Local divorce mentor on how to have the divorce talk with kids

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"My own children were very young when we got divorced and unable to really grasp the meaning of it all." Photo: Getty Images
"My own children were very young when we got divorced and unable to really grasp the meaning of it all." Photo: Getty Images

Marriage can be hard, and if a couple can't work it out then divorce may be an option. According to StatsSA four out of ten marriages in 2016 ended in divorce after less than ten years.

The divorce process can turn a family home into a battlefield and children find themselves helpless in the middle of it all. How does this affect the children? 

Regardless of their age, children have a unique bond with both their parents and will experience a sense of loss and longing even if they are unable to express it in a manner we as parents can comprehend. 

Read: How to maintain a mature relationship with your spouse during the divorce process

Parent24 spoke to Sinta Ebersohn, a divorcee, divorce mentor at Fair Divorce, and a single mom to two boys who shares how her children changed after the divorce. 

The changes the separation will present

Ebersohn says that children need to be involved in the divorce process in an age appropriate manner.

She explains that children do not need to know the details, but they need to know what changes the separation and the divorce will bring to their day to day lives.

As a mentor, she notes that, on the one hand, "very young children need help to understand where they're going to live and when they're going to be with which parents and siblings." While "slightly older children also need to know the arrangements around their school and other activities."

On the other hand, "teenagers would need more information such as the level of autonomy they'll have in the new situation and parents might consider disclosing a few more personal details to adolescents when they ask for it."

Ebersohn says that at the time of her divorce, her children were very young and unable to grasp its meaning at all. But, as they grew older, she says that she had to convey more information to provide context.

Regardless of their age, children have a unique bond with both their parents and will experience a sense of loss and longing even if they cannot express it in a manner we as parents can comprehend, she says.

"As long as they spend continued quality time with both their parents, a secure attachment will be sustained and will even grow stronger," she adds.

Also read: Lawyers call January 'Divorce Month': How to avoid becoming a statistic this year

The challenges and how to resolve them

Ebersohn explains that children in high-conflict divorces might experience challenges focusing on their school work due to stress, and anxiety might complicate their social interaction.

She believes that maintaining their sense of safety and security under these difficult circumstances is paramount.

Her advice to parents going through a divorce is to ensure that their children understand that they will remain a family even if their parents no longer live under the same roof. Parents should explain that there are many out of the ordinary family structures these days.

"As long as children believe that they are loved unconditionally by their parents, they will be resilient," she adds.

Parents and children need to understand that although "children's voices are always heard in a proper divorce process where they are free to express their wishes and preferences, where they live ultimately remains the decision of the parents."

She concludes that children cannot simply pick and choose with which parent they want to reside – both their parents have to make joint decisions that are in the best interest of their children and sustainable by the parents.

Have a divorce question? Learn more here #DignifiedDivorce: Everything you need to know about divorce or contact us with your questions.

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