“…most adult children of divorce report their parents’ breakup as their most painful life experience.” Edward Teyber, author of Helping Children Cope With Divorce Divorce is rarely good for the kids involved. Divorce ushers in a cascade of changes affecting children. Here are a few of those changes likely to occur:
- The presence of one or both parents is reduced.
- Living arrangements change.
- Some parents relocate - new school, new church, new friends, new authority figures.
- Finances are stressed.
- New people come into their social circles.
What can be done to help a child going through this whirlpool of events? If your own child or someone close to you is affected by a divorce, decide to keep a C-A-T in the house (not the feline variety!):
C – Consistency
A – Availability
T – Tranquility
CONSISTENCY - In light of the changes swirling around the child, changes he has no control over, you can help by keeping routines consistent. Don't make unnecessary changes to schedules, schools, churches, or neighborhoods. Be especially sensitive to keeping the support network of friends and family stable. As much as possible be consistent in your own parenting. Don't change your stance on what is allowed or forbidden as regards your rules. Resist the temptation to try to make up for life's hardships by becoming lenient. Certainly you may need to create special times to get away and focus on your relationship with your child, but don't let your rules for right and wrong get set aside.
AVAILABILITY – Take stock of the amount of time your child spends with you and the other parent. Be aware of any reduction, and take whatever steps you can to be present in your child's life. Preserve any routine that involves your relationship. If you have a routine of talking together right after school, then do everything you can to keep that routine in place. Even if your work or travel schedule requires a change, set a conference call to keep that line of communication open. Be prepared for resistance on their part. They may blame you and try to punish you with silence. Confidently wait them out without berating them or pestering them.
TRANQUILITY – Keep your cool and allow them the room to go through the grieving process at their own pace. Pray. Alot. Seek your own counsel from appropriate sources like mature friends, pastors, or trained counselors. DO NOT allow the child to become your counselor. That happens if you pour out your anguish to them. Many children will gladly step into the role of comforter, but this will not end well. It reduces the respect they have for you, gives them unhealthy power over you, and ultimately scares them. You can be somewhat honest about your need for help, but show them that there are places you can go for support. This confirms for them that the world is still predictable and safe. If you are a person of faith, you show them faith in action as you demonstrate hope for the future and confidence in yourself and in your child. You model for them the right way to handle life's problems as you get help from the right places.
Be sure you do plenty of listening to your child. Repeatedly explain that the divorce is not the result of anything the child did. The egocentric nature of childhood sometimes causes children to think everything is tied to their own actions. Don't rush into another relationship as this adds another layer of complexity of the child's world.
Don't belittle the other parent even if they deserve it. You can tell the truth of the matter in age appropriate ways, but bashing the other parent puts the child in an emotional bind. Follow the Bible's advice to "speak the truth in love."
Avoid divorce if you can because the effects are far-reaching and long-lasting in your child's life. But if it has already happened, put these suggestions in place and pay close attention to your child's handling of this trauma. Remember to provide a CAT of consistency, availability, and tranquility in your home.