When parents divorce


This is a devastating blow for children, whether they are five, fifteen or twenty-five, because so much of their sense of security lies with their parents. They may not be able to see the benefits, but here are some of the ways it will affect them, good and bad.

Let them know it's nothing they did. Help them understand that divorce is not the result of something they said or did, or didn't say or do. It has to do with your relationship, how you see yourself and how you see your future. Let them know you love them very much, but they didn't cause this divorce to happen.

Less fighting in the future. It's horrible when parents fight all the time. It's awful lying in bed listening to you shouting at each other. At least, if you live apart, this will not happen so often anymore.

Allow them to be angry. Your children's lives are being disrupted through no fault of their own. They have a right to be angry. Give them an opportunity to vent their feelings. Don't let it simmer into resentment – life is difficult and no one said it would all be plain sailing.

Custody questions. Unless one parent is obviously unable or incapable of looking after children, such as if they're in prison, in a mental hospital, bedridden or emigrating, joint custody is usually awarded. In practical terms, what this means is that they will live with the one parent and spend every second weekend and holiday with the other parent. Parents can make alternative temporary arrangements, but this is usually what the courts advise. Your child may be asked by the court which parent they want to live with. Try not to manipulate your child emotionally, it's already a difficult situaiton for him.

Don't expect them to take sides. This is not in their best interest in the long run. Your child must be allowed to keep loving and respecting both parents. Don't express your emotions to your child, keep the venting to a safer environment like when you are with a friend.

Don't expect them be a messenger. Do not use them to get at each other. If you want to speak to each other, don't use your child as a go-between. Agree to phone each other directly – and stick to it.

Let them know they won't go hungry. Divorces are expensive things and it may happen that you have to move to a smaller place. But the courts give strict instructions for maintenance to be paid by the breadwinner to the other partner, so you will all have food and a roof over your heads.

They're not alone. With between a third and a half of all marriages in South Africa ending in divorce, there are millions of children in this position. Not only is it nothing to be ashamed of, they've got lots of company.

What if there is a third person? It might be that either of you is involved with someone else. This may be the reason for the divorce, or it may not. This is tough, because the temptation is very strong for everyone to blame everything on this outsider. Remember though, that often (but not always) the presence of a third person points to problems that already existed in the marriage before.

Encourage them to look out for their brothers and sisters. They are also going through a difficult time. Now is the time to strengthen their bonds and be there for each other. These are people who will be with them for that the first tricky weekend visit.

Give yourself a break. Don't expect chidlren of any age to sail through this as if nothing has happened. It is very stressful. Let them have a good cry. Encourage them to find someone they can talk to – maybe a friend or a counsellor at school.

Let their lives go on. Don't expect them to stop going to tennis or rugby or the school play or whatever things they enjoy doing. They provide them with exercise and the opportunity to get out for a while. And they probably really need it right now. So however inconvenient, keep their lives as normal as possible.

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