Divorce is never an easy thing, especially if you’re divorcing a narcissist. And having kids in the mix makes it even more difficult. You are leaving the relationship to protect yourself and your kid, but that doesn’t always mean your kids will understand what’s going on. How do you figure out how to talk to kids about divorce?
How to Talk to Kids About Divorce
Every kid will react differently to the situation and the eventual separation of parents. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, some kids may become angry or act out, others may develop greater separation anxieties, and some may ask where the other parent is. All of these are normal responses to the divorce.
There are a few things you can do though. One of the vital things you can do to help your kids is to reassure them that the divorce was not their fault. Tell them this was about you and their dad, that things needed to change for the benefit of everyone. But make sure they know that both parents still love and care about them.
Depending on the maturity of the kid and the current turmoil at home, your kids might notice the unhappiness going on. They may see that there is constant fighting between you and your spouse. Or they could be picking up on how degrading and abusive one parent is being to the other. In these situations, telling them may bring more understanding and a level of relief than you think.
Explaining the Custody Order to Your Child
Part of your divorce will be a custody order. There are two main types of custody orders that will be addressed during court proceedings: physical and legal. A physical custody order tells where each child lives, with which parent, and on what days. Legal custody orders specify which parent gets to make decisions about what happens to the child.
Physical custody orders can vary greatly depending on the situation. The court can award joint custody meaning the child spends 50% of their time with each parent. If the child is staying with one parent more than 50% of the time they are the custodial parent with the other parent getting visitation rights with the child.
Some physical custody arrangements can be spending six months living with one parent then six months with the other parent. Another scenario might be one parent having the kids a couple of nights of the week while the other parent gets them the other two nights and on alternating weekends and holidays. What the physical custody order looks like depends on the agreement reached between you and your ex-spouse.
Legal custody orders consist of things like where you send your child to school, daycare, religious affiliations, etc. It is possible to have sole or majority of the physical custody and still share legal custody 50/50.
As you begin going through this process, don’t dump all the details onto your child. If they are really little simply reassure them that even though things are changing, you love them and so does your spouse. Kids that are old enough to process some of the changes going on can be told about the arrangements. Keep it simple and to the facts about who they will stay with, when, and where.
Finding the New “Normal”
After the dust has settled, its time to help your kids find the new normal. This comes through lots of love, nurture, and routines. Don’t necessarily expect your ex-spouse to follow your expectations and parenting demands. What they do depends upon the agreement you made.
If you agreed to co-parent you will both work together to set the rules for your child. You will have to decide through talking or some other communication what bedtime, meals, and everyday routines will be regardless of which parent has them.
In some cases, such as divorcing a narcissist, co-parenting may not be the best option. In this case, you can try parallel parenting. When you parallel parent, big decisions such as medical ones, will usually still be made by both parents. But everyday parenting decisions such as meals and bedtime routine will be made by each parent individually. So you may do things differently than your ex-spouse.
However, you decide to parent following the divorce, talk to your kids about the new changes. If you are parallel parenting, let them know that when they are with their dad things will be different than when they are with you. Tell them what your expectations are when they are staying with you and stick to it.
Helping Them See Their Value While You Rediscover Yours
As you work through figuring out how to talk to kids about divorce, you will not just need to explain what’s happening but also reassure them of their value. You have likely been robbed of any feelings of being valued for quite some time if you are divorcing a narcissist. Take time to once again rediscover your identity and value in life.
One thing to keep in mind even though it won’t be easy, your kids are adjusting to the new family situation. It might be difficult for them but with love and reassurance, they can still grow to be healthy, happy adults.