It’s a question that is quite the debate. I know when I was in the Family Court, the court counsellors wholeheartedly believe that the children should know as little as possible about the reasons why their parents break up, except to tell them that it was not their fault. Some people believe that the problems are only between the two people concerned and adult problems should remain adult problems, and should not have other people, including their kids, interfering, being affected or taking sides based on the information that they hear, see or are involved in.
But no matter how much you protect your children from your marital issues, they know! They know that things aren’t right, they know that this is what love is, they know that their names come up every now and again, they know that there is potential to be told to pick sides. THEY KNOW!! Without anyone saying anything to them…
So, depending on their age, why not involve them in a healthy discussion about what’s best for the family? As there is no formal agreement with my ex about how much he sees our children, I ask my boys if they want to see their dad when he calls. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I do not want to force them into a situation they don’t feel comfortable in. They are at an age now that spending time with their friends is more important to them than even spending time with me, and I respect that about the fact that they are growing up, and they want to develop their own sense of self, so if they choose not to be involved, then that’s up to them. Of course, I do try to encourage times, or ask them why they don’t want to see him, in case there was something that happened on their last visit that made them not want to be with him, and sometimes I do get quite an uneasy answer, and other days it’s just they don’t want to.
But how much do you tell your kids about other concerns you might have? That the other parent’s spending is out of hand and he/she’s not contributing to their welfare, or that they are contributing too much to their welfare and living on poverty line just to please them. Or maybe that you don’t like your ex’s new partner and worry how well they will treat them in their care, or that maybe the other parent is expecting a new baby and because of that, they might be left out of the other parent’s life for a little bit and that they should expect it, but be pleasantly surprised if it does work out.
For me, honesty is the key. But honesty when you understand that your child completely understands. I have one son who does, the other one who’s getting there. I have friends who have adult children who have two children who understand, the other is in her own world when it comes to love and romance. I have other friends who’s children can’t cope with the fact that their father abandoned them, and are rebelling accordingly, and other friend’s who’s ex’s have turned to drugs and alcohol and they are completely stressed by their children being in their ex partner’s care without some type of supervision, even though a Court Order requires them to do so. Some children can handle the information, others can’t. But I don’t think it’s fair that a court or a psychologist tells you what you can or cannot say to your children about their other parent, especially if you know it’s in your child’s best interest so that they are aware of the potential harm there is to themselves and or the other parent.
There is also a point where the role of parent and child gets reversed. Where the child becomes the parent’s carer, and decisions need to be made for the parent by the children to ensure that their health and safety are being taken care of… and that includes the silent mental health issues that can become so damaging to someone who’s lost their wedded partner through death or divorce, and the children need to know the real facts behind their behaviour.
All in all, telling your children how changes to the family unit will affect the family unity is a positive thing. If we all hide things under the table and not confront the underlying issues that are effecting everyone, then the love and nurturing within a family can only exist on a basic level, and can’t be fully expressed and given an element of importance to those who need it most.
For me, laying your problems, your concerns and your fears out on the table with your children and family members opens up communication so that everyone understands how everyone feels about certain situations. For many years now, over dinner, my boys and I play ‘happy sad day’ and we say what made us happy in the day and what made us sad. We have also included what we are thankful for, what made us laugh and sometimes we add extras like what are our concerns and struggles. It develops honesty, listening skills and an appreciation for each other.
Every situation is individual and you know your children well enough to know what they can cope with. Whatever you tell them, you tell them because you care, have deep concern for their wellbeing (or even the other parent’s wellbeing) and want them to know that no matter what, they are always loved by you. It’s not being vindictive to the other parent, it’s protecting your child’s safety, and sometimes the safety of the other parent.
Some will say that children are always affected by their parent’s getting divorced, and no doubt that is true, but they can also be traumatised by living in an environment that has constant arguing, physical, emotional and psychological abuse and put in a position where they are told to choose sides, while their parent’s remain married. And there is a high percentage of children that seek attention because their parents are constantly fighting and the children are constantly forgotten, so the children lose themselves in drugs, alcohol and wandering the streets just to get away from the situation. Most children in that situation, would prefer to stop hearing the daily anguish their parents cause each other and have them live separately and have their attention redirected back to them… and that, is where if you get your children involved with the decision, it may be decided as a family that every one would prefer that their parents live separately, so the children can enjoy their parents separately, and the fighting can stop once and for all. And that, my friends, is where divorce can be a positive step for all.