Advice about the Kids regarding Separation/Divorce

In 2015, Park Slope Parents conducted a survey of single, divorced and seperated (SDS) parents, asking about their experience, advice and tips to share. This article contains reponses to the PSP SDS Survey question: Do you have any words of wisdom on what gave you piece of mind about concerns you might have had about the separation/divorce on your child(ren)?, plus extra wisdom from a 2019 thread.

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Try to not let your child's sadness upset you. Remind yourself you are helping them in the long term:

"Try not to get mired down in your children's immediate sadness.  That might sound harsh, but what I am saying is, it can be painful hearing your child say over and over again, "I want Mommy to live with Daddy", as mine does.  As the child of a VERY dysfunctional couple that didn't divorce until I was out of college, I KNOW I made the right choice for both my son AND me to leave his father, with whom there was no hope of emotional reconciliation and lasting happiness. So my message is, 'trust in your longterm family-plan and just do your best to mitigate the short-term fallout through a lot of love and open communication.'"

"I just think of what my daughter would have been exposed to if we were still together vs. her missing him. I have to believe it is better this way."

"It's a long process for kids, as it is for us.  My daughter seemed to handle it unexpectedly well at age 5 (I think the tension was obvious in our home and it was a relief to her at first) but about six months later, she started being angry, etc.  And two years later, she still fantasizes about us getting back together even though she loves my new partner and also wants me to get remarried! The thing I keep telling myself is that despite her fantasies, in reality, she is so much better off with parents who are not unhappily married, or unhappy period.  And someday she'll realize that, as so many of my adult friends whose parents had relatively decent divorces (or not) all tell me."


It's hard, but when your child(ren) first, answers come easier:

"It's hard to see your children leave your home to sleep at your ex's house. Then come back a few days later. Then leave again with their backpacks. It's hard to see that they forgot their favorite book or toy. It's pretty painful to see your children being introduced to your ex's new partner and spending vacations together. Well, that is life and as long as the children are fine you are fine too. Always, always put the interest of your children first before yours. When the children come first, then the most difficult decisions become pretty easy to make. Tell your children that you both (you and your ex) love them very much no matter what and that you "always" will be there for them. Children develop a sense of insecurity just because they lost the sense of belonging to a home (when they move back and forth). When they know that you will "always" be there for them, the feeling will soon be replaced by a strong sense of security. Spend time with your children; quality time. Nothing else matters people, nothing else."


Create a home of love, laughter, life:

"Simply my own determination that this situation that we didn't choose wouldn't define the three of us (me, my daughter & my son). I vow to create/maintain a home filled with love, laughter and light, even if I have to do it all myself."


"Plan ahead and protect yourself."


Remember, children are resilient:

"Children are very resilient. Their experience through separation and divorce is different from ours. It is extremely important to let them know they are entitled to their feelings."


Know that your child will come through it all:

"My marriage ended because - no other way to put it - my ex lost his shit. so I always worried that in addition to being from a 'broken home,' my daughter would have to deal w/ a crazy parent. and I put more responsibility on myself to be self-aware, check myself on everything (i.e. am I REALLY doing this in her interest, or have I tricked myself into thinking that?), and definitely therapy and a support network of ppl who call me out on my own things.

what helped is, sharing w/ my friends what was going on, and I was surprised by people who revealed things about how they grew up. and always comforted to hear some crazy stories of another parent or two that were off-balance, but my friends grew up fine. strong, independent, smart, and forgiving of their parents. (as an aside, some close friends responded in strange or hurtful ways about what was happening and I just came to understand they were reacting to their own things that my divorce brought up. Other friends I would not know very well, but they would give me the best advice or most comforting, personal stories).

and, now that I've gotten back to myself, it makes me feel more confidence/joy that I'm well adjusted enough, and have great parents who are supportive enough, that my daughter will be fine."


One member disagrees: "Divorce hurts kids. Don't believe people who try to assuage your/their guilt by saying 'everyone is better off.'"


Keep children out of your divorce:

"Keep them out of it!! But keep them in mind for the present and for the future. Do what's best for them first, and you and your partner, second."


"Honesty. Not brutal honesty, but honesty is the best thing."


Find mantras to share with your kids:

"To prep to tell my 4.5 year old, I read a lot of articles to get a sense for what people do. I then came up with about 20 sentences that people use (from the articles), showed them to my ex, and we shortened the list to 3 sentences that work for us. We (mostly me) then said those 3 sentences over and over again. I think kids need a simple, clear, consistent message without rationale/history.

Here is the shortlist of sentences we chose:

-Mama and Dada love you very much. But starting this weekend, Dada will live in a different apartment.

-You will see Dada all the time, just like you do now

-We are both always going to be your parents and we will both always take care of you."


Lay out actionable steps to care for your kids during this time:

"Here are the logistics I laid out to my ex (again, so we're on the same page)

-Tell teacher and school director (so they can watch for/be empathetic to behaviour changes)

-Have my parents visit the following week (for jovial family time)

-Extra hugs, cuddles, etc

-Repeat message for weeks, perhaps months

-Look out for behavioural responses: tantrums, attention seeking, potty regression, fear of sleeping, aggression >> respond with calm hugs, ask about feelings, give space."