A divorce is NOT the fault of the children. Sometimes, however, children feel that they are in some way to blame, or that the divorce is in some way their fault.
This can be true for very young children, as well as for children who are well past the age of adulthood. It can be important for parents of children of all ages to remember this, although, of course, the way in which the following is articulated, and the way one interacts with children of different ages, will differ.
It is important to reassure children that the divorce is not their fault. It can be important to say this directly. It can be important to not assume that children know and understand this without being told.
It can also be important to assure children that this is not the end of their world, and that both their mother and their father will continue to love them and will continue to be their mother and father.
It may also be important to make sure children understand there is very little they can do to stop the divorce, or to bring about a reconciliation of their parents. Just as the divorce is not their fault, it is not the job of children to bring about a reconciliation.
Remember, no matter how angry you are at your spouse, most children love both of their parents. While the divorce is not the fault of the children, and while there is little or nothing that they can do to bring about a reconciliation of their parents, it is important that the children not be brought in on one side or the other of the divorce, either.
In most circumstances, you should NOT try to justify yourself to your children, or to vilify the other parent. If the other parent is less than perfect, rest assured that the children will see this for themselves and will understand, at least eventually. Do not try to justify your actions to your children, and do not try to explain to them why their other parent is not a good person, even if that is what you yourself believe.
Remember also, you are going to still be linked to the other parent of your children for the rest of your children’s lives. Try to treat the other parent with respect, and show your children that you still have respect for the other parent. Your child will be spending a considerable portion of time with the other parent, whether you are the custodial parent or not. You and the other parent are going to both remain important to your joint children for the rest of their lives. Christmas and other holidays are going to continue to raise issues long after the children are adults and formal court ordered parenting plans are outgrown. In the near term, there will be social, sporting, and school events where you and the other parent of your child will both want to be present. In the longer term, there will be weddings and other family celebrations where most children will want both parents present. If at all possible, try to maintain a respectful and cooperative working relationship with the other parent of your children.
Do NOT bring your children into your disputes. Sometimes parents do this in the course of justifying their actions and decisions to their children. Sometimes parents do this by asking children to pass messages from one parent to the other. In extreme cases, some parents even put their children into the position of choosing between their parents.
Remember, you are the adults in this situation. It is not the job of children to arbitrate between their parents, or to judge their parents, and it is not fair to ask them to do this.
Remember also, many times parents may feel that they are the “good” parent, and that the child does not want to spend time with the other parent. There is often some justification for this impression, because many children are reluctant to leave one parent (whether the custodial parent, or the parent with whom they have been enjoying parenting time), and they are very happy to see that parent again when they return. Remember, most children love both parents, and wish they could live with both parents all the time - they are likely just as happy to see the other parent after a separation, and just as reluctant to leave the other parent when the time comes.
Think about this. Don’t ask your children to choose between the two of you. Don’t ask your child for approval for your decision to leave the other parent, or for approval and support if you feel that it was the other parent who left you. Don’t try to make your child’s relationship with the other parent difficult. To the extent that you can bring yourself to do this, support parenting decisions and the life choices of the other parent, and be respectful to the other parent and encourage your child to do the same.
Don’t put your children in the position of making choices between their parents. One reason many courts prefer well articulated parenting plans, and discourage testimony of children as to the parent with whom they would prefer to live, or the parenting plan they would like, is that many courts (based in part on situations they have seen time and time again, and in part based on the testimony of experts in appropriate cases) feel that to do so is to ask children to choose sides, when the child prefers to support both parents. This is true even when it appears on the surface that more freedom is being granted by allowing the child to choose whether he or she wants to go for parenting time, for example.
In short, while you are going through a very difficult and emotional time in any divorce or other family law proceeding, please remember your children are also going through a difficult patch. Many times children blame themselves for their parents’ difficulties. Anything you can do to reassure your children that the situation is not their fault, and anything you can do to provide stability and prevent your children from being drawn into your dispute may be helpful.
NOTE: The above is neither legal advice nor the advice of professionals in child psychology, social work, child development, or mental health. It merely reflects general observations of a variety of family law attorneys over the course of several years. It is not intended to replace professional advice, nor does this information apply in all situations. The above should not be considered legal advice, nor should it be taken as a statement of the only time that one might benefit from consulting a legal or other professional.