About 50% of marriages end in divorce in the United States. Divorce is rarely never easy. Even if you and your spouse manage to separate amicably, there are dozens of things to think about: who’s getting what, is alimony necessary, etc. An already difficult situation becomes significantly more complicated when children are involved — living situations have to be determined (kids at and above the age of 12 are allowed to speak with a judge privately regarding their preference), visitation rights need to be laid out, and child support needs to be addressed.
No matter how hard you may find the process, your children are struggling tenfold. Their entire way of life is changing along with their understanding of the fundamental family unit; add to that two bickering parents who undermine and belittle each other in front of their kids and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Most children of messy, angry divorces suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Fortunately, there are things you can do to lessen the blow and keep your child’s confidence buoyed through this trying time.
Put The Pettiness Aside
As much as you may disagree with your ex-spouse, getting into arguments and shouting matches raises the stress levels of everyone present and does little to help the situation. To the best of your ability, maintain your self-control: change the phrasing from “you’re always late” to “I would appreciate it if you could try to make it on time.” Even the least significant moments (to you) can have a lasting impact on your child, so try to work together as much as possible to create a unified, consistent environment. Remember that supporting your ex is supporting your child.
Keep The Conversation Open
Divorce is confusing, especially to young children; they’re going to have questions. Though you may not have all the answers — and may not think your child needs to hear them — it’s best that you commit to honest, judgment-free conversations. Try to explain, using age-appropriate metaphors or explanations, why life isn’t going to be what it used to be like, and encourage your child to come to you about any concerns they may have. Many kids become despondent and withdrawn after their parents divorce, but reinforcing an open, honest dialogue can pull them out of that fugue.
There’s a fine line between praising and criticizing children too quickly or too often. You want to bolster your child’s self-esteem, not create an unrealistically positive or harsh perception on themselves. Allow your kids to take risks, solve their own problems, stick to their commitments, and then show your appreciation for their bravery, competence, and dedication. You might feel inclined to shower them with gifts or special rewards, especially at the very outset, but treating the symptom does not heal the wound: you may think that your eight-year-old would be less sad if they were allowed to eat ice cream for dinner every night, but that does nothing but create problems in the future. Conversely, you might know that one in four adults have self-confidence issues relating to the condition of their mouth and teeth and may think signing your teen up for braces will make them happier down the road; while that may be true, it doesn’t help the most pressing and immediate issue — it delays one crucial, present problem for one that may not even exist down the line.
Life changes when you go through a divorce, but your relationship with your children does not — and should not — need to.