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?
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.”
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.
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