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Divorce is Not Kids Stuff

By Morrisa Drobnick, LCSW

Breaking up is hard enough, how can you protect your kids from the pain?

For some time -- perhaps years -- after your divorce, your children's emotions will be in a constant state of flux. The divorce will trigger irrational fears -- for their safety, for their happiness and yours -- that represent their concern about both of their parents.

Some children also shoulder guilt for what they think is their role in the break-up -- all the more reason you should be sensitive to their emotional response to this major event in all your lives.

As in most things, you'll notice that your children do not necessarily all respond in the same manner. Some may draw inward, while others may demonstrate their pain by acting out. Such diverse reactions make your job of parenting all the more difficult. How do you know if the quieter child needs your support? How do you comfort the child who reacts out of anger?

And if they don't blame themselves, they may blame you. When this occurs, you may wonder whether they will ever forgive you.

Eventually, they should gain the maturity to understand that divorce is not an issue of blame, but one of the many unpredictable circumstances of life. To help them maneuver this emotional minefield, keep the following rules in mind:

Rule #1: Don't talk disparagingly about your ex-spouse to your children.

Their ability to love and respect both of you is important to their emotional growth. Remember, they aren't blind: as children mature, they recognize their parents' flaws, and either learn to accept these or work around them. This is an innate defense mechanism that all children have. Just be prepared to answer their questions honestly, and trust them to draw the conclusions they need to interact with both of you.

Rule #2: Keep your children's routines as normal as possible.

Granted, this not always possible, particularly if there is a change in their physical environment. That, however, will not be an emotional catalyst if the child's favorite activities -- classes, sports, games, and hobbies -- can continue

Rule #3: Allow your children to talk about their feelings.

By expressing their fears to you, they can view their future through the maturity and security of your eyes.

Rule #4: Share any concerns you have about your children with your ex-spouse.

You both love your children, and care for their well being. Both of you should be responding empathetically to their reactions. When it comes to your child, you and your ex are still very much a team. Your ability to establish a cooperative co-parenting relationship is crucial factor determining how quickly and completely your child will recover from your divorce.

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