The decision has been made. You and your spouse are divorcing. There are a multitude of decisions to be made, and it is often difficult to know where to begin. You will be making decisions regarding when the children are with you and when they are with your spouse, whether to keep the family home and, if so, who keeps it. There will also be a host of other decisions you did not realize you made automatically on a daily basis that will now become conscious decisions because living in two different homes requires more coordination. While you are addressing these decisions and working to manage your own emotions, you and your spouse may also want to think about how to help your children make the transition from your predivorce to your postdivorce family as simple, conflict-free, and understandable as possible for their developmental ages.
When children learn their parents are getting divorced, depending on their ages, it is more or less difficult for them to understand what is happening. By definition there are more unknowns than knowns, and children are not in a position to make any of the decisions that need to be made. They want to know how much their lives will change, whether they can keep their friends, whether they will go to the same school, and what it will be like to live in two different households. As the information begins to trickle in and the changes start to happen, marking the transitions is a way of helping them let go of what has been and turn to what is next.
One way to help your children is by creating rituals. As a society, we have rituals to mark many of life’s events and changes: births, coming of age (confirmations, bar mitzvahs, etc.), graduations, marriages, deaths, and so on. Include your children in the creation of these rituals. You might be surprised at how appropriate their ideas are and how thoughtful they can be about the meaning of symbols and actions. Perhaps you have seen them do this when a beloved pet has died, or perhaps they want repetition in daily events as in what they do before going to bed each night or when they are sick. It seems children instinctively create rituals without knowing this is what it is called. You can help them create rituals about, for example, moving out of the family home or starting at a new school. If you have a pet or pets, including them in the rituals can make the transition an easier one for your children as the pets are going through the transitions as well, and they can also feel like they are part of taking good care of how the changes happen for the beings they love and are responsible for.
When a family decides to adopt a divorce ritual, it is, in part, conveying the sense that no one is to blame when a marriage doesn’t work out. Individuals change or sometimes they learn to acknowledge that their personalities are different and not compatible enough to continue on together. This is not anyone’s fault. And it helps children learn that change is not something to be fearful of.
Dr. Monza Naff has written a book about rituals for divorcing called Must We Say We Did Not Love?
She suggests the following:
• Select a space that has special meaning
• Plan, with intention, what you wish to say or do in the time allotted
• Make clear commitments to all participants that are respectful
• Use meaningful words and special objects to symbolize those commitments
These suggestions are bare bones and are just a starting point for what would be appropriate for your family. There are so many different permutations depending on whether you are divorcing amicably or with hostility, whether there are new parenting figures joining the children’s lives, and, as mentioned, the ages of the children. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Consider the role of ritual in your life when it is a vehicle for celebration, and consider how it helps mark an important event and the meaning it has for you as you progress through your life. Perhaps thinking about your divorce or the ending of a significant relationship as another of life’s passages might help you, as well as your children, navigate a sometimes difficult path.
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