Navigating Divorce: Guiding Children with sensitivity
By Neha Kulkarni
All of us look for meaning in our life experiences and then weave stories. People might go through different experiences but might have drastically different stories and their insights and perspectives to it, making it their ‘truth’. Some stories are unchangeable, but going to therapy might help you to shift your perspective and this could enhance your wellbeing.
It might open conversations that were forgotten or ‘archived’ in our memories. Interpretations of every event are unique for different people. So, does life shape our narratives? Or do narratives shape our life?
The story of your life often begins in your childhood. You and your siblings might grow up in the same house but might have a different story of your childhood altogether. Children of divorced parents also have a story in their minds about the divorce. It could be that one parent is evil and the other one needed ‘rescuing’. As a parent, you can make sure that the story is such that it doesn’t harm the child’s future well-being, mental health, and grades.
Adults often become very self-absorbed during the process of divorce and forget that navigating this process could be handled with more sensitivity with children. The basic thing is to narrate the story of your divorce. Children will believe what you say. It is not wise to call your ex-spouse damaged, crazy, or narcissistic. Children of age five have been known to use these terms in therapy when asked to talk about their divorced parents.
Parents of such children need to understand that younger children are impressionable, and might believe this as the ‘absolute truth’. While it may seem difficult, objectivity is the key when discussing your story with children. Make sure you avoid the blame game. This can shape how they perceive the world, and they might start distrusting or resenting a certain parent. Make sure that you answer all their questions, even with little elaboration. If you feel like you should elaborate on a few details, please take out the time to do so. If you feel the need to apologize for something, please do so. The child should trust the parents so it does not lead to anxiety and gives them more power to cope. Children have only childhood, and it should not be a bad one just because parents chose to handle their conflicts in the worst way possible.
Contrary to what some parents believe, children are keen observers. They certainly know when something is going on and can pick up the vibes that go around. As opposed to us, children trust their instincts. They are not passive onlookers here, they are directly affected by it.
They go on from seeing a parent all the time to less than 50% of the time. Their contact with the parent is reduced and at times, they are unfortunately required to attend court hearings. The lawyers are not trained in child psychology and are decision-makers of the children’s lives.
However, when you cannot control the external circumstances, make sure you develop a story that is much healthier for your children. Years later, when your child narrates their story of life and the impact of divorce, let it be a story of resilience, not a story of drama and chaos that sucked a part of their soul.
Make sure that they understand that the divorce is only helping both the parents to move on and put an end to their conflicts. It is also necessary to ensure that they are loved by both the parents, and enough time should be spent with them to give them the love and attention every child deserves.
Neha holds a degree in Organizational Psychology from Leeds University, UK. She also has completed her Master’s in Clinical Psychology from the Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune in 2015, and has worked as a school counselor, a research assistant, and an HR professional. Her research dissertation is on the topic ‘Generations at workplace’. She is a Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society (BPS), a member of the Division of Occupational Psychology (DOP), and is a qualified Occupational Test User (OTU) – Ability and Personality. Her research interest areas include emotional intelligence, well-being, bullying, generations at the workplace (generations X and Y), work values, and conscientiousness with respect to job satisfaction.