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Helping Your Children Through Your Illinois Divorce

Posted on in Divorce

DuPage County divorce attorney

When it comes to divorce, a parent’s biggest concern is often with how their decision to end their marriage will impact their children. You have likely heard that divorce is a traumatizing experience that can ruin someone’s childhood, or maybe you are concerned that the divorce will sever you and your children’s relationship altogether. It is true that your divorce will be difficult to handle; after all, your kids have grown up in a two-parent household up to this point, but rarely is divorce as devastating to your children as you imagine that it will be. 

As a firm that has helped numerous families through their divorce, we have heard your concerns time and time again. All parents want the best for their kids, and sometimes they will sacrifice their own happiness in the process. If you have come to the realization that divorce is your next step, our attorneys are here to stand by your side. We have created a guide that outlines all you need to know about how you can help your child through your divorce, allowing you to do what is right for you while continuing to be an advocate for your children along the way. 

Recognize the Benefits

No matter what age your children are, they watch and absorb your decisions to use as a reference point in the future. Everything you do as a parent becomes a lesson for your kids, including your decision to file for divorce. Many fear that they are teaching their children to give up when life gets hard or that their kids will never get married after seeing their parents’ divorce. However, your divorce will teach your children a number of important life lessons that other kids may not have.

If you and your spouse are filing for divorce, your children likely saw it coming. Whether you both argued constantly, never spoke, or were simply unhappy, your kids have picked up on this. Many parents do not give their kids the credit that they deserve--children are more intuitive than you think--and assume that their children will be blind-sided or not understand why you are making this decision. Your divorce may initially come as a shock, but once that subsides and your kids become more mature, they will begin to understand why you made this decision: to choose happiness. As a parent, choosing yourself can seem selfish, but in reality, you would want your kids to do the same if they were in your situation. If your children were in an unhappy marriage a few decades from now, you would want them to make this decision for themselves and for their happiness. No one should remain in an unhappy marriage, and your decision to put yourself first teaches your kids to do the same. In this same way, staying in a toxic or unhappy relationship can teach your children to do so as well.

Make the Conversation Age-Appropriate

The way that your children handle the divorce can often be determined by the way in which you tell them the news. You and your spouse should plan out your conversation and both have the discussion with your kids. By presenting the news together, you and your spouse will show your kids that you remain a united front when it comes to parenting, and even though your marriage may be ending, you will continue to be co-parents. Your children’s ages greatly impact how the news should be shared. Kids’ maturity levels vary greatly by age, so it is important that you prepare the conversation in a way that your children will understand what is going on and not be confused when mom or dad moves out. 

  1. 0-5 years old: Babies and toddlers have the greatest dependence on their parents than any other age group and will not have the memory capabilities to notice a difference between how things were before and after your divorce. Once your kids reach preschool age, they begin to develop their sense of independence and understanding of the world around them. However, their understanding of time is still extremely limited and they are unable to express their feelings. You will likely need to repeatedly explain where mommy or daddy are on numerous occasions before it sets in. Be sure to have a standard and simple response set between you and your co-parent. Provide short answers and stick to the basics such as which parent will be leaving, where the children will live, and who will look after them. It is important that you both provide consistent, nurturing care so that your children understand that you are both remaining in their life.

  2. 6-11 years old: Kids between the ages of 6 and 8 are beginning to develop their ability to think and talk about their feelings. They are also beginning to create relationships outside of your family for the first time. Those who are 9 to 11 have a much greater ability to understand what divorce means and talk about their thoughts and feelings. They have also likely built meaningful friendships over the past few years that require their time and energy. Children between the ages of 6 and 11 years old see things in black and white and can often assign blame to one parent or to themselves for the split. When discussing your divorce, it is important to highlight that some kids may feel sad, hurt, or confused when it comes to divorce. This can help your children recognize their own feelings and be more open to sharing. Be sure to maintain a stable routine that keeps both parents in the picture.

