Helping Kids Deal with Divorce
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Helping Kids Deal with Divorce
My husband and I are getting a divorce. He gave me a short notice that he is leaving
the country in less than a week time. We will talk to our 4-year-old daughter about
our divorce and him leaving but my question is: Do I bring her with me to the
airport or not? Is it necessary for her to say goodbye to her father that she adores
and realize that it will be long time before she sees him (probably summer) or I
avoid such an emotional situation for this little tender soul. Her father was out of the
house every week for 4-5 days. She can handle that. But I'm afraid that she is going
to wait for him in vain when the time she is used of him being away passes? I don't
have time to make an appointment with a child therapist and even this post might
come too late, but please do you have any advice? Thank you
Hi, I also went through my boy's adored father leaving us and
returning to his home country. For us, it was best for my boy to
be age-appropriately involved in each part of his father's
leaving (he was just a little younger than your child)--it was
all much more organic that way and nothing happened behind his
back. It helped him to see all the steps as they unfolded from
our old way of living to our new way. Of course he wasn't there
for crying or arguing. But he wasn't waiting for his father to
come back because he saw him go. And we were able to talk freely
about how different everything was now, and it made it way less
scary. BIG thing I saw was that he watched me like a hawk for
cues about what he should feel, so I was careful to stay positive
and communicative without being phony. Good luck with your new
life, it is going to be very all right.
Very All Right
Don't know if this will help but I'll tell you a little story.
When I was pretty little, not as young as four, probably more
like 6, I got very upset when some family friends that I had
gotten attached to flew away to return to their home in Europe. I
developed a bit of fear around people disappearing on airplanes,
so for awhile afterward my mother would take me out to the
airport for fun little outings. We'd have lunch and watch people
come and go, and I got to know airports as happy places where
people come as well as go.
Hopefully her dad will send her little presents often while he is
away- I always got a thrill out of that when my father went away
for business trips.
I think if I were you, I would have them say good-bye at home and not at
airport, in fact I wouldn't bring her to the airport at all. That way
they can really
concentrate on each other. Hopefully, he can reassure her that he will
be back in the
summer to see her and in the meantime he will call and write her letters
postcards from where he is. I think it's really important that he stay
in touch with
her in some shape or form. Also, if it were me, I might choose to say MY
at home also. The airport is so impersonal and then you are left crying
and have to
get into your car and drive, etc.... Let him take the Bayporter...
Sorry for your situation.
First let me say how sorry I am that you and your daughter (&
husband) are going through this. As a child of divorce, I know
how difficult it is...even without one parent moving out of the
country. If I were you, I would let your daughter say goodbye.
She loves her father and needs to understand through her own
experience that he's leaving. Explain in age appropriate words
that she won't see her daddy for a long time but reiterate
constantly that he's not leaving because of her and she'll get
to see him again. Maybe make a countdown calendar a month
beforehand. She needs to know now that you both still love
her. She may withdraw, act out, be sad, cry, or maybe she'll
handle it well. Allow her these feelings and encourage her to
talk/play out her feelings the best she can. I do encourage
therapy for both of you - make time, it's so important (and
helped me immensely when my parents split up). Again, I'm so
sorry this is happening, but keeping the reality of it from her
won't help her. He'll still be gone and she'll still be missing
him and needing both of your support. My heart goes out to you,
best of luck.
Daughter of divorce
At what age should you start talking to your children about divorce? Should you wait
until they ask?
Having had parents who divorced when I was 7 (I am now 37), and
having gone through a ''divorce'' of sorts with my son's father
(we were never married, but stopped trying to make things work
out with us when my son was 3 - he is now 4), my advice to you
is it's never too early to talk to your children about divorce
and separation. However, with that said, there are ways to
talk about it so that you are talking with your children in
ways that they understand and not in ''adult'' ways. To qoute
Dr. Phil, children should not have to deal with adult issues.
That includes non-disclosure of things that obviously affect
them. My parents did not discuss anything regarding their
divorce with me, and any questions I had at the time were met
with silence or a wave of the hand with a ''don't worry about
that, it's between your dad and me''. I have spent much of my
life angry and resentful of the way my parents handled it
because I felt I had a right to know what was going on with my
family and a right to be heard in regards to how I felt about
it. I felt I was never given that chance. With my son, I
explained to him early on when he was 3 that the family dynamic
was changing and constantly offer reassurance that we are okay,
that we love him and that we still love each other (hard to say
sometimes even as it's true). I also give him every
opportunity for him to voice his feelings about it (he misses
his dad, he misses us together, etc) to show him that I respect
his feelings and that he has a right to them. Although our
separation has been painful and sad, it has been very smooth
compared to my experiences as a child. My son seems to be well-
adjusted and accepting that families come in different packages
and we are still a family, we just operate our own way. I also
sought the advice of a family therapist specializing in divorce
and separation to understand what my son may have be going
through during that transition.
