Parenting Skills: Divorce
October 17, 2018 | Pennsylvania Counseling Services, Inc.
As divorce becomes more common in Western cultures, more children are feeling the long-term effects of separation. Children experience a different pain than their parents do, often causing conflict and distance between family members.
The following five questions are topics children of divorce often struggle with but don’t know how to talk about.
What will divorce mean for me?
Ideally, children experiencing divorce should begin to learn what divorce will mean for them before the separation. Parents should explain the decision and what life will look like for the child.
Children may have questions about where and with whom they’ll live, what will happen to an absent parent and more. Establishing open communication and trust despite the separation is essential to help the child process their emotions and changes rather than suppressing them.
Is it okay to feel angry?
Safely expressing anger can prevent suppression and challenging feelings like depression and anxiety. However, it’s often difficult for parents to help their children balance the urge to suppress their anger or recklessly express it.
Why does it hurt so much?
Unfortunately, there are many similarities between the grief following divorce and the grief following death. Children need to deal with the losses that divorce brings.
Open communication can be helpful, allowing the child to express sadness, loss and other thoughts about the parent leaving. Parents who remain concerned and involved will be helpful allies for the child’s mental health.
When are you coming back?
Children need to accept the permanence of the divorce. Parents and other family members sometimes try to protect the child by minimizing the reality of the divorce or concealing important information, therefore encouraging the child to deny the finality of the divorce.
While denial can provide protection and the time and space needed to adjust to their new lifestyle, the child needs to be encouraged to face reality, ask questions and regain trust. As fears subside, the child will feel safer and more willing to process their feelings.
Is love worth it?
Divorce sometimes makes children feel like loving and being loved is more risky than worth it; however, love is always worth it.
Continued demonstration of love and commitment by parents, family members and friends can contribute to the child’s willingness to form relationships in the future. This is especially important for teens as they begin to build their own long-term relationships.