Divorce is never a simple matter logistically or emotionally. And when there are children involved, often, the hardest part is to put your own emotional issues aside in order to do some very difficult parenting feats. Here are some ways to help your children get through this crisis as painlessly as possible:
It all starts with communication. Telling your children about your upcoming divorce may be one of the most challenging things that you'll ever do. Stick to what's relevant to them. Some children may react with anger, disbelief and/or sadness; while others will react with relief. This depends on how they experience the climate at home and both of their parents -- together and separately -- during this era of time. If possible, make it a point for you and your spouse together and calmly to talk to each child separately. This will enable you to speak to your kids at an age-appropriate level. In other words, your kindergartener and your preteen need things to be explained differently. The most important thing to communicate is that your child is in no way, shape or form responsible for the breakup or any of the turmoil associated with it. Just as you may experience some loneliness once the initial shock of your divorce has subsided, even if you are the one initiating the divorce, your child may experience guilt from an irrational belief that somehow, he or she is to blame. So, as difficult as it may be, please put your own needs aside and be as reassuring and nurturing as possible.
Keep the kids out of it. Children can easily be swept up into their parents' conflict during divorce, especially with things like custody battles. I can think of nothing more destructive to do to a child as to use them like weapons against your spouse. Children, who become as pawns in battles between their parents, often hold deep resentment toward both of you; and this can result in permanent consequences that are likely affect their own relationships later on. Try your best to come to a civil agreement about how to effectively co-parent and split time with them as well as any other issues regarding your children.
Keep things stable. Resolve to keep life as normal as possible and with a reliable schedule of visitation with the non-custodial parent. It's not the quantity of time you spend with the child, but the quality and consistency. It's important for your child always to know when they will next see the parent they don't live with and how to get in touch with them in between visits. Both parents need be available, even when they aren't physically present.
It's a tall order, but focus on making your divorce as painless for the kids as possible. Each child will react in his or her way. For some, it will be much less traumatic, while for others -- who experience your divorce as their entire world coming apart -- some counseling may be necessary to get them through the crisis. But there is no better time to be mindful of loving them unconditionally and making sure they know that you are always available to discuss whatever is on their mind, regardless of your relationship with your (soon to be ex) spouse. More tips and strategies can be found in my book, Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go.
Follow Michael S. Broder, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrMichaelBroder