The simple truth is that the breakup of your relationship will affect your children; and by default, their reaction will encompass confusion, anger, shock, guilt and a load of other emotions. It may not be possible to shield them completely from this, but there are ways to alleviate their mental and emotional suffering and to help them through the process.
Civility above all else
It’s a difficult rule to maintain sometimes, but if you ‘have to’ fight; make sure you do it away from the kids. When they are around you should try as far as possible not to engage in direct conflict with your partner (or ex-partner). An argument carried out in low tones is still an argument and when the mood in the room is palpable, then it’s even more so to your children.
Beyond that, even talking about your partner to the kids requires a responsible and civil tone. It’s a really bad idea to badmouth your ex to your kids: remember that he or she is still their other parent, and creating a great divide will make them feel that they need to choose sides. That isn't fair to them and to their emotional wellbeing, and it will also result in relationship issues for all of you down the line.
Talking to the children together
It’s a bad idea to assume that the children don’t need to know what’s going on. Kids who are old enough to talk will usually sense when something is wrong. At the same time, sharing too many gory details is not productive. When talking about the situation it’s best to do it as a family unit; gather all the kids together and discuss the situation in a calm, non-threatening and non-accusatory manner. There will also always be plenty of opportunity to talk to each one individually at a later stage to deal with age appropriate and relevant questions they will have.
It’s not their fault… and not their responsibility
Kids have a tendency to believe that the world revolves around them, and this applies in particular to their family.
Anticipate this reaction as it is likely that young children will start to think that they did something that might have contributed to your breakup. Do everything you can to impress upon them that they played no part in it. More than that, your discussion needs to push gently into the notion that nothing they do or say is going to change the situation between you and your ex, and getting you back together is not within their – or anyone else’s – power. They need to understand that this is a problem between their parents and to be resolved (in whatever way) solely by their parents.
Disrupting other aspects of life as little as possible
It’s obviously not possible to carry on as before. However, as a parent it will help to try and minimise the impact of divorce or breakup in other aspects of your children’s life. Unless you’re actually relocating, then maintaining your current school routine as well as involvements with your circle of friends or any extramural activities can be extremely helpful for yourself as well as your kids. If one of you has moved out of the family home then restricting access to that parent without a very good reason is a bad idea as it will create a situation where your child may feel they need to pick a side.
In all things, bear in mind that children will feel extremely vulnerable through this time of stress and family upheaval – and
potentially for many years to come as well. As an adult, you have the power to make decisions that will affect them profoundly and while they are observationally smart, they may not have the emotional or intellectual maturity to understand the complexities of your relationship and life situation. However, with your help and consideration, your children can learn to negotiate their feelings proactively – all you need to do is make every effort to ensure that the relationship between you is open and honest.
Madanhire is one of Southern Africa’s leading life coaches andmotivational
speakers. See more from him at dreamworldpromotions.co.za
How did you involve your children during your break up? Was it easy?