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Children Family

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Marital discord and concerns about divorce involve multi-faceted issues. There is no recipe for answers to the innumerable questions which arise- each situation must be considered within its own context.  There are however, some general approaches which everyone in this process tends to ask.  Here we consider this question about the children.  Here too, issues are not simple and require understanding of specifics. However, it is vital to remember the following suggestions.

Many people who consult me during a marital conflict try to remain in their marriage while seeking guidance. They are looking for creative ways to learn the skills of self-awareness, communication and mature interaction in their relationships.  Other people consult me when they already know that there is so much “water under the relationship bridge” that the bridge is flooded. However, being loving and caring parents they are hesitant to break up the family for fear that this would have a devastating impact on the children.

This is a profound and meaningful concern.

However, keeping a family intact solely for the reason to NOT devastate the children assumes that the children are unaware of the existing issues between their parents. Most children FEEL the difficult atmosphere. When children feel that the very foundation of the family is “shaky”, they are already LIVING IN FEAR. (Don’t kid yourself- children of all ages pick up SOMETHING, even if they do not or cannot understand how to interpret the information!!!) They make up stories to fill in the blanks of stories that are even worse than the realities. These inaccurate perceptions cause problems of behavior, school issues, depression, anxiety, etc.

BE YOUR CHILD’S THERAPIST…let me make a suggestion!

I SUGGEST THAT HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY.   START NOW to develop honest, open communication with you children in an age-appropriate fashion.

Sit the children down individually and ask such questions as “What does it feel like for you when mommy and daddy fight?”

OR- if the children are too young to express their responses directly, role play with stuffed animals. For example; “The mommy and daddy animals are fighting (act out the fight), what is going to happen? ” Then let the child act out with the animal what happens next. Let them enact the brehavior of each of the animals, while you watch and listen to see what they bring up in words or actions. Then you can address each of the issues which they have expressed in the play acting and you can guide them toward some realistic problem solving or just accepting their feelings.

BE AWARE that children think that they are the ones who make things happen. This is called “magical thinking” They usually perceive the problems as their “fault”. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO REASSURE THEM that what is going on between mommy and daddy is not their fault. They need to understand that people sometimes argue and need to work it out between themselves somehow.

As for whether or not to keep the marriage intact…today the question is not whether you should stay together, but rather to consider how you can deal with the conflics and issues; and how you deal with the children as they live with this daily experience. If you decide to divorce, make sure your children do not feel that you are abandoning and divorcing THEM emotionally.

THEY ARE THE PRIMARY CONSIDERATION IN THIS PROCESS. Parents overlook this or may not realize this. They are often challenged by their own pain.

Children need to see you calm and steady. Such a stance will send a message of security and caring for them. 

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