Communication and honesty needed when parents divorce

TOTS TO TEENS

September 05, 1995|By Modena Wilson, M.D. and Alain Joffe, M.D. | Modena Wilson, M.D. and Alain Joffe, M.D.,Special to The Sun

Q: We have been married for 10 years and have two children in grade school. We have decided to divorce. My husband will be moving out at the end of the month. When should we tell the children?

A: We think it highly unlikely that you could be this close to separation and divorce without your children suspecting that something is "wrong" or changing. We suggest that you firm up your plans for the children -- where they will live, how and how often they will see the other parent -- and tell them as soon as possible. Most school-age children understand what divorce is and want to maintain close ties with both parents. It will be the start of a good pattern if you feel you are able to talk with them about it calmly and together.

Let your children know exactly what will happen and when. Plan ahead together so you will be able to answer their questions, concentrating on the changes that will directly affect them. They will want to know where they will live and if they will have to change schools. Will they see both their parents? Will they see friends and grandparents? How will they spend holidays and summers? Will their parents be working more? Will finances be tighter?

They also will want to know why you are divorcing. They may try to talk you into staying together. It is important for them to know that they are not to blame and that you both will still be loving them. It may be helpful to practice your answers, so that you can talk with your children without disintegrating into conflict in front of them.

This will be a hard time for all of you. You and your husband may be so caught up in the effects on your own lives that it will be hard to pay attention to your children. Work hard to be available to them. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. Accept their feelings of anger and loss. Don't make them shoulder the burden of your own. After the separation, try to keep your interactions in front of the children businesslike, cordial and brief.

You can expect your children to be upset and to show emotional effects from your divorce in the short term. Most children bounce back and learn to cope with the changes divorce brings. There are many ways you and their father can help them to do so by keeping their needs in mind. If things don't seem to be getting better with time, don't be reluctant to seek outside assistance for your children.

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