Are you considering divorce? If so, you have likely been mulling it over for some time. Just the thought of divorce can bring up vile feelings of guilt, shame, and dread. This reaction is intensified when there are children involved.
Divorce is all about loss, change, transition, and adjustment. We enter marriage believing that it is going to last. Relationships are complex, and often the signs of trouble are unanswered for too long. Sadly, our culture mostly still views divorce as a contest between winner/loser, villain/victim, and sinner/saint, with lots of judgment to go around.
The question is, since roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce, why the blame, shame and stigma? Do we need to distance ourselves as a society by demonizing divorce, casting blame rather than understanding the complexity of relationships?
The problem is that this perspective is not in alignment with reality, and it trickles down to children.
Too often, the divorce story parents share with children is chock full of catastrophizing and victimization. Parents feel compelled to tell ‘the truth’ at a time when they are still reeling from the decision to divorce.
Imagine a child learning that their parents are divorcing in a way that is filled with empathy and hope for the future. No matter how hard the change in lifestyle will be for your children, you as their parents hold the key to their adjustment during and after divorce.
This can be a challenge for parents when there has been a violation of trust in the marriage, such as infidelity. Realistically, the act alone of announcing that you want to divorce will be felt as a betrayal. Once the safety of the relationship has been threatened, it’s hard to turn back.
Regardless of the underlying reasons for divorce, you owe it to your children to hold their world together. Even when yours has blown apart, children need continuity, stability, and security. You are the air they breathe, the ground beneath their feet. You do not have the luxury of catastrophizing, indulging in sharing ‘the truth’, running away with an affair partner, or thoughtlessly blasting the marriage.
The hardest task early in a divorce process is telling your children. This is Act One of the rest of their lives. Think carefully about what you share and how you tell them. They will remember where they were, what you said, how you said it, and who was present.
This moment is embedded in their hearts and minds forever as a part of their family legacy. The legacy that tells them that everything will be alright, or that they are doomed.
It is important that you and your spouse tell your children about your divorce together. This is often overlooked when one person is further along in accepting the finality of divorce.
If possible, make time and space for the other spouse to triage their feelings. Deep healing takes time, more than you have right now. It may be helpful to engage a professional who can hold you both as emotions arise.
When there is some equilibrium, enough for you to construct a divorce narrative together for your children, here are some points to consider:
- No one is to blame. There is no excuse for blaming one parent for the decision to divorce. A marriage cannot be sustained at the expense of one of the partners. If one partner is asking that the marriage end, they deserve to be respected. The marriage contract is voluntary.
- We will always love you and continue to parent you. Even if you are not communicating well now, do your best to focus on their needs and concerns. Manage your own needs and feelings during this critical time for the sake of your children’s security. You will feel stronger and more confident about the future by doing so. Even if it’s ‘fake it till you make it’ managing.
- We failed in (fill in the blank) ways in our relationship. This is the ‘why’. It is difficult, but you can get there. Did you stop communicating, or sharing? Did one of you shut down, and the other become angry? Even when there is infidelity, there was trouble before that was not being addressed. Do your best to understand your own contribution and see if you can merge the two into a ‘why’ for your children to understand, that is age appropriate. Without this, your children will create their own ‘why’.
If you can bake these three key points in your conversations with your children, you are honoring the promises made to them. You promised that you would care for them, support each other, and be good role models. The pain of divorce does not have to eclipse your love for them, or any hope for a promising future. You will be serving them and yourself as you move through the grief, and recovery, of divorce.
Ann Cerney, MS, LPCC is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and Child Specialist practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area. See her profile at https://collaborativedivorcegoldengate.org/find-a-professional/?locale=marin-county&professional=cerney-ann