My husband and I are currently separated, and I've filed for divorce. I discovered
that he'd been having an affair after the birth of our second child this summer. My
trust in him is irrevocably shattered. This, combined with other issues in our
relationship, has led me to wanting the divorce.
He's in denial about getting a divorce, and is convinced that I've made a snap
decision out of anger and he'll be able to change my mind. I am quite firm in how I
feel. He's been adamant about not telling our older child, who's 4, about what's
really going on. He's told her he's staying at his parents' house because of his
father's ill health, that they need him there. I see her getting increasingly anxious
about his absence (she is spending a few nights a week with him at his parents'
house), and feel we're doing the wrong thing by lying to her. She told my mother-
in-law recently that she wanted to grow up to be a doctor so she could make her
grandfather well enough that her dad could come home. This breaks my heart, and
tell me that she's struggling to figure what SHE can do about this.
I've agreed not to take any further action on divorce proceedings until after the
holidays, but I'm starting to doubt the wisdom of waiting to tell her what's going on.
I think it's important that we let her know that this is a decision between mommy
and daddy, and there's nothing she can do about it. I'd like, if I can, to relieve her of
this burden she thinks she must shoulder.
My husband thinks I'm being selfish for wanting to tell her, so I can push through
with this ''wrong'' (in his eyes) decision. I think he's being selfish, and doesn't want
to tell her because that would mean admitting to himself that he's getting divorced.
I think she deserves the truth, or a version of it that her 4 year-old self can handle.
So, my question(s): What to say to her, beyond the basics -- that it's not her fault,
that we love her very much and neither of us are going away, even if we don't live in
the same house, that this is a decision between us, etc. Can anyone well versed in
child development tell me what is appropriate to tell a 4 and half year-old?
Also, at her age, will she feel even more betrayed that we've been lying to her? I
don't know if she's this advanced cognitively, or if this aspect of it will pale in
comparison to the trauma of finding this out.
Also, would it be better to wait until after Christmas? Either way, the timing is hard,
but I don't know if it's necessarily better to wait. She's still going to have a disrupted
Christmas, even if we keep up with our current cover story.
Thanks for any advice and insight.
I seperated from my daughter's father (that's how I refer to him-not my''ex-'') when
our daughter was 4. We slept seperately for a while (he in the living room me in the
bed). My daughter has always been very attached to me so it didn't really matter to
her. We told her we were seperating when we were absoltely sure and when he was
to begin looking for another place to live. We told her all the things you mentioned
(not her fault, she is still loved as much by both of us, she will spend a lot of time
with him, etc.). Her reaction was to launch into a game of follow-the-leader, where
she was the leader! We played along. I think she has done really well with it. Her
big thing now (she's 13) is that she leaves clothes and stuff at one parents house
and then needs it at the other. I'm sure she has more feelings about it, but hasn't
told me. When we first seperated we went through a program called ''Kids Turn''. We
actually did it twice at her request. It's an independant organization started by a
family court judge. It's helps the parents to put the kids first and not their power
struggles with eachother when making decisions or talking about eachother, etc.
The kids go also and are working with two faciltators doing drawings, stories,
talking about divorce. It was very helpful. I would look them up. If you are sure you
want the divorce you should start talking about it now. As far as your ''lie'', I'm not
sure...maybe make sure she knows that her grandfather is alright! good luck.
I've been back and forth about separating from my husband but
worry about how it will affect our child. The biggest reason
for separating has to do with my husband's mood disorder
(bipolar, depression, hyperchondria and more) and his refusal to
help himself. Won't take medication or seek some alternative
treatment. Just finds some satsifaction in his misery and makes
life so difficult for me and our son. I have given up although
sometimes there is a glimmer of hope when he is having a good
moment (never a good day though.) I'd like to hear from those
divorced parents how their kids have faired. Seems like a no
brainer that if the relationship is not good it can't be doing
the child good but part of me feels it's so nice for a child to
have both father and mother in the household (and maybe
particularly a father if the child is a boy.)
