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Tips for talking to your kids about divorce

When people start on the divorce process, meet with lawyers, and start getting into the legalese around divorce, it can be very easy to become accustomed to that language. But children don't speak that language -- something we were reminded of in a great new blog article we saw recently. 

It came from Corinth-based counselor Christy Graham, writing for the Collaborative Divorce Texas blog. In her article, titled "Divorce is a Family Affair," she used the idea of children fearing the dark and monsters to talk about the "monsters" that appear for children during divorces. 

In one particularly interesting passage, she notes: 

Some of the monsters of coparenting include:

  • Asking where they want to live instead of asking their favorite and least favorite things about each home
  • Using litigation terms for family concepts instead of terms like 'time with Mom and Dad' and 'CoParent' and 'home with Mom and home with Dad'
  • Saying "I miss you" instead of saying "I can't wait to see you Friday!"
  • Telling the child "the whole truth" instead of cocreating a story about the changes in the family that takes into consideration the child's age and needs 

These tips highlight the traps that parents fall into when they're negotiating divorce. On one hand, they're human beings experiencing very raw, very real emotions, in one of the most challenging situations a person can endure. On the other hand, they're also parents who have a responsibility for their children's well-being -- including their emotional well-being. 

When parents introduce the "monsters" that Graham refers to, it may just be venting without even thinking about the implications. But for children, hearing "the whole truth" or legalese can be confusing, confounding and even painful.

The emphasis, in helping children transition to a post-divorce life, is emphasizing that while the family is being remade, it is still very much a family. Any language that reinforces that -- like the "I can't wait to see you Friday" rather than "I miss you" -- helps to solidify the idea that Mommy and Daddy still love them. 

She also has some great suggestions for getting on their level: 

So how does a parent begin to understand how a child sees the changes in their life? First, spend unstructured, non-screen time with your child. Take 10-30 minutes a week to simply sit with them and be dumb. You don't have the answers to anything, you don't have a plan, and you are simply watching and interacting with them. Call it a date! If they like to play with dolls, do that and let them lead. If they like to play Uno or other game, play that. Just focus on them and see what happens. Second, eat meals with your child. Studies show that eating meals with your family teaches social emotional skills, protects against drug use and early pregnancy, and increases grades and earning potential. It also allows you to connect with them. Third, check in with them. Ask them how they are doing and ask them specific questions about their feelings about their two home world. Have them tell you how it feels at drop offs and pickups. Have them tell you what it felt like to share the changes in the family with their friends.

Remember that it's not an easy and instantaneous process, but if both of you can focus on the children, it makes it a lot easier. We always advise in divorces with children, no matter how much you and your soon-to-be ex are experiencing and feeling, to think about children and put them first. 

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