1. Remember That It’s Your Mediation, Not Theirs: Just like you didn’t share every up and down in your marriage with your children, you don’t need to share every twist and turn of your divorce mediation with them. Of course, the children should be advised, in age-appropriate terms, of the changes that will directly impact them. Above all, they should know that Mom and Dad will always love them and will always take care of them.
2. Don’t Criticize Each Other In Front Of The Children: Children deserve the opportunity to have strong, positive relationships with each of their parents. Criticizing your spouse in front of them will only cause them needless confusion and anxiety. Ultimately, that hurts the children as well as their relationships.
3. Don’t Use The Children As Messengers: Sure, they are convenient, often effective and often very willing means by which to transfer information to your spouse without having to face them. Resist this urge! If you have difficulty communicating with your spouse, use your mediator, your lawyer or your therapist – not your children. Remember, they are the product of the love you once had for one another. They should not be made into messengers or pawns.
4. You Are Still A Family: It is very easy for children, especially young ones, to believe that their parents’ divorce means that they are no longer part of a family. You need to reassure them that this is not the case. They need to understand that although Mom and Dad may not be married to one another, they are and always will be part of a family, and that Mom and Dad will always be their Mom and Dad. They need to understand that the details have changed, but the love, caring and commitment remain the same.
5. They Didn’t Cause The Divorce: Children need to understand that Mom and Dad’s decision to divorce has nothing to do with them. It is not the result of anything they did or didn’t do. It’s not about them, it’s about the two of you.
6. They Can’t Stop The Divorce: Sometimes children, especially younger children, harbor a reconciliation fantasy in which their actions lead Mom and Dad to get back together. You need to help them understand that your divorce is not something they have power over.
7. Identify Their Emotions and Concerns: Talk with your children, together if possible, about their emotions and concerns regarding your divorce. Try to make if feel safe and o.k. for them to talk about their feelings, which may be sad, angry or confusing. Make sure to be ready to listen when they are ready to talk about it. Stay tuned in, stay accessible to them.
8. It’s Not What You Say, It’s What You Do: Children are usually smarter than we give them credit for. They sometimes listen to what we say, but usually pay closer attention to what we do. If they see Mom and Dad acting civilly towards each other, speaking about each other in positive, respectful ways, and willing to be flexible, compromising and communicative with each, they will feel less insecure about the divorce mediation process. As grown ups, this ball is in our court.
9. Get Them Appropriate Help: A world of resource exists out there to assist children (and parents) with the emotions and processes of divorce. These include school-based counselors, child counselors, support groups, internet-based resources and the like. If you are to err, err on the side of having your child take advantage of these resources.
10. Keep Things In Perspective: Millions upon millions of Americans living today are the product of divorces during their childhood. Perhaps you were one of them. The vast majority of them get through their parents’ divorces without long-term ill effect. The odds of this good that your children will do so as well. The fact that you and your spouse have chosen divorce mediation over divorce litigation, and have thus chosen to make your divorce process faster, more cooperative and less acrimonious, substantially improves these odds.