It’s very important (now and throughout his childhood) for your child to have regular, frequent communication and visits with the parent not living at home.
A child loves both parents and will have an easier time adjusting if he spends time with the one not living with him often. Parents must always reject the impulse to belittle each other or try to get their child to take sides. Although this can be very difficult if the divorce was bitter, parents must keep their child’s needs and feelings in mind. If a child is put in the middle of an emotional tug-of-war, he’ll feel pressured, guilty, and disloyal.
As you help your child, offer him outlets for his feelings and try to smooth the way as much as possible. Talk to his teacher, and ask for her support. Read about how divorce impacts children. Learn what divorce is like through the eyes of a child. You can try reading your child a book about children dealing with divorce, but young children aren’t easily comforted by others’ experiences or feelings; they’re still too egocentric. You can write a story, using your child’s words, about his feelings. Even when you’re emotionally drained, stretch yourself, and offer comfort when he cries or needs extra hugs and attention.
Since you’ll be busy and carrying a bigger workload without your spouse, you might be tempted to put some of the burden on your older child. The period during and immediately after a divorce is not the time to give him additional responsibilities. He might especially resent doing jobs his now-absent parent did.
Whatever you do to try and ease your child’s way, understand that you can’t fully keep him from suffering because of your divorce. Take his emotional responses seriously, and consider contacting a counselor or divorce coach for support and guidance. It is often true that children who grow up in divorced families are more vulnerable and have a greater risk of a variety of problems involving school performance, self-esteem, and getting along with others.
Parents don’t want the breakup of their marriage to harm their child. Before divorce, many parents seek advice about minimizing their child’s suffering. During and after the divorce, most parents’ love and concern for their child remain unchanged. Yet, the stress of divorce can be so intense that parents eventually find it hard to keep concentrating on their child’s needs.
Divorce is almost always devastating for kids. Many parents want to believe their child will bounce back: “Kids are so resilient.” “He’ll get over it after a little while.” But children don’t recover easily. Some may seem unaffected simply because they have busy schedules and many distractions. Others keep their feelings to themselves for fear of further upsetting or angering their parents. A child who’s confused, ashamed, or embarrassed may hide or deny his feelings rather than talk about this tough issue. And many emotions are repressed.
What a child of divorce feels is sadness, anger, hurt, and sometimes a sense of abandonment. Even if he was exposed to frequent turmoil when his parents were together, he usually won’t greet the divorce with relief. Almost all kids want their families to stay together, and they feel powerless when they can’t make their wish come true. One five-year-old whose parents had been separated for a year told her friend, “For my birthday I don’t want any presents. I just want my family to have dinner together again.” These are big burdens for any child who finds the condition of his family life and the state of his childhood dramatically changed.
Even the most comfortable parts of a child’s life may suddenly become stressful after divorce. Dinner and bedtime may be awkward. Family celebrations may be uncomfortable, and relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins may be strained or even cut off.
If parents are very angry about the divorce, all aspects of a child’s everyday life will be affected. Some parents may coerce their child into taking sides, leaving him feeling uncomfortable.
All these potentially negative experiences and feelings, if not dealt with carefully by parents, can cause great emotional harm. A child may develop a poor self-image, distrust, a pessimistic outlook, or depression. He also may have trouble in school or with peers and siblings.
During and following a divorce, parents have to commit themselves to putting their child’s needs first, to consistently giving love and attention, and being deeply involved in his life. He needs extra affection and understanding during and after a breakup, and he needs both of his parents to be nurturers and role models.
To help, parents must refrain from speaking ill of each other in their child’s presence. The parent who does not live with the child has to have frequent contact, drive carpools, go to his special events, and help with schoolwork. If a parent does not stay involved, the child will feel rejected and unworthy of love.
If the practical side of parenting seems overwhelming, simplify your life to make more time for your child. Have easy meals, let some housekeeping chores go, or cut back on outside commitments.
Over time your child may begin to understand and accept his situation, although the experience of divorce will be difficult for years, perhaps for the rest of his life. Most children grow up wishing there had never been a divorce and greet their adult years with a desire (and commitment) not to put their own children through a divorce.
While some divorces are necessary, many children endure too much stress and anxiety as a result of their parents not working out their differences. Divorce is a decision that needs to be made very, very carefully, and yes, with children in mind.