What to Anticipate After Delivering the News of Divorce to Your Children
Your resolution to co-parent with maturity and your mutual insistence upon the welfare of your children at this time are commendable. To that end, you have an agreed-upon script and an appropriate setting in place. Now, it is time to prepare for the audience’s response to this family drama: your children’s reactions.
Reactions Are Unique to Each Child
Much will depend upon the age, maturity level, and the individual/unique private stressors of your children. Perhaps one child is facing personal challenges at school, either academically or socially. Perhaps another child enjoys popularity and has the outlet of a sport’s team and its subsequent camaraderie and physical exertion. Yet another may prefer to be alone with a book or an artist’s palette. Perhaps you have one child who is more inclined to sensitivity and introspection, while another is dismissive of any external drama.
Therefore, given their personalities, do not expect your children to have a uniform reaction to this sensitive news. Not only is that most unreasonable; it is most unlikely, as well. Thus, your job is to anticipate and observe each child’s distinctive emotional response and not to fashion it. And though you cannot spare your children from experiencing extraordinarily troubling emotions, you and your spouse can (and, indeed, must) remain resilient yourselves in the face of these reactions. My advice is to always prepare for the worst: torrential crying, bombastic screaming, explosive anger, and truculent sulking –these reactions will all be fair game to such devastating news.
Considering the reactions to come, I strongly urge you to have a support team in place. As a precaution to safeguard your children, you may wish to inform their rabbi, priest, minister, school counselor, beloved grandparent, or trusted aunt/uncle in advance. You can then allow your children the safety net of finding solace and comfort elsewhere.
Children’s Age-Specific Negative Responses to Anticipate
Studies generally divide data between two distinct age groups: children up to eight or nine years old and children from nine to 18 years of age. If your children are quite young, a smooth transition to two separate households may be possible. Very young children often will readily respond to a newly established routine, as they are not only resilient but pliable as well. And your insistence upon keeping your interpersonal conflict solely between the two of you and away from the children will substantially influence achieving this goal.
If, however, your young children are aware enough to understand the discord that has prompted this divorce, a dissonant response from them should come as no surprise. Up until the age of eight or nine, the deep sadness and wound of divorce will often initiate a regressive behavioral pattern. Tantrums, bedwetting, thumb sucking, and the resumption of baby talking or overly clinging conduct may become acted-out signs of fear and confusion. The remedy in such instances is repeated assurances of your parental love and commitment to them and their well-being. Firm but loving parental guidance will provide the necessary safety net where, otherwise, chaos would appear to be looming.
Children who are nine to 18 years old, on the other hand, will often revert to an overly aggressive response to divorcing parents. In such instances, anger will prevail– with more serious consequences. These repercussions can range from generally apathetic behavior, dropping grades, and the rejection of formerly enjoyed social activities to the more extreme issues of substance abuse, eating disorders, promiscuity, or even criminally delinquent behavior.
Your vigilance as co-parents will be essential in such instances. Open communication between divorcing spouses and constant meaningful contact with your children will provide the most likely safeguard here. Should either parent witness or detect a behavioral shift, immediate intervention is crucial. Often school counselors and/or your children’s teachers can be your greatest allies at such a time.
Also, continual contact with these qualified individuals should be maintained by both parents, even before the appearance of any disruptive behavior. And should your child require intervention, as professionals in the field, they will have the necessary resources to guide you.
You can best anticipate your children’s reactions based on their ages, their personalities, and what’s been going on in their lives. It’s important to be prepared and consider the most difficult emotional reactions. Remember that consistently reaffirming your love and support for your children by each parent and also having a support system in place is the best way to help children process their emotions around divorce.
Need guidance with divorce? Contact the Law Office of Marta J Papa for a St. Louis divorce mediator with over 30 years of experience.