Children can be wonderful people, smart, funny, and intelligent, but there are things in life that can take them off this path, like divorce. Divorce is something that many couples need, but it can be a tricky process to navigate, and it becomes even more complicated when you have children in the mix. There are ways to protect your child’s mental health in divorce, but these methods require a lot of time and effort if you want them to work.
One of the first and most important things you can do to help protect your child’s mental health in a divorce is to make the process as easy as possible. While many factors can get in the way of your divorce being easy, you can still do your best to simplify it as much as possible. Instead of dragging procedures and arbitration out, try finding a solution with your spouse and attorneys as quickly as possible.
You should still want to be thorough, but try to be open and willing to compromise. The longer the divorce proceedings take, the greater the divorce’s impact on your child.
In addition to making the process easy and quick, you must find the right time to tell your child. Waiting too long can make it seem like this was coming from nowhere, flipping your child’s whole sense of family and security on its head. Alternatively, telling them too early can also hurt, especially if the process takes a while. When you’re meeting with your attorneys and your partner, it’s smart to try and get an ETA of how long the process should take. With this information, you can better deduce the right time to tell your child.
While you may have to work hard to find the right time to tell your child about the divorce, don’t sugarcoat things. It’s important to stay as transparent and honest as possible so they can fully understand what’s going on and have their lingering questions answered. Depending on the age of your children, they may have a couple or many questions.
It won’t ever be easy to tell your child that you’re getting a divorce and that you and your spouse are having disagreements. However, being transparent early can help them later. Bending the truth to cater to their younger sensibilities will only hurt trust as they get a better picture of what led to your divorce. Be as transparent as possible, and try to rehearse beforehand too. Some answers to their questions will need to be, “We’ll just have to wait and see,” but you want to minimize answers like this as much as possible.
Answering questions and being transparent is important for your child, and you must plan arrangements early to have as many answers as possible. Divorces take time, but you and your partner can try to come to a rough agreement about how different things will change. You can discuss and formulate plans for many different areas, such as:
In the ideal scenario, only a little bit needs to change from your current arrangement. However, it doesn’t always work out like this. Try to be flexible when creating plans to help maintain your child’s mental health. After you’ve created a plan and the court has signed off on it, stick to it as best you can. Extraneous circumstances will always arise. But if you want to protect your child’s well-being and mental health, you’ll do your best not to let these circumstances interfere with your established plans.
While there are some divorce situations where a couple can still be friends, there are other situations where the parents become enemies. Even if this is the case in your divorce, you shouldn’t villainize and talk badly about your ex-spouse. Negative talk like this could cause your child to have those same negative feelings. Negativity creates a vicious cycle where, every time your child goes between parents, they must catch the other parent up on what the other parent said about them. This constant back and forth of negativity can weigh on anyone, especially a child.
Another reason villainizing your ex is not a good idea is that your child is not a separate entity from your ex. Your ex has influenced your child even if they are not a biological parent. When one parent criticizes the other, your child, perhaps unbeknownst to them, is internalizing those criticisms. When they hear this negativity thrown at their other parents, they can take it as negativity toward themselves.
Another way to protect your children’s mental health in the divorce is by not financially punishing them. The idea of punishment can seem harsh, and many parents will say that they would never do such a thing, but financial punishment can often just be circumstantial. Depending on the nature of your divorce, it could cost a lot of money and put you in hard times. Even during those hard times, try not to punish your children financially and have their situation change. Try to keep your child’s life the same, spending the same amount as before on things such as:
Everyone’s life will change slightly during the divorce, but to protect your child’s mental health, try to keep their lifestyle the same. Too much change all at once can be negative for your child. Try to rein things in and let your child have the same life they were living before the divorce.
You shouldn’t villainize your ex-spouse and put your child in the middle, and you shouldn’t turn your child into your therapist either. Even if they’re older, they don’t have the tools to handle the emotional baggage that can come with a divorce and relationship issues. While your child can fit into the role of a therapist, listen to your emotional issues, and offer advice, they don’t have the same tools and experience as trained therapists.
A trained therapist goes through years of schooling to offer healthy advice and listen to your struggles, and they know how to separate their work from their day-to-day life. Your child does not have this luxury. Whatever you tell them will weigh on them, and children already take on more responsibilities after a divorce. Instead of adding more to their plate and overwhelming them, let them be children, and if you need to vent or talk to someone, consider an actual licensed therapist.
These are some of the best ways to protect your child’s mental health in divorce and help ensure they’ll grow up healthy. Divorce is complex, but if you want to take care of your child, it’s important you try and make your divorce go as smoothly as possible. You can’t always get it this way, but when you work with the expert Chicago family lawyers at Schiller DuCanto & Fleck, we’ll do our best to make it easy. You can count on us to protect your and your child’s mental health.