I want to say first of all that I'm really sorry that you're going
through this, and second that it's a tough decision to make,
and your decision to make, taking into account what is best
for your child. All I can do is tell you what I've gone through,
and of course I don't have time for the whole story.
I was in a very similar situation two years ago, and my
omotoa; feeling when my now ex-husband started to go
downhilll emotionally/psychologically was to try to keep the
family together for the kids' sake. However, after a cup was
thrown at my daughter by her dad, after he began to throw
and break the children's things in anger and run roaring and
screaming into our bedroom, threatening suicide, it began
to seem clear to me that the kids were not well served by
being around dad full-time. Now, I'm in a somewhat
uncomfortable joint-custody situation, but at least my kids
are more emotionally and physically safe and healthy, at
least during the days and times they're with me. My divorce
has been much, much happier for me and the children than
the marriage was.
You'll obviously need to sort out all this yourself but I just
thought that I would give the prespective of a child of divorce
(s). A single parent raising a child can do it- is it harder
sure- but totally doable. My mom and I have an incrediably
close relationship as I do with all of my dads. The separation
of parents, I feel, is far less painful than either living in a
bad situation or having a bad divorce. Kids need good role
models not just a male and female model. Kids adjust, frankly,
faster than most adults do. So don't stay together for the kids-
you may have other compelling reasons to stay but I don't
think the kids should THE reason. The one piece of advice I
would give is to NOT bad mouth the spouse no matter what they
might be doing. This is damaging to the child who may feel in
some way that they are responsible for the parent's bad
behaviour and that it reflects on them because its their
parent. I think kids are happiest when their parents are happy,
when their environment is steady and loving and that can be
acheived in either a single parent home or a two parent home.
Good luck to you.
I have a friend that will be separating from the father of
her son after seven years together (they were never married).
She will be moving out in June and the parents have agreed
to a 50/50 time share of their six year old son.
On her behalf, I am seeking advice from the best source I
know: parents who have gone through this before. How did
you tell your child? When did you tell them (right away or
shortly before leaving)? Are there other issues to consider?
There are a number of books on the subject. I suggest connecting with the
single parent support group in Lafayette, which addresses all sorts of
issues about divorce and what follows in families. The leaders are
therapists, former single parents now married to one
another. You can get more information by calling Liz Hannigan at
925-855-1745. The group is drop-in, meets at 6 pm on Mondays at a church in
Lafayette, costs $3, and has great, FREE childcare during the meetings. Also
has occasional groups for kids of divorcing parents, led by a child
therapist. A great resource.
Re cat and litter: You don't have to train the cat. Just make sure he knows
where the box is, and he'll use it. Be sure to clean it out every day, or he
might not use it, however. I recommend the clumping litter, which forms a
ball with the urine and is easy to scoop out.
Re giftedness: My son is also gifted, which, as you are finding out, is not
always a "gift." I've done some reading, and I concluded that the best thing
is to let the child direct himself toward whatever area he/she is propelled
toward. My son read like mad for years (starting at 4), and now he's heavily
into math. Drawing has been there all the time, too. He's way, way ahead of
his class in every subject. Thankfully, the teachers have recognized this
and added extra challenge for him. I have a LOT of interaction with his
teachers around how to do this. I also found, however, that he doesn't get
bored because he tends to interpret school work in ways that keep him
interested. He extends assignments. When he's bored in class, he generally
resorts to reading or drawing. I don't plan a lot of extra-curricular
activities for him, as he REALLY likes coming home and pursuing his own
interests in his own way. I'm taking this giftedness situation a day at a
time, really feeling my way with my son. If anyone knows of a newsletter or
good website, I'd love to know about it. By the way, I don't know the point
of having a kid assessed for giftedness. In fact, I heard of one kid who was
looked at skeptically by a private school because the parents had had an
assessment. Although it concluded the kid was gifted, the school thought
there might have been something "wrong" with him to have impelled his
parents into having him assessed! Anyway, from what I've read, kids tend to
be gifted in one or more areas or "domains" and will show an eagerness to
work there hours on end. I've heard of two schools for gifted kids, Nueva in
Burlingame, and a new one in Marin. Too far for me to commute, but I would
like to hear from anyone about either school, experience there, etc. Anyone
wanting to talk about this general area can give me a call: Linda,
After many years of attempting to live a happy family life, my husband
and I have arrived at the conclusion that it just isn't doable. We
have tried myriad therapies, but it seems there are too many
entrenched personality issues to overcome. Our short-lived periods of
happiness have been punctuated by lots of anger and some abuse (mostly
verbal) and recurring conflict. We have a seven year old together
whom we both love dearly. She has witnessed quite a bit of the
conflict and tension (though not much of the abuse), despite our (my)
desperate efforts to spare her. Even so, she has been extremely and
vehemently opposed to our trying to separate. She has become not just
sad but desperate, begging, threatening anything (even to kill herself
and wishing to die!) to get us back together, (This has been going on
for the past three weeks, since my husband- at my insistence- has
started staying outside the home.) This, in turn, has made us feel
very desperate, finding her pain unbearable, though I know, in the
long run, the separation is better for her.
