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I have two young children and I'm going though a divorce. My daughter is 5, and my Son is 2. I'm worried because my son and daughters behaviors has gone down hill. I was wondering if there was anything I could do to help them get though this.

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If you can possibly avoid it, don't go through with the divorce. –  j.rightly May 10 '11 at 14:27
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MY parents divorced when my youngest brother was 13. Quite a bit older than your kids, but he went from a straight A student to a near drop out - did not get his HS diploma eventually and only today at 25 he's starting to collect the pieces and try to recover. If this divorce isn't a lifesaving measure - I'd avoid it at least until the kids are in college or perhaps after. Again, I don't know your personal situation and it could very well be what I said here will be completely irrelevant in your case, but still. had to share my experience on it. –  ron M. May 23 '11 at 15:42
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One more piece of advice, in case you must go with the divorce. FAKE GOOD RELATIONS with your soon to be ex while in front of the kids. Do not be openly hostile - do not use your kids as weapon, agree with your wife to do this seemingly amicably and without bitterness. FAKE IT if you must - for your kids. –  ron M. May 23 '11 at 15:44
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"If you can possibly avoid it, don't go through with the divorce" That's horrible advice. And doesn't answer the question. –  DA01 Dec 29 '11 at 2:00
    
@DA01: Agreed. The appropriate place for answers is as an answer where it can be voted on. Having these as comments seems like a way to ensure they can only be upvoted. Flagged them for removal. (If they were answers, I'd actually have been willing to upvote ron M's, subject to clarification of the words "FAKE") –  deworde Jan 21 '12 at 22:07

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Other than repeating that you love them and try to spend as much time as you can with them, there is unfortunately not much you can do in my opinion. When my parents got divorced, my brother and I were roughly the same ages you are dealing with, he understood more of what was going on than I did. My brother acted out more, thinking in some way it was his fault or that our parents would get together again, neither was true and that festered for a long time until his teenage years when he had a huge fight with our Mom and went to live with Dad. There was a lot of trash talking about Mom and mother's side of the family, which made things difficult with my brother later on. There are more resources nowadays, like counseling and therapists, who can help get things out so kids don't hold onto emotions so that may be option to help the kids out. Still if this is at least as an amicable parting then you can mitigate some of the worst effects, if neither you or your wife trash each other in front of the kids or fight in front of them then you can try to show them as normal a life as you can with the new situation. Remember to tell them you both still love them, they may not understand now but they may later.

Sorry to hear about the situation, divorce is never easy and its more difficult with kids.

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Having lived through my parents' divorce when I was 2-3 years old, there are definitely some things you can do to minimize the impact.

First and foremost, do not fight with your former spouse in front of them. Seeing divorced parents fight is very upsetting to children. If you and your former spouse can agree on anything, agree to keep your conflicts away from the children, for the children's sake. If your former spouse can't abide by that, you'll just have to be the bigger person and walk away from any confrontation in front of the kids.

The other key thing to avoid is putting them in the middle. Don't say anything negative about your former spouse to the children, and don't tolerate the children saying anything negative that you wouldn't have found acceptable before your relationship with your spouse deteriorated. If they do, tell them that even though you aren't married anymore, you are both still their mother and father, and that you both deserve the respect a mother and father are due. No matter how frustrated you get, don't complain about your former spouse's behavior, personality, faults, etc. to your children.

Finally, make sure that both of you repeatedly reassure your children that even though mommy and daddy may not love each other, they both still love their children very much, and they both want what is best for their children.

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This is spot on, IMO. I went through my divorce when my daughter was 2.5, and I REFUSED to fight in front of her (or when she was in the house), and no matter how much of a @)(#*@)%(&@)#(* I thought her father was, I would never, EVER badmouth him to her. My issues with her father are just that; MY issues. She didn't need to be privy to them or be burdened by them. –  Darwy Apr 26 '11 at 20:54
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Good answer generally, but I'd like to add that "don't tolerate the children saying [anything negative about your ex]" isn't necessarily the way to go. Kids need to know they have a right to their feelings, at the least. Additionally, if the ex is doing something harmful (for example, if the divorce involved issues of addiction, abuse, etc) you DO NOT want to do anything in the neighborhood of endorsing those behaviors. –  HedgeMage Apr 26 '11 at 20:56
    
@HedgeMage Fair enough. My intent was to warn against the antagonism between parents causing them to allow the children to say things that would otherwise be unacceptable, simply because it made it feel like the children were on their side. I'll edit it to try and clear it up. –  Beofett Apr 27 '11 at 11:24

One thing I would emphasize is not 'trash' talking the other spouse.

