Relationship Connection: How can I help my children be resilient through our divorce?

Question

My husband and I are divorcing in the coming months. My kids have no idea this is happening. He wasn’t faithful to me and refused to get any help to save our marriage. To say I’m devastated would be a serious understatement.

I’m writing you because I want to know how can I help my children not develop an identity of someone from a broken home. Even though they are going to lose their family, as they know it, I want them to be confident and not feel like they’re bad because they come from a divorced family. Is there a way I can do this?

Answer

Your children are fortunate to have you in their lives. I can tell you’re going to do everything you can to help your children through this mess so they can build strong futures. When going through betrayal, it’s easy to get pulled into your own narrow vortex of despair and hopelessness and completely ignore the emotional needs of your children. Even though your family is going to be fragmented, there are things you can do to build resilience in your children.

First, make sure they know this divorce had absolutely nothing to do with their behavior. Children are egocentric and will believe something they did or didn’t do caused the demise of the marriage. After they learn about the impending divorce, they may start to do things to save the marriage. If you see them acting out of character (i.e., being extra obedient or helpful), identify what you see happening and let them know they can’t save this with their behavior. Express appreciation and love for their efforts and identify how fearful they must be to see their family change.

Next, don’t shroud the divorce and resultant changes in secrecy and shame. Your children need to know it’s okay to talk about this with others, each other, and with you. They need to know they can talk about it for as long as they need to. You need to answer their questions directly and age-appropriately. They have to know that this isn’t something they should hide. If your children struggle to talk, purchase them special journals where they privately write their feelings and thoughts.

It’s also helpful for you to become educated on how divorce will affect your children’s emotional and relational world. I like Elizabeth Marquardt’s book, “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.” She is a child of divorce and has extensively studied the long-term effects of divorce on children as they progress into adulthood. Talk with your children about the research and let them know what to expect. They need to know they’re not bad or weird for feeling these things.

The divorce isn’t your fault, but it is your responsibility to now prepare yourself and your children to know what’s coming down the road. Your children are less likely to feel broken if you can identify the growth that your family is experiencing from these struggles. You can be honest about the struggles, but it’s also to be honest about the growth. Every crisis presents us with new opportunities.

In fact, Elizabeth Marquardt feels that children from divorced families can make great marriage partners. Even though there is work to do to heal from the effects of divorce, children of divorce can learn to live in a healthy marriage and family. She says that, “children of divorce value marriage because we know what life is like when it’s gone. We grew up fast and we know how to take care of ourselves. Many of us are, frankly, quite wonderful. Marry us.”

Stay connected!

 

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

[i]   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-marquardt/the-new-stigmachildren-of_b_781149.html

 

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7 Comments

  • Sapphire March 30, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Wow, was this simplistic and out of touch with reality. It takes more than telling kids divorce isn’t their fault. First of all, the mom is usually stuck with everything on her shoulders, from working to support the kids to being there for their activities to teaching values – and it is exhausting. If she was a stay-at-home mom before, then she finds herself unable to make enough money to take care of everything alone and often has to work more than one job and may have marital debt to pay off as well. She may have the humiliation of welfare as well as feeling inadequate in every way. The children often have no one to watch over them while she is working if there is no family around. Older children come home to an empty house and no one to care and can get involved with drugs and bad company. The husband either ignores his kids to pursue his new sex life or tries to soften his conscience by providing fun things for the kids, so mom looks like the ogre when she tries to teach responsibility and can’t afford extras. She becomes the bad guy while she does all the work. The daughters learn they can’t trust men to be faithful and the guys learn they can duck out of responsibility. New parental girlfriends and boyfriends disrupt the kids’ lives and they have to continually adjust to people they don’t know intruding on their family. The teen boys no longer have a strong father figure who has values and it is hard for moms to take that place. Teen girls will often replace daddy with a boyfriend. If you have kids, see it through at least until they are grown. They didn’t ask to be born and shouldn’t have to pay the price for their parents’ lack of commitment. Who cares if you aren’t happy anymore. Grow up! You are adults. Choices have consequences. If you both aren’t determined to stay the course, don’t have children!

    If you married a dangerous person then you will have no choice but to go through the divorce and all the above will happen. And it will take a miracle for anyone to come out of it a better person. If you and your children are lucky and make it through, there will still always be painful memories of how it could have been if a parent hadn’t been so selfish. Choices have consequences. Something no one thinks about anymore.

    Women protect yourselves. Get the training and education you need so you can provide BEFORE you have children. Half of marriages end in divorce and sometimes a spouse dies.

  • IDIOT COMMENTERS March 30, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    cluck cluck cluck ,,cluck cluck ,,cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck

    • Sapphire March 31, 2016 at 8:07 am

      Why thank you, sweetie! You have put me in good company! Matthew 23:37… how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Cluck cluck, cluck cluck…

  • IDIOT COMMENTERS March 30, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    that was for ‘sapphire’. we expect a good harvest of eggs this spring. cluck cluck cluck!!

  • ladybugavenger March 30, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Just tell them the truth. Their father is a two timin’ son of a $?!&@ that made a bad choice and he has to pay the price for it! Haha!

  • Larry March 31, 2016 at 3:25 am

    How can I help my children be resilient through our divorce?
    The Best thing that could happen would be if Divorce Court Judges would award the family house to the Children, so they can have somewhat of a Stable Home Life and the parents could take turns visiting!
    Children should not be obligated to be shuffled from one spouse’s residence to another on some kind of schedule “convenient” to the selfish parent(s). These kids have lives and it stinks that they have to be uprooted weekly… missing out on things like scouting, school activities and such… because “oh I can’t go to that because I have to go visit with dad that week…”

    I’m serious! You divorced parents should leave the children in one, (a) ‘Stable Home’ location…and you visit in rotation, even if it is not “convenient for you”.

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