Parents' Divorce - How to Take Care of Baby's Feelings

Divorce is most painful when divorcing people are not only spouses but also parents. It is impossible to conduct it in a way completely not affecting the child. However, together you can do everything possible to reduce his emotional losses as far as possible.

Apart from death of the closest people, divorce is one of the most stressful situations in the adult life. It is often connected with a sense of loss, failure, and sadness. Children also take their parents' divorce very hard. At this time it is necessary to focus particularly on their emotions, and help them to get through this time difficult for everybody.

Difficult changes

For a small child the family is his whole world. It gives him a sense of security, balance and belonging. Even when it comes to very small things, children prefer everything to go along a set plan, they like a kind of daily routine and rituals: mum gives me gruel, then dad bathes me, mum sings a lullaby, and dad always reads to me. And divorce is, first of all, a change. Usually everything that the baby has known so far and been used to is turned upside down. Even adults approach new situations with fear, so you can hardly expect a child to accept them calmly. To make it easier for him, you should follow several tips.

Before you tell a child

First of all, before you tell your child about the divorce, prepare well for this conversation. It is crucial to attempt to mutually agree on all details of your future life. If possible, discuss earlier all aspects of caring after your child:  with whom he will live, how often he will see the other parent, where that other parent will live, etc. If so far the child was lulled to sleep by his dad, and he is moving out, the child may ask if father will come in the evenings. When the mum was driving him to a kindergarten and now he will live with his dad, he may ask if the mum will still drive him there. You must know answers to questions concerning child's daily life, for example: now dad will drive you to your kindergarten, but mum will collect you every day. The child needs a clear signal that the world is not collapsing, that his parents know what they are doing, and even though there are changes in his life, it does not mean that all is falling apart. His life will still have its pattern and order, although a bit different at the beginning, and the parent with whom the child will not live, will not disappear and will still be present in his life.

Talk, talk, talk

When your decision is irreversible and you have resolved to divorce, you must talk about it with your child. This conversation will, of course, vary, depending on the child's age, however, do not leave him without any information. Do not count on the matter to solve itself, that he will know himself when one of his parents moves out, do not lie that "Daddy must go away for some time". The child is a member of the family and, although it was not his decision, he has a right to know what is going on. It would be perfect for parents to talk with the child together. If it is not possible, then a parent who is emotionally closer to the child and spends more time with him every day should do that. Select a right time and place for this conversation. Ensure all participants in this conversation have time for it, are calm and concentrated. If you have to rush to work in a minute, the child is about to go to a doctor or his friend's birthday party, this is definitely not a good moment to talk about divorce.

To us you are the most important 

This conversation will obviously look differently, depending on the child's age. Certainly, you should not go into details why you are divorcing, and definitely you should not focus on who is to blame. Both parents are a part of the child, disparaging one of them affects child's identity.  He needs both of you, and your mutual grievances should not be a subject of this conversation. The information you give to him should be precise, concise and appropriate for his age. Possibly, it will be enough to tell him that parents are separating, because they cannot agree, and although they tried it did not work. Now it is the most important to assure the child that the parents are parting with each other and not with him, they stop being spouses, but not his Mum and Dad. Love binding the children to their parents is exceptional, and never ends, no disagreement will certainly affect it. During this conversation try to inform the child about particulars of changes that will occur in his life, when one of the parents moves out.

Child's reaction

Children can react in various ways to this situation. Some can be said, and other - unnaturally joyful and excited. They can rebel, testing limits of parental endurance, or on the contrary, they clam up and show apathy. Sometimes the new situation may cause a developmental regress in children, they demand more attention than before, want to sleep in parent's bed, start to wet themselves again, etc. Generally, it can be said that it is better if the children work off these emotions instead of bottling them up. However, it is not possible to predict the long-term effect of divorce on the child on a basis of his first reaction to these news. Certainly, it is good to provoke him to a conversation, to express his feelings. Try to understand his feelings and help him to name them. Allow him to be angry, disappointed, disoriented or sad. Children also need to go through a kind of a mourning after their previous life, they should not be comforted by force, showered with toys or cheered up. Listen to your intuition and let the child get used to new conditions. On our part, we must do everything possible to give him a sense of safety. You should try to ensure presence of both parents in child's daily life. It is better, when a parent who does not live with the child, collects him from a kindergarten or comes in the evening to read to him, than when he spends a whole weekend with him every fortnight.

When should you go to a specialist

You can use psychologist's assistance at any stage of this difficult and unpleasant process of divorce. The psychologist will help you to adapt the message to child's age. Also, when 2–3 months passed since your divorce, and the child is still unhappy and does not behave normally, does not go back to his previous behaviour, you should consider consulting a psychologist.

Use a psychologist or mediator's assistance when you alone are not able to agree, when mutual blaming prevails, and each conversation turns into a quarrel. You must do it, not only for yourself, but, first of all, for your child's good.

Divorce/parting of parents is never easy or indifferent to the child. Child's reactions and the effect of divorce depend on numerous factors, including child's age and sex, contacts and sense of a bond with both parents, assigning of duties related to care after children after divorce, quality of life with one of parents after divorce, and a new relationship established by one/both of the parents.

The child understands divorce differently than adults. Adults see in it a "second chance", while a child rarely understands permanent character of this situation and against all odds still hopes it will change. Egotic and egocentric thinking characteristic for children causes him to be prone to blaming himself for this situation, "if I had behaved better, studied better, if my dog had not bark so much", etc. Often, he is very lonely in all this. His parents are focusing on divorce, grandparents and family friends are also more absorbed with adult problems.

You cannot look at a divorce as a single point in time. It is a process, in which of importance is a situation before divorce, during it, as well as what is happening afterwards. Divorce is a complicated, complex process; however, when trying to systematize its consequences having the strongest effect on the child functioning, we can distinguish: 

  • disappearance of one of parents,
  • deterioration in the quality of child's life as social and economic consequences of living with one parent,
  • conflict between parents before and after divorce.

The last of these factors, the conflict between his parents, has the strongest and the most destructive effect on child's well-being and functioning.

Studies clearly show that it is not a marital status of his parents, understood as the family structure, that has the strongest effect on children, but the way in which it functions, particularly continuous enmity and conflict between his parents. As you can expect, children from happy families, in which both parents are present, function the best. On the other side of this spectrum, are children from families in which both parents are present, but argue constantly, and they function the worst and have the greatest problems with adaptation. Children of divorced parents are in between, and their position in relation to these extreme points largely depends on the quality of relation between parents during and after the divorce.

For this reason, of such great importance is parents ability to give up mutual enmity, resist their own desire to draw the child into conflicts and force him to take sides, as well as their ability to cooperate in his upbringing.

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