Your Children's Divorce Experience: How to do it well

By Felcicia Soleil, Attorney at Law/Mediator

I often begin a consultation with new clients by asking this question: 

“If your divorce is done well, how do you want to feel about it at the end?” 

Most clients initially respond by admitting they haven’t thought much beyond the “here and now,” with one exception. Parties who experienced their own parents’ divorce frequently say, “I know what I DON'T want, and that is for our children to go through what I went through when my own parents got divorced.”

I hear frequent complaints from these adults about torn loyalties, jostling between two homes, having to be too many places on a holiday, and being embarrassed about how their parents treated each other in public when attending school and sporting events and large family gatherings. Some clients say they have postponed their own divorce because they were afraid of putting their children through that kind of turmoil. Of course, living in the same household with two parents in continual conflict is just exchanging one kind of childhood turmoil for another.

It’s not just clients who experience this. Recently, at a neighborhood get-together, my friends’ eight year old daughter excitedly announced that “Some mommies and daddies don’t live together anymore because those mommies and daddies don’t love each other. The kids have to go all over to different houses and can’t spend Christmas together and can’t be families anymore!” Her parents are together, so I asked her how she knew this. She said “A lot of kids in my class don’t have mommies and daddies who live in the same house. We talk about it all the time!”

I don’t recall what prompted this excited explanation from her, but it reminded me of how important it is to consider what you are teaching your children about the meaning of family, handling conflict, handling changing relationships, and simply explaining why one home is now becoming two. Your actions and explanations may reach far beyond your own children. You are setting an example for others. What do you want that to look like?

My best advice is this: Don’t go it alone. Seek professional guidance. Whether it be through family counselling, your church resources, or an experienced family law mediator or attorney, you and your co-parent will be able to learn helpful tips and techniques for handling the most sensitive questions, such as:

  • What do we tell the children? Can we create a joint narrative instead of individual stories?
  • When do we tell the children?  Can we tell them at a time that is least disruptive to their schedules so they know they can still depend on us for stability while they process what is happening?
  • How do we tell the children?  Are we supposed to tell them together, or one-on-one?
  • How do we act after we’ve told them?  Can we still live in the same house for awhile? Can we still be friendly toward one another? What if that is too hard?
  • What do we NOT tell the children?  How much information is too much information? How do we determine what is age-appropriate for each of our children?

Prior to figuring out the residential schedule and all the logistics that go with it, ask yourself: “How do I want our children to experience our divorce?”

Chances are they may face their own divorce one day. What do you want them to remember?

If you’ve reached a decision about separation or divorce, Felicia Soleil can help.  Through her practice, Family Law Resolutions, you can achieve an outcome that fosters both a compassionate ending to your union and a healthy new beginning for you and your family.  Her goal is to help you focus on moving on, rather than simply moving out.  Felicia can be reached at 253-853-6940.  All consultations are strictly confidential.

Published on May 1, 2019