Experts agree divorce is emotionally trying for children of any age. The normal stresses of growing up can be compounded by a family breakup or by the presence of stepparents.
Sensitivity to a child's emotional needs is an especially important trait for a divorced parent or stepparent. Even the most amicable divorce tugs at the foundations of parent/child relationships. With loving care those relationships can become stronger.
The suggestions below touch on only a few of many ways family members can
support a child during and following divorce.
Relationships following divorce
- Learn to tolerate a reasonable level of anger and disagreement. The divorce situation often is a source of added anger and frustration.
- Avoid speaking ill of your former spouse in front of your children.
- Maintain the best possible relationship with your former spouse. A child's
adjustment to divorce is directly related to the intensity and length of parental conflict.
- If children spend time with both parents, consider living relatively near one another. Stay in the same school district, if possible.
Dating and remarriage
- Maintain a child-oriented focus, even in the midst of forming new romantic relationships. Don't introduce new relationships to your children until the relationship seems to be solid. Keep in mind that each person who becomes involved with your children and then leaves will cause a loss for your child.
- Your children need stability, not a swinging door of new partners coming and going in their lives. See new partners during the time that your child is with the other parent until you are sure this relationship is going somewhere, then introduce the new partner into your child's life slowly.
- Be aware that children quickly pick up on "Do as I say, not as I do" messages.
They will note if you advise them not to have sex before marriage, but then see you have a dating partner spend the night. If your former spouse begins living with a new partner outside of marriage, explain to your child that
"Mom and dad do not agree on everything, and that is OK." Talk to your
older child about what should be present in a relationship if it is going to be
a sexual one. It will give your child the information needed to make responsible decisions later.
- Do not cast stepparents as a replacement for natural parents. Do not insist on expressions of affection if they are not sincere. Do not force the use of "dad" or "mom" for a stepparent unless your child is comfortable using the terms.
- The more respect you show for your former spouse, the more respect you
can gain for a present or future stepparent, as well as for yourself.