“Mommy and Daddy don’t love each other anymore.” Children’s concept of divorce can include the idea that people stop loving each other. If my parents can stop loving each other, will they one day stop loving me? Children may fear that if they do something wrong that it will lead to their parents not loving them. This is a fear that can carry into adolescence and/or adulthood.
It is important that parents talk to their children about the divorce in a developmentally appropriate language and give reassurances that they will always love their children.
Children may go through phases of blaming themselves or trying to fix the issue. While children do not need to know the exact details of why the divorce happened, they do need to know that their parents have tried to keep the marriage together but it cannot be fixed. Other ways to discuss divorce can include that relationships are hard and that sometimes it does not work out. Using an example from the child’s life of a recent fight with a friend can exemplify challenges in relationships. While not the same, the similarities can help children understand these challenges better.
Parents who can get through the pain of divorce and be able to co-parent are modeling for their children how to overcome a difficult situation and move forward for the benefit of the family. Coparenting can be challenging when there are hurt feelings. It is important for both parents to get support for themselves during the divorce in an effort to resolve any negativity toward the other person. Children will see the results and be able to incorporate the idea that negative situations can be overcome with work. These are important skills for children to learn and take into their future relationships.
Divorce is confusing and difficult for all involved. It is crucial that parents talk with their children. There are books which can help with what language to use with children, such as Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown and Laurie Krasny Brown, Daddy doesn’t live here anymore by Betty Boegehold, or Two Homes by Claire Masurel and Kady MacDonald Denton. As with any resource, use the parts that best apply to your specific situation and are developmentally appropriate for the children. When needed, seek support from professionals especially if the children are struggling to understand or develop emotional dysregulation or behavioral issues.
Michelle A. Culver, MFT