  3. 12-14 years old: Children of this age group are more capable of having discussions about your divorce, including asking questions about the process and what comes next. This is the age in which telling your kids about your divorce will need to be more of a conversation with an explanation rather than just short details. Middle school children begin to desire more independence and question parental authority. Their friends become increasingly important and they may be the people they turn to discuss their feelings. Kids in this age group may not seem like they want to talk about their feelings, but they are often testing their parents to see if they truly care. Preteens still crave their parents’ attention so it is important to keep trying to have these conversations even if your kids push you away.

  4. High school and onward: Once kids reach high school, their strong sense of independence will have them turning away from their parents and toward their friends when it comes to emotional conversations. Divorce is no longer a mystery at this age, so the questions about why you are ending your marriage will likely be at a minimum. It is still important to check in with your kids, even if they are on the brink of adulthood. Seeing your parents get divorced is challenging regardless of your age, and even young adults need their parents to lean on.

Create a Kids-First Parenting Plan

If your kids are under the age of 18, you will need to create a parenting plan that outlines all of your parenting arrangements going forward. This includes the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. Creating a parenting plan can often lead to the most contentious arguments throughout the divorce process as you both advocate for your place in your child’s life. In some cases, these arguments can become less about the kids and more about one spouse being the “winner” of the disagreement. This is never the right mindset that parents should be in while creating a parenting plan, as it can lead to the children’s needs being overshadowed by you and your spouse’s marital grievances.

Depending on the age of your children, you may ask for their input before setting things in stone. Which parent would they prefer to live with primarily? Do you want to switch houses each night or only on the weekends? Asking your kids questions like these can help make them feel as if they have more control over their lives, which is commonly what kids feel as if they have lost when their parents decide to divorce. While you may not let the final decision be up to your child, asking them their preference helps them know that you are listening to them and that you care about their opinion. 

The best way to create a children-first parenting plan is by keeping your divorce out of a courtroom as much as you can. Most divorces occur outside of a courtroom, through mediation or a collaborative divorce, but if you and your spouse fail to agree on certain areas of your divorce agreement, you will have no choice other than to take things to trial. If this is the case, a judge will make decisions about your parenting plan, in the best interests of the child. While they may have an objective point of view, the judge lacks the true understanding of your kids’ needs and you and your spouse’s parenting roles. It is important to know when to fight your battles and when to compromise to avoid having your parenting arrangements made by someone else.

Searching for Signs for Struggle

Breaking the news of your divorce to your children may seem daunting, but the real challenge often begins once your divorce is finalized and your lives begin to take on a new form. Your kids will show signs of struggle in different ways depending on their ages, so it is important to take note of any changes in behavior. For those between the ages of 0 and 5 years old, their fear, anger, or emotional instability will be expressed through anxiety, clinginess, whininess, or constant irritability. You may also notice a decrease in their development, such as struggling to sleep through the night. Kids ages 6-11 begin to show their feelings of distress a bit more openly. These children will also typically fantasize about their parents getting back together and wonder how they can help make that happen. Moodiness in preteens and teenagers may be harder to pick up as this is common for all kids of their age. A good way to determine if their emotional distance is a result of your divorce is to consider what they were like before and after you told them about your divorce.

Contact an Elmhurst Divorce Lawyer

Divorce is stressful without or without kids; add parenting into the mixture and things become even more complicated. But just because your divorce is difficult, does not mean that you are not making the right decision for yourself and your family. At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, we understand how difficult divorce can be on a family, which is why we work tirelessly to finalize your divorce so that you can focus on your family’s healing. Our attorneys will help you create a parenting plan that prioritizes your kids and helps make your transition a bit easier. For help with your divorce, contact our compassionate and knowledgeable DuPage County divorce attorneys at 312-605-4041 today.

 

Sources:

https://www.todaysparent.com/family/kids-and-divorce-an-age-by-age-guide/

https://talkingparents.com/blog/june-2019/how-to-make-a-parenting-plan 

 

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