My parents divorced with I was 5 and my brother 3. When young, my mother tell the good stories about my father. How they met, early years of marriage, funny stories, etc.

I feel this is important, because as a young boy, you naturally identify with your father. (or a girl her mother) And you want to make sure that your children have healthy views of their parent/gender.

Another thing my mother did was still show concern for my father's well being. We would pray for him, and have my brother and I send him Christmas / birthday cards.

My mother succeeded in raising two boys. She always honestly answered any questions about my father. As I got older, I became more aware of some of the more negative details of the divorce. But I was able to put it into better context.

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I would also suggest reminding children over and over again that they are not the cause of their parents split. There are a lot of great resources for children whose parents are going through divorce, including great books for you and your children. There are also divorce recovery groups for children. More importantly, though, is to remember that your children need both of you in this time to be constantly communicating with them about any questions, fears, or feelings they might have. They do not need you to encourage them to choose sides, to fight in front of them, or to talk about the other parent in a negative light.

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+1 for emphasizing that the children are not the cause of the divorce. It is their natural reaction to blame themselves at this age, which can be devastating for them if not dealt with. –  Péter Török Jan 7 '12 at 10:21

You need to make sure that your kids know that the divorce is NOT their fault, and you are not divorcing your wife because of THEM.

My daughter started acting out when my first husband and I split up; because she was sure that it had been HER fault because she wasn't a 'good enough' daughter. She was very angry at herself and started to act out because of it.

I explained to her that my problems with her father were just that - between HIM and ME, and that if we weren't happy together, there was no way we could all be happy together. I repeatedly told her how much I loved her, how much her father loved her, and that that wasn't going to change now that Mom & Dad don't live together anymore.

She's 19 now (soon to be 20, OY!) and appreciates the fact that I've never badmouthed her father in any way while she was growing up, and that her father did the same. She never felt used as a bargaining chip or as a weapon against the other spouse.

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Not badmouthing is hard and very commendable! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 23 '11 at 9:10
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I have scars on the insides of my cheeks from biting them (and my tongue) on numerous occasions, believe me. However I wasn't willing to burden my daughter with the issues of the divorce. –  Darwy May 23 '11 at 9:23

No matter what's going on for your kids the thing that is going to give them a huge help is if you don't mix up what's going on for you with what's going on for them. If you're worried about them, that is different than them being sad about their other parent suddenly being out of the house.

Also - LISTEN... to them... as much as you can. Ask them what they think about the divorce. Ask them how they feel about it. And then listen... if they're pissed off with you - you're in luck. Listen... If you can try to validate what they're going through ("Ok... I get that right now you'd really like your dad to be back here and you're upset because this is happening..."). If you can DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY... because it's not about you - it's about them. If they can trust you to hear them and not take it personally they will tell you things that can be very healing and very supportive for them.

I'd also want to get lots and lots and lots of support. To be heard for how incredibly rough it is for me. I'd want to have a whole handful of friends who really know how to listen. And I mean REALLY listen - the kind of listening where they don't offer advice how to fix me, or try to educate me about what a great life lesson this is, or console me that I'm better off without him, etc... But just hear what's going on for me - in my head and in my heart. And hopefully be able to just validate what's there for me - how upset I am, or how confused I am or how I just want to crush his stupid head in with a brick... Because if I can get this kind of listening support, I'll have a lot more room to listen to my kids. and if I listen to my kids, they'll get the resilience they need to find their OWN way through this confusing time...

I left my wife and two kids 10 years ago. My son is now 18 and daughter now 21. Back then I didn't know how to listen. I got really estranged from my kids because I was super worried about them and when I heard that they were depressed and suicidal I tried to help them and gave them lots of ideas what to do to be happier and... and... they stopped talking to me. After I while I started doing some lessons in how to listen (no really - it's a skill you can practice!!) and then when we talked I just listened. After a while they started to trust me and they started to share lots and lots of stuff with me. Eventually I got to the point where I could ask if they wanted advice from me. Most of the time they said "No"... and I respected them and dropped it until later. And if they said "Yes", than I shared what I thought and asked them what they thought about the idea and listened some more. I also got good about sharing what was going on for me. That took much longer because since I'm a guy, emotional literacy took me years to figure out. But now my kids share very deeply and vulnerably with me about all the most important things that are going on for them - hopes and fears and dreams and challenges and triumphs...

Your divorce can be a gateway into a deep and loving relationship with your kids... Use it...

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