When it comes to children and divorce there are two schools of thought when it comes to preparing your kids for the upcoming divorce. The first thought that some people have is that children are resilient as can be and as a result are fully capable of handling the divorce that you are putting on their plate. We see kids handling more today than seemingly ever before when it comes to emotional-based stress. As a result, what you may have hesitated to put your child through some years ago may seem now seem like a relatively insignificant issue compared to other aspects of their life and yours. Nobody would argue that a divorce is something pleasant for a child, but kids are tough, right? This is the first school of thought when it comes to divorce and children.
The other school of thought when it comes to children going through a divorce is that children are less capable of being able to handle the changes associated with the divorce than others would think. Not only is the stability of your child’s life being taken away from him or her but there are emotional and familial concerns as well. We live in an era where parents are frequently overseeing the activities of children to the point where the term “helicopter parent” is used frequently to refer to a parent who hovers and protects their child frequently to protect the child from harm- both real and likely some imaginary. A helicopter may see a child in need of oversight and care to the point where the thought of going through a divorce is enough to make that parent dizzy. These kids need to be shielded from divorce as much as possible depending on the circumstances of the case.
This is the backdrop that I would like to write from when it comes to the subject of preparing your children for a divorce. Without knowing your personality or that of your child it is difficult to say for certain how your child will react to a divorce. Some days may be different than others when it comes to how your child reacts to the divorce What could seem most confusing is how your child acts towards you and your co-parent on a day-to-day basis. Above all else, you need to be flexible in your approach to how you work on building your child up for the divorce to make sure that he or she has the confidence to handle whatever is put in front of him or her.
We know from experience here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan that no matter how well you prepare your child for a divorce that nothing can truly put your kids in a position where they can be completely ready for what is about to enter their lives as far as the divorce is concerned. You can reinforce the lessons that you have already shared with your child but there is only so much you can do. Your life and your methods of parenting up to that point in time are what will carry the day. It is not as if you are going to be able to cram a lifetime's worth of parenting into a couple of weeks before the divorce begins.
That's ok- nobody is asking you to do that. It probably wouldn't make any difference in the outcome of your case but the more support that you can offer to your children the better off they can be as a result. Learn as much as you can about your child, their personality, and their needs and you will be in good shape when it comes to getting your child through the divorce. This is what we are going to talk about at length in today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. If you have any questions about the information that you can read in this blog post, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We have free-of-charge consultations six days a week virtually and in person where you can address your concerns and thoughts to our experienced team of attorneys. These consultations allow you to ask specific questions and receive answers from our team. Not about general concepts in Texas family law but about what you are going through with your family.
This can be a valuable next step that you need to take when it comes to learning more about this area of the law. First, read blog posts and collect general information about the topic that you are interested in. For example, blogs about divorce law and children are probably what you are most interested in at this moment given that you are reading this blog post right now. Once you have collected that information your next question will probably be something along the lines of this information is great, but where can I go to get actual information about my life and my circumstances that can be helpful to me and my family?
This is where those free-of-charge consultations that I was talking about a moment ago come in handy. Even if you have never considered speaking to an attorney about a legal matter before you should do so in this case. The circumstances of a divorce are so significant for you and your family that you owe it to yourself to at least see what an attorney would have to say about your case and your role within it. You may be missing an important point about the case or about some aspect of the case that the attorney you are meeting with can help you out with. All it takes is working up the gumption to pick up your phone and call our office. Or, you can reach out to us online and set up a meeting at your convenience.
Talk to your children at an age-appropriate level
Nobody is going to argue that talking to your children about a divorce is not going to be a fun experience. I have talked with many families who were approaching divorce and learned how they talked to their children about the divorce. Different families approach the situation in different ways. The best outcomes for children seem to be based on situations where you and your spouse are willing to put aside your differences and talk with your children about the divorce as a team. This reinforces the cohesion and family structure that children thrive in. Your kids can see the two of you trying to help them before concerning yourself with matters related to the divorce. I think this is a powerful message that will not be lost on your children.
From there, I think it is important to help your children with information and updates about the divorce at an age-appropriate level. Your six-year-old son is not able to take in as much information as your 16-year-old son. There are many reasons for this but the two that jump to mind most readily for me are age and maturity. Your first-grader son doesn't have the life experience nor the brain power to learn as much about divorce as your 16 does. You wouldn't want to overwhelm the six-year-old so what can you do to help him along in terms of understanding that divorce is underway but not overwhelming him with information? Here are some tips that you may choose to implement in your discussion.
