Said many different ways, the questions moms and dads must tackle during divorce can be pretty common. It’s important that parents be prepared to tackle hard questions, like those on the list below, to ensure the health of their children and other family members that will be affected by divorce.
Here are four big questions parents should be prepared to tackle:
1. Where will I live?
When trying to wrap their heads around the changes that come along with divorce, one of the biggest issues children may struggle with is the idea of home. Since residence can have such a large impact on a child’s life, expert Seth Meyers Psy.D.1 suggests incorporating your child in to those decisions for the best long-term outcomes.
“One thing divorced parents can do is make an ongoing effort to check in with the kids about how they feel about the assigned living arrangements. While children are young (10 years or younger), joint custody can provide an important reminder to the kids that their parents still love them and will both remain a fundamental part of the kids' lives.”
- Seth Meyers Psy.D.1
2. What do I tell my friends and classmates?
Even though divorce is more than three times as common today than it was in 1960’s when divorce rates initially increased2, there is still a tendency for both parents and children to find it difficult to share. For kids, there is often internal pressure and anxiety related to sharing this information with their peers. As a parent, you can help prepare your children for those times when they will feel compelled to share the news.
Role-playing scenarios that emulate conversations a child is likely to have can help both you and the child craft and rehearse appropriate responses. Practicing answers to general questions, like those below, can be a great way to help address anxiety or discomfort before it happens.
Simple questions that may cause child anxiety when parents divorce:
- What are you doing after school today?
- Where is your parent (mom or dad)?
- What are you doing for the holidays?
- What are you doing this weekend?
This is a short list of questions that may help you rehearse. When sharing the news of divorce, listen for other conversation points that may indicate times your child may feel pressured to share the news.
3. Who else knows about the divorce?
Dr. Sandra J. Bailey, family and human development specialist, highlights, “Families have different ways in which the members communicate. This often is related to how the family identifies who is in charge.”
When it comes to divorce, you and your spouse are in charge and ultimately have control over how and when the news is shared. The choice of whom, if anyone, to tell before your children should focus on how to support them best throughout the process.
Fatherhood author and the voice of “News for Dads,” Armin Brott suggests that telling key members of a child’s support system can be a good way to ensure mental and emotional health4. “Tell anyone else who needs to know, including teachers, babysitters, and friends’ parents. Let them know what’s happening and ask them to tell you if they see any unusual behavior.”
4. Why are my parents getting divorced?
This loaded question can create a serious danger zone for parents if they are unprepared. The keys to addressing it are to avoid these two emotional and potential destructive landmines:
- Child Blame – Psychotherapist and author Mom's House, Dad's House for Kids5, Isolina Ricci suggests being direct to ensure children don’t blame themselves for divorce.
- Co-Parent Negativity – Avoiding speaking ill of the other parent and avoiding arguing in front of a child are an investment in both your children and family for the long haul. In 1993, data collected by child and family researchers Ellwood and Stolberg6 showed that low parent hostility was one of the most connected indicators for long-term healthy family function.
Resources for Dads of Families Going Through Divorce
Dads don’t have to navigate the challenges of divorce alone. The resources below are available to help dads develop the answers to the tough questions that come along with divorce in a way that benefits their entire family unit:
- Local Fatherhood Programs Available for Support: Fatherhood.gov Connect with Programs
- Fact sheet: When a Family Breaks Up: Divorce and Separation. (University of Delaware. Cooperative Extension)
- Fact sheet: Parenting During and After Divorce. (Montana State University Extension Service)
- The NRFC’s Fatherhood Helpline – 1-877-4-DAD-411 (1-877-432-3411)
Jovan Hackley, National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse team member and outreach and strategy consultant
1Meyers, Psy. D., S. (2012, November 2). Divorced Parents: Kids Should Decide Where They Live/Custody. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-is-2020/201211/divorced-parents-kids-should-decide-where-they-livecustody
2 Lewis, J. (2015, March 1) Remarriage in the United States: American Community Survey Reports. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from https://library.healthymarriageandfamilies.org/
3Bailey, S. (2009, September 1). Positive Family Communication. MontGuide. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from http://store.msuextension.org/publications/HomeHealthandFamily/MT200916HR.pdf
4Wong, B. (2014, July 6). 9 Things To Consider Before Telling Your Kids About The Divorce. Retrieved August 29, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/26/what-you-need-to-know-bef_0_n_5615228.html
5Ricci, I. (2006). Mom's house, dad's house for kids: Feeling at home in one home or two. New York: Fireside.
6Ellwood, M., & Stolberg, A. L. (1993). The effects of family composition, family health, Parenting behaviour and environmental stress on children's divorce adjustment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 2(1), 23-36.