Q: After eleven years of marriage we are divorcing. How can we help our 10, 8 and 5 year old through this time?
A: Divorce is now unfortunately a fact of life, however, unless the children have witnessed severe physical violence, very few accept their parents’ decision. Knowing many divorced families also does not help children going through the experience. No matter what their age, children have a lot to go through after a family break-up.
In your case, 5 year olds often suffer separation anxiety and this may increase. This child may become clingy and regress in behaviour. Your 8 year old may believe that the divorce is his fault. He may deal with guilt, split loyalties, confusion, embarrassment and shame. Physical symptoms such as stomach-aches may occur. Your 10 year old will have even more problems with loyalty issues, feeling sorry for one parent while blaming the other. This child will likely be very angry and resentful. At any age, children need honest information, freedom to express their true feelings, often only possible with a neutral counsellor and must be told over and over that the divorce was not their fault and that they will always be cared for and loved by both parents. Children fear that “if mom and dad could fall out of love with each other they can fall out of love with me too”. They must be reassured that this will not happen. It is also important to remember that adults also go through many stages during divorce and frequently benefit from counselling. If the children are to feel safe, the parents must be emotionally well enough to parent. Frequently the fact that the parents are falling apart is the biggest problem that children face. During this time, both adults and children can benefit from counselling. Elayne Tanner & Associates is again offering an 8 week adult evening group for those who are Separated or Divorced, that addresses all these issues and much more. Group starts Friday, October 19th, so please reserve your spot now, as space is limited.