be happy and stable in the new world order.
“I miss the mummy/ daddy” (the other parent)
Just because they do, it doesn’t mean they don’t love being with you. They just feel torn.
“I’m not your spy”
Don’t ask your children to be informants about your ex’s life. They know you’re doing it. If you can’t ask them direct or find out via friends, live with it.
“Please call me”
Make an effort to stay in touch outside your visiting days. Even if you have an unco-operative ex, try to work towards frequent staying in touch.
“Please don’t cry and then pretend nothing is wrong.”
Try not to, but if you can’t stop dissolving into tears around your kids, understand that they are going to notice. It is OK to say you are sad about some things and hug your kids. They can learn sympathy and give you a cuddle. If you say nothing is wrong, that sends out conflicting messages, and is patently not true!
“I don’t like all the bag packing and moving”
Recognise that moving around every other week/ weekend is exhausting for your kids. Be patient.
“Please don’t fight with mummy/daddy”
Try and be civil in front of the kids. They hated the fighting when you were together, and now you’re apart at least they can enjoy the peace that that brings.
“I am upset too and it might come out as bad behaviour/ anger”
You might make allowances for your kids at the time you divorce, but bear in mind that the effects can show months and months later. Be patient as emotions take time to process, remember anger is, more often than not, an expression of pain.
“Don’t keep me from seeing mummy/ daddy”
We see time and time again at Divorce Club instances of one parent trying to stop the other parent from seeing their kids. Unless the parent is a danger to the child, it is really cruel to do this and often has the opposite effect i.e. makes the child eventually spurn the parent who denied them access to their other parent.
Lucy Davis is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and a TV Producer. She divorced 7 years ago. She is a passionate advocate for exploring the potential for change and creativity that can result from the trauma of divorce.