For young children, separation anxiety is a very real issue that comes to the surface during a divorce. Many stories and fairy tales illustrate the terror of parental loss as a child's biggest fear. The happy endings of these stories offer a parenting plan that everything will end well for them whenever the fear of abandonment arises.
Separation anxiety fades as children develop a constancy in their relationships with their parents or caregivers. This happens around the time they start school because, over time, they become confident that their parents will return. As human beings, we are born with a predisposition to form attachment bonds, and our survival depends on it. That's why it's important to be careful during the divorce process to ensure that the children understand that both parents are still going to be actively involved in their lives.
Breaking the News
It's important to thoroughly plan how you are going to tell your children about the divorce. Your children will need a very clear explanation of how you will continue to be their mom and dad when you no longer live in the same house together. For example, telling your children that they will speak to dad every day on the phone before bedtime while they are with mom, and when they're at dad's house on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights they will speak with mom at bedtime, is a very specific way your children will need to hear your explanation.
Establish Reassuring Routines
From the first day of divorce, your children will need reassuring routines that demonstrate that both parents will continue to meet their physical and emotional needs. When one parent is moving out, it is ideal for the children to help that parent with the move, visiting the place where that parent is going to live and perhaps even spending some time with that parent the first week helping to unpack and decorate their home. It could be emotionally harmful for the children to come home and one parent has already moved out without their knowledge. It is important to know the basics of child custody and talk openly with everyone involved and not let your ego get in the way.
Speaking with Your Attorneys
As with most divorces, especially rough ones, both parents will hire an attorney to protect their interests. This process is often the most turbulent because there is so much at stake, however, you don't want your children to watch mom and dad argue back and forth. Children witnessing their parents fighting isn't good under any circumstance but especially during a divorce. During tense meetings with your parenting plan, it is best that the children are not present.
Don't expect your children to carry on as normal. Children react to divorces in different ways, but most will need time to grieve and come to terms with what has happened. As long as you carefully plan how both parents will stay involved with the children, they will eventually become comfortable with the situation.