Information for Parents

Divorce and children can be a very complex situation. The break-up of a marriage or committed co-habiting partnership is always stressful, even in those rare situations when it’s mutually desired and agreed.

Divorce and change for your children

The uncertainty of life after divorce often causes children to worry. The family unit they counted on is breaking apart. In addition to emotional reassurance, physical comfort in the form of order and continuity can also ease their worries. This is not always easy while splitting up into two new households, but it is important.

Establishing continuity doesn’t mean that you need rigid schedules or that mum and dad’s routines should be exactly the same. However, creating some regular routines in the day and consistently communicating what to expect will provide more comfort to your children than you might realise.

Download 10 tips for parents about children and separation

Many people know the benefit of schedules and organisation for younger children, but forget that older children appreciate it as well.

Kids feel more safe and secure when they know what to expect next. This can be about things as minor as dinner time, bath time and bedtime. Setting up a few established routines or rituals will show the continuity of mum and dad’s love and diminish uncertainty about new living arrangements.

Download our Parenting Plan which provides headings to help you think about all aspects of your children’s lives, and the arrangements you are making for them. It also gives tips on how you can best support your children through the transition and beyond, and gives suggestions for where you might go for support and help.

Talking with your children about your ex-partner

When talking with your children about the separation or divorce, it is important to be honest, but not critical of your ex-partner. Depending on the age of your children and the reason for divorce, this may require some diplomacy.

Here are a few suggestions for talking with your children about the separation or divorce:

  • Make plans to talk with your children before any changes in the living arrangements occur.
  • Plan to talk when both of you as parents are around, if possible.
  • Be respectful of your ex-partner when giving the reasons for the separation – try to avoid blame as it does not help the children to hear you criticise their mum or dad.
  • Tell the children about changes in living arrangements, school or activities, but do not overwhelm them with details.

Disagreements are bound to arise when dealing with your ex. If you find yourself, time after time, locked in battle, and frustrated about his or her inability to put the children first, try to step back and remember the big picture.

It sounds cliched, but it will be best for your children to have a good relationship with both of their parents throughout their lives. Remember, it’s about being parents, not partners. If you can keep that long term goal in mind, you may be able to avoid disagreements about daily details.

These tips can help you keep it civil:

  • Do not argue with your ex-partner in front of your children or on the phone.
  • Refrain from talking with your children about details of your ex-partner’s behaviour.
  • Try to make it a priority to develop an amicable relationship with your ex-partner, as soon as possible.
  • Be polite in your interactions with your ex-partner
  • Try to focus on the strengths of all family members.

If you are feeling intense anger, fear, grief, shame or guilt about your ex-partner, find someone to help you work through those feelings. By processing your emotions through writing or talking with supportive people, you will be modelling ways for your children to better cope with their strong emotions.

How much information should you give your children?

Age level should be your guide in determining how much to tell your child about the separation or divorce. Generally younger children need less detail and will do better with a simple explanation. Older children will seek out more information and it will be up to you to share information without saying too much.

However you know your own children best in terms of what is right for each of them as individuals.

The helpsheet “Parents and Children dealing with Divorce and Separation” gives advice on how to talk to your children about your separation and divorce.Click the title to download.

The negative psychological effects of divorce on parents and children is probably both directly and indirectly related to the adversarial approach i.e. pursuing divorce or separation through traditional means including solicitors and the court system. This often maintains hostility between divorcing parents.

Mediation provides psychological benefits for both parents and children, such as decreasing bitterness and tension and increasing communication between the parents. Couples who have had mediation at any point in their divorce / separation are usually more satisfied with the agreement / settlement and are reported to be doing much better up to one year following the settlement.

Compared to litigation at court, mediated settlements also results in both parents maintaining greater involvement with their children. In one long-term study, nine years after the initial divorce settlement, couples who used mediation reported more contact with each other than those who settlements were finalised in court using solicitors. Also, both parents were more involved in their children’s lives and reported more frequent communication with the other parent about the child or children.

It is good news therefore that an alternative option to court proceedings does exist – and it is one that is proven to have a positive impact on children’s adjustment, by improving parental cooperation and communication and maintaining contact between parents.

Take care of yourself so you can help your child

Providing good care for your children means being emotionally available to them, and you can only do that if you are taking care of yourself.

Depending on your physical and emotional state, you will either be reassuring or distressing to your child. If you are able to be calm and emotionally present, your kids will feel more at ease.

Try to bring humour and play into your life and the lives of your children as much as you can – it relieves stress but more importantly, it adds joy and provides a break from sadness and anger.

Steps to ensure you take care of yourself:

  • Avoid isolating yourself from people.
  • Build your support networks.
  • Take care of your health and your children’s health.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet
  • Exercise
  • Keep a journal – it can help to write down your feelings

For more information and advice, call Parentline Plus on 0808 800 2222. Calls are free and confidential and their experts are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also talk to a trained advisor online. Find out more at www.parentlineplus.org.