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Make your children a priority during a divorce

By Mark Demas

The end of a marriage may feel like you are riding on an emotional rollercoaster. Divorce is not a single event but a process that unfolds over time involving a series of changes. The stress can be overwhelming as you adjust to your new circumstances.

If children are involved, it is important to make them your key priority throughout this turbulent time since they are likely confused and unsure about what is going on between their parents.

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), nearly all children will experience uncertainty and concern about what will happen to them. With any divorce, “children experience feelings of loss when one parent leaves the family.”

In high-conflict divorces, the children will “also feel a sense of relief because the domestic violence or abuse has stopped,” says the CPS.

With amicable divorces parental separation may be unexpected, leaving children bewildered about what is happening to their family, the Society says. In almost all cases, “there is likely to be a decline in household income, loss of contact with one parent and multiple changes involving home, school and friends.”

The effect can be long-term

There can also be long-term consequences. “Separation and divorce may increase risks for negative outcomes in physical, mental, educational and psychosocial well-being during childhood and later, as youth transition to adulthood,” according to the CPS.

However, it adds that “although there is increased risk for various negative outcomes, most children and youth of separating and divorcing families do not have significant or diagnosable impairments.”

The Department of Justice reminds parents that “acting in the best interests of the child is the number one priority in all family law matters involving children.” It states that “one of the most important things you can do for your children is to protect them from seeing or hearing conflict between you and the other parent.”

The Department offers three suggestions to achieve that.

  • Don’t argue or discuss the details of your court matter when the children can hear.
  • Avoid criticizing or complaining about the other parent in front of the children.
  • Do not make the children feel they have to take sides against the other parent.

“A lawyer, mediator or other family law professional can help you come up with strategies to help you protect your children from conflict,” the Department notes.

Resources are available

There are online and printed resources that can help parents navigate a divorce, such as the Health Canada booklet: Because Life Goes On ... Helping Children and Youth Live with Separation and Divorce

The booklet notes that a divorce can cause feelings of “anger, isolation, anxiety, euphoria, depression, guilt, loss of control, fear, incompetence and insecurity. You may doubt your ability to deal with the needs of your children because you also face pressing needs of your own. Sometimes parents may feel that they have failed their children and may doubt their own worth. These emotions and difficulties are a natural part of getting through separation and divorce.”

Health Canada adds that while children have a limited ability to understand what is happening during a divorce, “that doesn’t stop them from trying to figure out the big picture.

“Younger children see things from their own perspective, that is, they see themselves as the cause of events,” the booklet notes. “This is why younger children often blame themselves or invent imaginary reasons for their parents’ separation and divorce.”

Common concerns for children caught up in a divorce include:

  • Struggling to understand why they must bounce between homes while most of their friends live in one house.
  • Young children may be fearful that their parents will stop loving them.
  • The stress of moving homes, switching schools and getting caught in the middle of arguments can create negative consequences and long-term anxiety issues

Ways to prioritize your kids in a divorce

You want to do what is best for your children but you may be unsure how to do that. Here are five tips to help you be the best parent you can be.

Co-parent if possible. Having both parents spend significant time with the children will help them feel connected to both of you and adjust to the new living arrangements. In some divorces, this arrangement is not possible.

Maintain routines. Routines keep order and structure in a family. Try to keep the same approaches in both households such as times for homework and bedtime routines.

Be cautious with dating. It may seem only natural to want to find a new partner after your divorce is finalized but make sure you put your children before your social life. In cases where you have weekend parenting time with the children, any dating will have to be done on weekdays. Your kids don’t need to meet every person you go on a date with. That will only create confusion, especially for young children who may assume you will be getting back together with your ex-partner.

Talk to your children about what lies ahead. Even after the parenting time and parental responsibility issues are worked out, your children will have questions about what lies ahead. Answer their questions as best as you can, thinking through your responses so they do not just come across as a criticism of the other parent. This will be an ongoing conversation with your children. The main message from you should be that you will not abandon them, physically or emotionally.

This isn’t just about you. Children have a limited capacity to embrace change. Your divorce is going to affect their emotional well-being for a long time so be sensitive to their needs. Your children may be carrying a backpack full of emotions during the divorce and those need to come out. Listen and empathize with their concerns.

Contact us for assistance

Many legal issues will arise in any separation and divorce. Let us help you with those so you can pay more attention to your children. The experienced team at Demas Schaefer Family Lawyers can guide you through this difficult time in your life. Contact us for a free 15-minute telephone or video consultation to see how we can assist you.

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