Helping a child get through a difficult divorce is a challenge for any parent in any child. It doesn’t matter how strong your relationship is or how precocious or intelligent the child is. Many of the subtleties and finer divorce points that may seem obvious to you and me are lost on children. Remember that no matter how interested or bright your child is, they are only a child. That means that their life experiences are not what yours are, and there are opportunities to experience emotions and other adult situations that have not yet come up.
This is for a good reason. Children’s brains are not fully developed until they’re in their mid-20s, science tells us. As a result, their ability to process information and use reason to problem solve is not designed to the point that ours is as adults. With that said, your job as a parent who brings the divorce into the family is too help your child understand as much as they need to, in your opinion. That means you and your spouse, if possible, need to work together to bridge the gap between the changes that are about to take place in your family and the knowledge that your child has of the divorce process.
The key to this whole discussion is that you and your spouse need to determine what is appropriate and what is necessary to tell your child about the divorce. Your divorce is not my divorce or your neighbor’s divorce. It certainly isn’t your mother or father’s divorce, even though they may have opinions about how you need to talk to their grandchildren about the case. You and your spouse will be sitting in the home with your children Going through the divorce process and helping them understand why it is happening. Nobody else is going to volunteer to have that discussion for you, so you all may as well bite the bullet and figure out how to have that conversation.
Make the conversation age-appropriate.
You and your spouse will not tell your 4-year-old the same things about your divorce as you would tell your 14-year-old. Even though a 14-year-old is not yet an adult, they can better understand why relationships fail and the implications of the divorce on your family. Their questions will be different about the divorce than a younger child’s questions would be. Your little ones may not even understand fully what is going on. They may believe that mom and dad are not getting along or are fighting a lot. Their view of the case is likely to be much more stunted than an older child’s.
Bearing in mind the ages of your children and their maturity level, you should tailor the conversation you have with them about your divorce to these benchmarks. You do not need to feel like you have to explain every detail to your child, no matter how old they are. There are some aspects of your marriage that you want to keep private and that your children frankly do not need to know. Subjects like sexual infidelity, financial infidelity, drug use, and abuse are not the subject matter that you necessarily need to weigh your children down with. They will not help your child to understand the process any better.
However, you can and should talk to your child about how the divorce is not their fault. I realize this may sound cliché. You have probably read or heard from other people that this is a common Thought for children to have, that the divorce their parents are getting was brought about by some action or inaction of theirs. The fact that something is a cliché means that on some level, it is true. From my experience, children internalize divorce in their family to be something that they did wrong or that somehow, they did not live up to their parent’s expectations. This can put a lot of undue pressure on a child who is otherwise going through a tough time.
Take the time to talk to your child early in the process about the divorce. Please do not wait for them to hear about an offhand conversation you may be having with your spouse or another family member. The reason why I cautioned you to talk to your child directly about the divorce early in the process is that if you do not have this conversation, they will begin to formulate their ideas and preconceived notions about divorce without consulting you first period; this could cause a lot of misunderstanding and problems in the mind of your child while not helping him or earth learn more about what changes are about to take place in their life.
Again, your child’s worldview is much more limited than yours. The things you know in the context you can put your life into are not what your child would be able to do. Since your child needs your guiding hand now more than ever, you need to take steps two work with them directly with the assistance of your spouse. This may mean coordinating what you were going to say ahead of time with your spouse, and if nothing else, you should reinforce that the divorce is not your child’s fault and that both parents love their child very much.
Ideally, you and your spouse would be able to talk to your child about your jointly held plan to share custody and time with your child. The immediate concern of most children in the situation Is how much time they will be losing with each parent. If you can go to some lengths to describe to your child how Visitation is likely to work and how the challenges you face in the family can work out better for you all, I think your family will be best served in the long run.
Going through a divorce with a special needs child
Much of what we have already talked about in today’s blog post applies to you and your family, even if you have a special needs child. Of course, I do not know your specific circumstances concerning your child and the nature of their impairment or disability. Some special needs children are extremely high functioning and do not require much, if any, exceptional care. On the other hand, some of your children May need a great deal of medical or emotional intervention by professionals. Therefore, a boilerplate conversation about divorce would not be possible or practical. It is up to you and your spouse to determine which camp you fall into and act accordingly.
Like many other areas of your life when it comes to parenting your special needs child, you will need to likely devote more time to a conversation with them about your divorce than you would a child who does not have special needs. You and your spouse know how to talk to your particular needs child about issues and how to problem-solve regarding their specific needs. Hopefully, you and your spouse can coordinate your efforts and present a united frontier special needs child regarding the divorce. If not, they could be made to feel like there is an even bigger problem in the house than there already is. If children without special needs cannot have much context or perspective into divorce, imagine how difficult it would be for your unique needs child to face the reality of your parents separating households.
With that said, I would like to provide you with three pieces of advice on working with your special needs child at the time of your divorce. These are not steps to follow that cost a lot of money or require a great deal of knowledge of the law, psychology, or anything like that. They do require you to be committed and diligent in approaching this topic with your child. Like anything else with your children, you need to be intentional in the way you act.
Have a plan in stick to it
the best general advice I can give to you when it comes to helping your special needs child get through your divorce is to devise a plan with your spouse and stick to it. This means considering all the advice I’ve already given you on approaching the topic with your child and speaking to him for her so that they may better understand the divorce. You all need to determine how much information you want to give and approach the divorce with your child. Nobody knows your child better than you and your spouse. This may be the blessing and curse of your divorce since you are losing a relationship with the person who is cared for your child the most other than yourself.
Whatever you decide to do, you need to work it out in advance with your spouse what you will say and how you will say it. Once you have had the initial conversation with your special needs child, the lessons of that conversation and the practical reinforcement behind the conversation need to occur over and over, your special needs child is less likely to internalize the information you gave and instead will be looking for real-world examples of how you and your spouse will ensure that they have a long-lasting and trustful relationship with both parents.
Take the time to be there for your child no matter the challenges
going through a divorce in the coronavirus era is likely to be incredibly stressful. Not only do we have considerations to make about the divorce, but you also likely have concerns regarding your job, your health, and your child’s future. As we hopefully begin to emerge from the worst of this pandemic, I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to spend time with your child during the divorce. Your special needs child needs you to be able to connect with them on an emotional and physical level, perhaps more than a non-special needs child would.
Even if it means doing less in other areas of your life, you need to be physically there for your child during the divorce. If you choose to have a boilerplate conversation with your special needs child and then never physically or emotionally reinforce what you discussed in that conversation, the lessons will never sink in. The benefit of that conversation will be mitigated. Instead, please do what you have to do to be there physically with special needs children to help answer their questions and spend time with them.
Work with your family law attorney to ensure the divorce decree protects your special needs child
finally, if special provisions need to be included in your divorce final orders concerning your child’s unique needs, you need to work with your family law attorney on this. Special consideration may be given to naming a particular teacher, counselor, or Doctor Who can help you and your spouse solve problems through future issues. Or, one parent or the other may be better equipped to make medical, psychological, or educational decisions. Whatever the case may be, you will need to determine if special provisions need to be included in your final decree of divorce to help your child regarding Visitation, possession, or conservatorship issues.
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