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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

What Children Need To Survive In Their Parents’ Divorce

No one starts out wanting a divorce. Seriously. Why would someone go through the agony and financial hardship? It can be brutal. There never is a guarantee that you will be happier if you divorce.

In over 20 years working with couples, I have seen people come into my office steaming mad at their partner. They say they want a divorce because of something that just happened. Even when it is something they consider "bad" that happened, it may just be a reaction and they may not have given themselves enough time to think it through.

Other times someone comes in and he or she has thought about it for years, maybe even discussing it repeatedly with their husband or wife. They don't want to make a mistake by divorcing if the marriage can be saved.

My job as a psychologist is to slow you down when you see divorce as an option. The only time that I will sidestep that is when there is abuse. Abuse is not acceptable and protecting yourself is the number one priority. That's when I will do anything but go slow. Then it isn't just about divorce. It's about keeping you safe.

In all other circumstances, I will try and slow you down. Get you to think about it. Have you talk about the reasons for and the consequences of a divorce . . . financially, emotionally, and physically.

If you are considering divorce, I want to make sure that you make the decision that is right for you. You have to believe staying in the relationship is no longer an option. It should take you a while to get there.

I don't get a vote in a divorce. I don't make the decision for you. I want you to tell me years later that you made the right decision, whether you divorced or stayed together.

If you have children and you come to me for marital therapy, I am working for your children. They are just not the ones writing the check. The general belief is that children will have emotional scars, that are difficult to heal, because of their parents' divorce. If a divorce is going to happen and there are ways to help a child survive in a divorce, wouldn't you want to know what they are?

Here is what children need to survive in a divorce:

1. Children need emotional security: Your child needs to feel safe from emotional attack or harm. Sometimes in a divorce, one parent may take out their frustrations on their child, unnecessarily. It is important to separate your relationship with your child from your relationship with your spouse. When you say, "I'm your parent, I love you, and that won't change just because your mom/dad and I are divorcing", you better mean it in your behavior, not just in your words.

2. Children need to know that they can count on you: If you say you are going to pick your daughter up at 6:00pm, be there at 6:00pm no matter what. Being consistent and predictable helps your child know that they can count on you. With so many unknowns because of a divorce, your child will benefit now more than ever from your behavior matching your words.

3. Children need to know you support their relationship with the other parent: This is so important. Don't ask your child to be loyal to you at the expense of the other parent. You don't have to explain this one too much. No matter what your feelings about the other adult are, being supportive of your child's relationship the other parent helps your child survive divorce healthy rather than disrupted.

4. Children need you to recognize that they have a brain and can think for themselves: Just because you might not like something that your children are saying or asking, doesn't mean they have been brainwashed by the other parent. Adolescents especially benefit from you listening and acknowledging how they feel, even if you don't agree with what they are saying. Hear them out, treat them with respect, and work on your differences. Don't dismiss them.

5. Children need to know that you will keep the adult details to yourself: They don't want to know all the "why's". They mostly want to know how it will effect them and what changes to expect.....and they don't want too many changes. You see, your child didn't do anything wrong and will not understand why he or she feels punished by a divorce if it isn't because of "me".

6. Children need to know more is the same than is different: If your son typically has chores around the house, still make him do his chores. If your daughter has a curfew, stick to it and don't let up. If your youngest has been told he can't have a new laptop computer, don't buy one for him now, just because you are divorcing. It provides emotional security for a child when they see that some, if not more, things are the same than are different, despite your divorce.

For sure I expect to get some heated comments at the end of this blog post. I welcome them all. Really. Talking about divorce gets people riled up. That's understandable. It's a controversial subject.

Because there is so much more to cover, I'm cooking something up for those of you who want more information on this subject. Very soon I will be offering an online course that will cover this subject more in depth.

The online course will be affordable and you will be able to download it as soon as you sign up. I will provide information for those of you who are worried about a possible divorce, those of you going through a divorce, or for those of you who have already divorced. It will teach you a whole lot more of what children, of any age, need to survive in a divorce. If the information doesn't apply to you and you know someone who will benefit from it, I hope you will share it.

If you already receive my newsletter, you will get more information in an upcoming edition. If you need to sign up for my newsletter, you can do so by clicking here.

So leave your comments below.

Let me know if you have an idea to add to my list, if you disagree with anything I'm saying, or if you want to tell me I'm on the mark. You are welcome to chime in at any time.

Until next time,

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