Divorce – Tips to help you and your children through this life-changing experience

4 min read   •   March 5, 2020
Lizette Erasmus – Educational Psychologist

Divorce can be compared to seasons. It’s not a once-off event in a child’s life but rather the start of a series of change that will last a lifetime.

When you have decided to get divorced it will be quite common to experience tension, uncertainty and conflict. One of the most difficult things is to decide what to tell your children, or where and when it would be the best opportunity to do so. We’ll look at some tips to help you and your children through this life-changing experience.

Start with yourself

Believe that although your marriage failed, you did not fail as a parent. Just as you mourn over the death of a loved one, you also mourn over the failed relationship with your spouse.

Your grief can sometimes be so consuming that you become blind to your children’s needs. Don’t underestimate the value of support groups for divorce and try to make an appointment with a therapist to help you.

Who, when and where?

Children have the right to be prepared for events that will affect them drastically and emotionally.

Ideally, both parents should be present as this will give your children a sense of security. If you have more than one child, ensure that your children hear the news at the same time. Children often choose one parent to discuss it further. Each parent should also take the time to talk to each child individually to establish what the child understood about the discussion they had, to answer any questions, and to reassure them that they are loved.

Young children have not yet developed a good understanding of time, therefore, tell young children about two to three weeks before you or your spouse moving out about the upcoming event.

You can expect a shocked and emotional reaction from your children upon hearing the news. So, discussing the divorce in a public place like a restaurant is not a good idea. Rather tell the children over a weekend in the privacy of your home where your child will be free to react and seek sanctuary in their room.

What should I say?

To make sure you don’t lose your children’s trust, you need to be completely honest with them. This does not mean that you must disclose all the details or reasons why, but they do have the right to a simple explanation about the divorce. Explain to your children how the divorce will affect their lives.

What children should hear

  • “Even though we are divorcing, we will always remain your parents and look after you.”
  • “You will spend more time with one parent, but you will always be able to contact the other parent and see them regularly.”
  • “We will still help you with homework and assignments, take you to sporting events and do fun things together.”
  • “Even though one parent will live in another house, you can still invite friends over when you are there.”

It’s important to explain what will change in an easy and honest way. Repeat this information with regular breaks in between. Make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings. Continuously reassure them that they are loved and have no blame in this.

What can I expect?

Your children’s age and emotional maturity will influence their reactions. Most children react with shock, disbelief and denial. They might even try to persuade you to change your mind by making all kinds of promises. Here’s how children in different age groups might react.

  • Young children will often react by displaying baby-like behaviour and become overly dependent.
  • Toddlers often develop a whole range of fears, especially the fear of rejection. They can experience deep sadness and withdraw into their own fantasy world.
  • Primary school children might experience a lot of anger towards the person they blame for the divorce and might transfer this anger towards their friends.
  • Teenagers often try to isolate themselves and actively choose against things like the institution of marriage. They might also experience conflicting emotions regarding their loyalty to both parents.

Parents often worry that they will fall apart emotionally in front of their children. Remember that you are your children’s role model and need to show them how to deal with emotions. You can share your feelings with your children without burdening them.

Just like rose bushes bloom better when pruned during winter, so can a divorce give you a second chance at personal growth. Remember to make use of support groups for divorce to help you during this difficult time and try to make an appointment with a therapist to help you.