Caught in the crossfire
Marriages are often made in heaven- that’s the age old saying and that’s what we would all like to believe. Nowadays, unfortunately, heaven seems very far away as marriages seem to come with a very short shelf life. The words divorce and separation hang like heavy clouds over many a child’s head and what is worse, the little ones face the brunt of the ugliness that divorce brings with it.
A word of advice to those couples, who for whatever reason, believe they cannot live with each other anymore. Consider and reconsider before you take that final step of walking away from each other. This is doubly important if you have a child, because it is the child who is affected the most when parents separate. Children are the worst casualty of divorce.
Many parents make the mistake of assuming that their child is too young and will not be able to understand what is going on. This is a gross underestimation of the young one's intelligence – children might be young, but they are extremely intuitive and can sense the disharmony. Keep your child in mind and manage your behaviour in front of him before the ink dries up on your divorce papers, else you will be responsible for the scars that they will carry well into their adulthood .
Even though this is uncharted territory parents must remember to put aside their own fears or angst to make the process less painful for the child. For children of any age, divorce can be sad, confusing and extremely stressful. Helping children deal with divorce allows the maintenance of a semblance of stability in a home; it isn’t an easy or a seamless process – but it can be done. There are many ways – be patient with your child and listen to his worries as they learn to cope with the new circumstances. Try and maintain a working relationship with your ex, so that your child can be spared the stress of watching parents in conflict. When the journey ends for you and your spouse be mindful of the following:
Be Truthful: It is important you tell your child that you are separating and you don’t need to go into long drawn reasons for it. Confusing your child with long winded reasoning will only stress him out further. Make it simple, say you cannot get along anymore, or something along those lines and make sure your child understands the reason. Also, be careful to convey that parents and children are never divorced or separated. The bottomline – make your child feel as secure as possible.
Don’t play the blame game: Present a civil front in front of your child. This will make the situation less stressful and hurtful. Plan what you will say to the child beforehand so that accusations aren’t blurted out. Don’t share angry feelings or shout at each other in front of children, this causes emotional and mental scarring that is indelible.
Be neutral: Don’t force your child to take sides. Address the questions they might have about the changed situation because children will find it difficult to cope with a parent not being there to make dinner or help with homework. Don’t force the child to stay with one parent and ignore the other. Above all, listen to the child without judging your spouse. If he pours out an angry stream about your ex then listen – do not add to it. Children need a listener, and more often than not, want to be told that their anger is misdirected. Also, never express your anger at a child for wanting to go to, live with or visit your ex.
Repair the damage: Apologize to your child and make sure he knows it is not his fault that his parents are separating. Children tend to blame themselves for their mistakes their parents make. Allow them to be honest about their feelings and let them stop you when you begin criticising your ex. Criticism and angry words are best left out of the picture – don’t do it and don’t allow your child to either.
The bottom line is, put your child before yourself. He has already been exposed to the trauma of his parents separating, and he doesn’t need more traumas in the form of constant conflict and blame. Be tactful and above all, present a civil front with your ex spouse. That will help the child adjust to the new situation. Don’t tell your children what to think, let them decide for themselves and don’t let your ego get in the way. It is normal for children to show heightened symptoms of anger and anxiety and depression – please do consult a counsellor if required. Talking to a neutral third party is cathartic and will help the child vent. Keep the laughter going – inject humour into your conversation with your child, keep his environment as happy as possible. Work together to ensure your child is as healthy and happy as possible. This will make sure your child grows up to be a sorted and stable adult instead of an individual who bears the battle scars of his parents’ divorce which might later affect his own relationships.