One of the great inaccurate cliches of our time is that divorce is on the increase. For some time during most of our lifetimes, it was indeed true, reaching as high as nearly one in every two marriages for a time. However, with millennials and Generation Z often being later to marry, less likely to take the plunge under pressure, and more open to counseling, all the signs are that divorce is less common now than it has been for most of recent human history.
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, nor that it is any less stressful when it does. The truth of the matter is that we can’t predict the future, and that divorce exists as a way to end a marriage when the options for keeping it going exhaust themselves. Ideally, when it does happen, both partners will be able to keep things civil and avoid hurting one another. It’s equally important to ensure that any children of the marriage should be protected from becoming collateral damage, so it is important to avoid any of the following mistakes…
Don’t Use the Kids as a Weapon
As far as possible, it is best to avoid attrition in the case of a marriage break-up. If the union can no longer continue, it is ideal to find a way of formally ending it without recrimination. However, sometimes there is likely to be some resentment, which can spill over in a highly emotional setting such as a divorce. If this is the case, keep it between yourselves. Don’t bring the kids into it by asking them in front of your spouse whether they want to stay with you or not. Don’t dangle the threat of withholding grandparents visitation rights from your spouse’s parents. This kind of emotional blackmail will always hurt the kids worse than it will your spouse, and will be felt by them for much longer, during formative years in their lives.
There is Such a Thing as Just Enough Honesty
Lying to your kids becomes a game of diminishing returns the older they get – your five-year-old may, and probably should, believe in the Tooth Fairy, but your 15-year-old won’t. As far as a divorce goes, you shouldn’t lie to your kids about why it is happening, and that’s not least because they’ll probably know you’re lying. Nor should you hold out unrealistic hopes of a reconciliation if they aren’t there. At the same time, giving kids too much unvarnished truth isn’t helpful either. No matter where the fault may lie in any divorce, your child is a product of two people, and character assassination of one of those people is only going to hurt an innocent child.
Don’t Blame the Kids, or Hint That They’re to Blame
Objectively, the presence of kids in a marriage can be an additional stress on that marriage, but they’re not going to be the specific reason it is no longer workable. Nonetheless, children are liable to wonder if the ending of your marriage is their fault. They are at an age where they are acutely aware of their ability to affect others around them, and they may directly ask whether they are responsible for a divorce. The answer is no, and they need to be told this in no uncertain terms: you and your spouse love them very much, and will move Heaven and Earth to give them the best life you can.
Don’t Compete for Their Affections
While you may stop being a husband or a wife when a marriage ends, you’re a parent for life. With the breakdown of a marriage, you may feel tempted to win points with your child to become their preferred parent. This can escalate into an arms race, where you each compete to spoil the children more than one another – and, as kids, they’ll be more than happy to reap the benefits of that. You’re an adult, though, and your kids need a parent here (both parents, if possible), so agree to protect what’s important in their upbringing – education, health, and as much stability as possible.
However difficult a divorce or break-up is for a couple, it can be all the more traumatic for children, who haven’t lived long enough to know all of the complicated factors in a marriage. Even while your heart may be breaking, keep in mind that you have a responsibility to the child(ren) you have brought into this world, and that your care for them is a huge priority here.