A six-year-old is plenty smart enough to know what is going on at home. I have a six- and five-year-old at home and both of them know when my wife and I engaged in a “debate” about a topic. Kids know what is going on when it comes to acrimony or fighting. They don’t necessarily know what a divorce is or what it looks like for a parent to leave the household, but they understand when people are not happy with one another. The more you expose the kids to it, the more their perception of the situation can be impacted. It can be wise to do your fighting outside the presence of your child so that his or her experiences in relationships and marriage do not become permanently warped.
When it is time for you to talk with your child about the divorce you can do so based on their maturity level. This does not mean that your six-year-old is ready to learn every slight and every wrong committed by your spouse against you. Very quickly this can become a potential time of parental alienation rather than simple information sharing. You should aim to provide your child with the least amount of information possible that will allow you to answer questions and provide updates. Be honest with your child. If he asks if you and mom could ever live together it does nobody any good for you to be dishonest. It may help your child to feel better at that moment but in the long run, that untruth can hurt your child.
A six-year-old may not react with anger, sadness, or any sort of emotion like this. Their primary concern may be regarding missing events and other activities due to the divorce. If you are the parent of a child in this age group, you can probably very vividly remember a time when you were trying to make a serious point to your child when it was clear that your child was not interested in paying attention to you or your point. The same could happen when you share with your child the details about an upcoming divorce. Do your best to help your child based on their maturity level and interest. If your child is not interested that doesn't mean that he or she will never want to find out about your divorce. However, for the time you are in right now, it may be best to simply provide the bare bones information and then turn the page to the next subject of relevance for your children.
Talking to a sixteen-year-old about your divorce you have more options available to you compared to your six-year-old child. This is due to their age, maturity, life experiences, and intelligence beginning to work at this age. While certain areas of the teenage brain may lag in this regard, most parents can attest to the fact that teenagers can be empathetic and understanding when the mood strikes them to do so. Here are some thoughts on how you can approach this subject with your 16-year-old child.
First, your teenager should know the truth about what is happening but only so far as you are willing to tell him or her. Meaning that you do not need to create some fantasy or outlandish explanation for what has occurred in your family when explaining the divorce. As we talked about a moment ago it can be a good thing to present a united front with your spouse when you tell a child together about the divorce. It gives the impression that the marriage may be coming to an end but the way that the family functions is not. However, if this is not possible then being direct and honest with your child is the way to go.
Next, you should allow your child to ask questions about what you have told him or her. The questions could range from subject to subject, but you should take the take to answer those questions honestly. You can spare details that paint you or your spouse in a negative light. One of the major concerns in a divorce is that one parent alienates the child from the other parent through the details and information shared about the case. This can be done in subtle ways that are difficult to distinguish. For a teenager, you can appreciate just how difficult this time may be for him or her. Adding alienation onto the subject matter is a recipe for making a bad situation even worse. Your teen needs more support and more stability now- not less.
One bit of information that I think is particularly relevant when it comes to having a teen is that you should not look at him or her as a sounding board or support system during the divorce case. Your child may be a convenient person to talk to. The two of you may have a close relationship where you share information about a lot of different subjects in life. That's a great thing. However, you should resist the temptation to add divorce to that list of subjects in your lives that you discuss. You can answer questions and provide reassurance to your child if you believe that it is necessary or serves a worthwhile purpose. However, the idea is not that you should use your child as a mini-therapist or support system. He or she is not equipped to act in that capacity, and you should not put that burden on them. The divorce is going to be difficult enough without this added burden being made a part of the circumstances.
No matter the age of your child the preparation for the divorce does not need to be extensive or something that you need to put hours of thought into. Children are perceptive, they will come to understand what is happening quickly. What you can do as a parent reassures the child that neither parent is going anywhere. I understand that this can be easier said than done when either you, your co-parent, or even both of you may be moving out of the home that you all shared. This is where the united front that I mentioned a moment ago can pay huge dividends. You would be surprised to learn just how effective talking to your child about the divorce together with your spouse can be.
Next, you can talk to your child about the divorce in terms that will he or she will understand. Do not talk over their head or over-share information. For example, your child will be impacted by visitation and possession schedules probably the most profoundly of any change in the divorce. You can talk to him or her about those visitation changes and how their life may be impacted. Hopefully, the changes will be minimal but sometimes there are circumstances beyond everyone's control that do not make this possible. If you are so early in a case that you have nothing concrete, you should share this with your child and provide updates as necessary. There is no one size fits all piece of advice on preparing a child for divorce, so it is best to consider the needs of your child and tailor your approach from there.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, or via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.