By Nathalie Boutet, mother, veteran family lawyer, teacher, Deputy Judge and co-founder of The NEXT Program.
Choosing to divorce your spouse is never easy. The laws of Divorce in Canada are a harsh reality. When you factor in the divorce effects on children, things get even more complicated. It’s as if divorce and the children don’t go together.
If you are facing a marital separation, there are several simple things that (while not necessarily easy) you can do to reduce the divorce effects on children:
1. Really listen to your children.
Listening to children is not as easy as you might think. Divorcing with children will test your limits. As parents, we often listen from a place of resistance. We resist what our children express because it’s not what we want to hear, it’s too difficult to hear, or we don’t know what to do about it. Children know this – it’s the reason they shut down and stop communicating under the stress of divorce. Divorce effects on children are well researched and include children feeling unheard. You can do something about this.
2. Make sure your children experience your love for them.
Children often assume that they are responsible for the marital separation. Reassure them that this is not the case. They need to know that they are loved by both of their parents and the failure of their parents to work it out is not their responsibility. So tell them that you both love them no matter what. More importantly, practice demonstrating your love for them through your actions every day.
3. Be as respectful as possible.
Tell your children that you both are committed to be as respectful as possible despite your marital separation. Being respectful means not fighting with or speaking badly about your ex in front of your children. This might be harder than you think. Divorcing with children has many challenges that can keep you fighting for years. Children are sensitive and will know when a fight is happening, even when you try to hide it.
4. Keep your promises.
If you want your separated family to work, you need to lead by example – keep your promises so they can keep theirs. Don’t let the pressure and amount of work that inevitably comes when you divorce with children keep you from keeping your word. In my experience parents don’t appreciate the consequences when they: are late or absent for visits or special occasions; say they will be at a school concert but are not really there because they are constantly checking their blackberry; fight when they told their children they wouldn’t; don’t pay support on time, etc. When you divorce and the children need your guidance and emotional support, keeping your promises is crucial.
As I said, these things are simple even if they are not always easy to accomplish. The good news is that it’s never too late to learn these practices. I say “learn” because going through a marital separation and divorcing with children requires learning a whole new set of skills.
Be extraordinary, your children deserve it! Let’s change how divorce in Canada affects our children!