As a single parent who’s been divorced and co-parenting for ten years, I get asked fairly often about children and divorce:
- How did my ex wife and I tell our children we were getting divorced?
- How did our kids respond to the divorce news?
- How have our children coped since the divorce?
I’m a divorced parent with some experience. I’ve raised two kids half time and co-parented for a decade. I’ve read a ton of books, went through therapy, put my kids through counseling. And I watched as we all ended up okay.
Children and Divorce – What are the Effects?
My wife and I lived separated under one roof for nearly a year before we pulled the trigger and separated. When we broke the divorce news to our kids, our daughter was 7 ½ and our son was 3 ½, and my ex-wife and I both told them at the same time about the end of our marriage, and how it would affect our family and them.
We felt it was important for our children to see we both wanted the divorce, and we made sure they understood that they were not the reason we were splitting up.
When it comes to children and divorce, kids might feel anger, fear, frustration, depression, guilt. They don’t understand why the parents are splitting up, or what will happen after the separation. A lot of kids probably want their parents to stick together, no matter what. I remember my son would try to get his mom and I to sit together or talk to each other as much as possible, hoping we’d reconcile. And he was only three and a half!
Sometimes with children and divorce, there’s a sense of relief that the tension in the home will finally go away. That was how our daughter reacted. She actually smiled when we told her the news, as if she understood we could all be happy in two homes.
A fabulous book regarding parents, children and divorce is Mom’s House, Dad’s House, by Isolina Ricci, PhD. The book helped me lay the foundation for successful co-parenting, including setting limits and respecting roles.
How to Co-parent With an Ex
Kids are smart. What you say directly to them is huge, but they also pick up on body language and indirection communications. For instance, if you bitch about your ex to a friend, and your kid is in the room – your child knows you are ripping on your ex. This might anger the child. They might grow distrustful or resentful of you. They also might end up judging your ex harshly.
My ex-wife and I found it’s much better to refer to each other with respect. That way the kids learn forgiveness and conflict resolution. Plus, your ex is still your child’s parent. Your kid probably wants to feel love for both parents, even if the parents can’t feel that love for each other.
Divorce affects children, birthdays, holidays, extended family. It’s a massive change for everyone, and all occasions. The important thing is to try to put the needs of your kids first.
Birthday Traditions for Children and Divorce
Know that kids can thrive, and sometimes divorced kids are more evolved than children from “traditional” families. For instance, my daughter is extremely organized and self-sufficient. She never let her two-home living situation affect her ability to get school work done. She’s self confident, and her self-esteem is sky high – partly because she has a single mom who is thriving on her own, and a single dad who expresses himself and communicates with her. She has great relationships with both her mom and me.
Things have been tougher for my son. He sometimes lets schoolwork slip through the cracks between the two homes. While he enjoys his one-on-one time with both mom and dad, he really likes meeting my ex’s boyfriends or my girlfriends. It seems he wants both of us in healthy relationships, where he can interact with the dating relation in our lives. On the plus side – my son is not shy, and will boldly talk to any adult. Maybe he would have been that way anyways, but he’s definitely self confident and not shy, despite or because of our two-home situation.
The effects of children and divorce aren’t necessarily doom and gloom. Marital separation can lead to happy, healthy, evolved, self-aware people. Parents and kids both.