It is just so horrible to see this little sensitive being suffer so,
when all our lives we have naturally strived to prevent her from
suffering, from not letting her cry herself to sleep as a baby, to
shielding her from violent or overly emotional TV programs. She has
always been very, very sensitive and now we get the impression that we
have to "tough it out" and only comfort her and try to reassure her to
the extent that things will feel more tolerable as time passes. It
just doesn't seem right. It feels akin to sitting by her bedside as
she suffers from a broken leg and just offering her aspirin.
I know about programs like Kids Turn, and getting books. I know they
say when my husband gets his own place and things get more structured,
she'll cope better. (We're afraid she'll just fall apart from the
finality that that will represent. She'll see right through this "two
homes are better than one" B.S.)
She's started seeing a therapist. We're all in therapy, but I'm just
wondering if anyone's personal experience can help us see our way
through this. Our child's pain is too much to bare. There just has
to be a better way...
This is a difficult time for all of you and my heart reaches out. It is now
three years after my separation and I have learned some things through this
period. The pain you know you are causing your child is the hardest burden
to bear in this situation, despite knowing it will ultimately be better for
her. As you mentioned Kids Turn and books have benefits and should
definitely be taken advantage of. Right now, I believe the most important
thing to do is let your daughter know you both love her very much. You both
will always take care of her and be there for her.
Because she is experiencing a great deal of insecurity about what's going on
it is important to help her feel as secure as possible. Kids need to know
the love and caring will never change even if her parents aren't married
anymore. She will still have a mother and a father. Kids always want their
parents to get back together. It is better to acknowledge her
fantasies/wants. Saying things like "I know how much you would like Mommy
and Daddy to stay married" or "It's scary to have such a big change in our
lives" helps reinforce that her feelings are okay and it is okay to express
Best of luck to you. Things do smooth out over time.
This may not be what you want to hear but I strongly believe
that your daughter is giving you a very clear message. She wants the
two of you to be together. There was a reason that brought you
together. You had a daughter together and that daughter needs the two
of you to be together. It gives her a sense of family of home and of
love. Divorce or separation is an extremely tragic event second to
the death of a parent. It may not be a better alternative for your
daughter unless there has been some real physical abuse. Otherwise
pretend for a moment that divorce isn't an option, that you have to
work it out. If you really had to, I'm sure you would. Think of what
it would take and do it. I'm sure you would agree that your daughter
and her well-being are worth it. I know you feel then that you may
not be as happy but parenting is all about sacrifice. For the love
you have for your child stay together and make it work. Liza
My heart goes out to your daughter and to you. It may help to get clear
about what specifically she's grieving: does she think that she'll
completely lose her father, since he moved out? Does she mourn the loss of
the "happy home" dream that you all clearly yearned for for so long? Is she
frantic that she can't make it all right herself?
I'm the daughter of divorce, and I'm also recently divorced. My son is
younger, and didn't have nearly the extent of grief that your daughter is
expressing. I think we did a good job of protecting him from conflict, but
I have to say that the fact that he's doing Ok is mostly a function of his
personality, age and coping style. So, above all, don't start blaming
yourself for her pain.
It's really important that you take care of yourself. When I don't sleep
enough, small or medium-sized problems just bowl me over. Sleep, eat,
exercise, find beauty and something to laugh about every day. It will keep
you sane, it will give you hope, and it will be a good model for her.
I really understand exactly what you mean. I've been there, and my
kids were about the same age as your child. My older son has always
been very perceptive and sensitive like your daughter, and it was very
hard on him. Everyone suffers from a break-up, the parents and the
children. But I believed the suffering would have been greater if I
stayed with my husband. I have no doubt I was right about that, and I
have not regretted the decision to divorce. You're doing this so your
life will be better, and so your child's life will be better. So just
keep going forward on the new path and remember that it would be worse
now if you were still on that old path.
