Weathering The Unexpected – Children And Divorce

By Dr. Sue Cornbluth

Many parents contact me to help them rebuild their family unit after a divorce occurs. The truth is that families should be contacting me while the divorce is occurring because that is when most of the “trauma” is taking place.  It is also the time when an intervention can take place.

Divorce is extremely difficult for a child to understand and cope with. Many young children often report that their, “world is falling apart.” It really is if you think about it.  Their emotional safety is at risk and they wonder, “Where will I live? Who will take care of me? Do mom and dad still love me? Is this my fault?” These are only a few questions that go through children’s minds during this emotional time.  As you move through your own emotional rollercoaster with the divorce, slow down for a second and focus your attention where it belongs – on your children. If you don’t, both your own and your children’s emotional stability are at risk. As children begin to slip away, your role as a parent to comfort them becomes much harder.

Anger is an overwhelming and powerful emotion. Often times it clouds our thinking, especially when a marriage is breaking up. Trust me when I say that as much as you think you are hiding your feelings towards your spouse from your kids, they “sense it happening.” Last week in a session with a family, I asked the nine year old child, “If I could grant you 3 wishes, what would they be?” She did not wish for a new computer, clothes, or an IPod. She stated, “I noticed that my mom and dad do not say I “love” you to each other anymore. I wish they would do this more.” Children know and feel what their parents are experiencing, but they often do not say it.

As you all know, I am a firm believer in talking and being honest with children. I practice this with my own children and it has made a significant and positive impact on their emotional well being. My son is able to express his feelings openly and honestly with me when he is upset.

I believe as Ann Landers once said, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.”  I love that quote because it can apply to so many aspects of our children’s lives.

If you are going through a divorce and you are struggling with how to talk to your children about it, begin by “TALKING” to them. TEACH them that it is (1) okay to be upset about what is going on; (2) give them a voice to come to you when they are upset; (3) share with them that you are upset that this is happening (if that is true); (3) do not keep secrets from them – this is not protective, rather it is destructive; and (5) take care of yourself in the process.

TEACH your children that, “Things happen in life that we do not expect but we have the TOOLS to help us move through the challenges that come our way! BE YOUR CHILDREN’S TOOL!

Dr. Sue



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