Here are some of the things that helped us. Most important was friends
and family. It's so important to not feel like you are the only one who
has ever been through this. You have lots and lots of company. It helped
my son to have a friend whose parents were divorced. Even though the
boys didn't talk about it much together, it was comforting to my son
that one of his friends was like he was. And in my case, a casual
acquaintance made me feel so much better one day when she told me she
had been married twice before! I was feeling like such a loser, and such
a bad mother, and just to hear that from someone I admired really gave
me a boost.
Second most helpful thing for the kids was structure, and plenty of
it. A daily routine, predictable schedule, same vacation spot as
before, same school, same friends coming over, same homework rules,
same chores, same visits with the relatives in the summer. You may be
dealing with joint custody, and that can get very confusing for a
child, but on the other hand, dramatically-reduced contact with the
other parent is bad too. Some amount of structure will be lost, so
I found it important to firm up the structure in other ways.
One other piece of advice I have is to not explain it to death to your
daughter. Settle on a simple explanation about the break-up, and then
stick with it, repeating as necessary. I thought that I should give my
son as much information as I could about what was happening. He was
so perceptive that I thought wrongly that he could understand some of
the adult emotions involved. No way. It is impossible to explain to
a child what it takes us adults years to figure out, and I think it was
upsetting for him to have too much information.
It's hard now, but it will be OK. The first 6 months are the roughest
part. It will be easier after that. Don't be too hard on yourself, and
try to make sure that you have a little fun for yourself. I know you
will be doing that for your daughter, but take care of yourself too.
Before you know it you will be saying to yourself THANK GOD I AM NOT
LIVING WITH THAT GUY ANYMORE!! HOW LUCKY I AM THAT I WAS
ABLE TO DO THAT!! :-)
I totally empathize with you. My daughter's father and I separated
when she was 3 and she will be 6 this December. It was torture for me
seeing my daughter suffer going back and forth from his home to mine
when she had never been away from me before. I feel it was the right
thing because I am in a much better place and she sees me happy
instead of fighting or crying all the time. I do wish I had waited
until she was a little older, but who knows if it would have been
easier. The best thing for your child is to know you both love her and
what helped us is to be friendly with each other and all spend time
together as we still do. She stills wants us back together and draws
pictures of us getting married again, etc. It's a tough thing no
matter how you cut it. If you want to talk please email your address
or email me and I would be happy to share my thoughts and be
If there is anything I learned from my first, unwanted, childless, divorce,
it's that once your partner checks out, put a fork in it, your marriage is
DONE. That's why I knew what I had to do in my Second, unwanted, with child
(then 2), divorce.
Here's what worked for me and my son; his mom (who also posts her, perhaps
she'll add her experience) may have a different view;
1) reduce conflict. Everything I read (which was everything an adept,
diligent, but heartbroken and scared researcher could find) said this is the
best indicator for psychological and spritual health of the children of
divorce. In my case, it meant getting clear that we WERE getting divorced,
and doing it as cleanly and with as little bloodshed as possible. I figured
out what my irreducible minimum requirement was, and was willing to
sacrifice all else in negotiation if need be to get the divorce done
quickly, cleanly, and sustainably, I.E. with agreements we both could keep
over the long term.
This also means never saying anything cruel, mean, belittling, or dismissive
about the other parent in the presence of the child.
And it means seperating, cleanly, and as completely as practical, from your
former partner, as long as...
2) Both Parents Keep Contact. We have split custody. For the early part of
our seperation, we still lived at the same address, and we both saw our son
every day. At first, we even switched care every day, later we went to the
basic 4/3 schedule we still use with seperate households. We call a lot.
This is probably the second best indicator for psychological and spritual
health of the children of divorce, again, from my research gleaning.
3) Tell the Truth. I firmly believe kids, even as young as mine, have
pretty accurate BS detectors. I've been pretty up front with my son; Mommy
and Daddy don't live together, We're Divorced, We're Not Married Anymore,
and so on. I don't go into any great detail, but I don't equivocate either.
Sometimes I had to say "Daddy's Sad". Less so as time goes on, and I heal.
Indications are we have a happy, well adjusted, NORMAL kid, who just
happens to spend time in two different homes, with two different
parents, who share very little but their love for their son. It's too
early for Happy Endings, but I think we're enjoying a Happy Outcome,
even if it's not what anybody wanted at the outset of the adventures
of Marriage and Parenting. Both of those endeavors are big bets on
the future; sometimes you roll Snake Eyes. One measure of a person's
character is how well they cope with setbacks such as these.
this page was last updated: Oct 20, 2013
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