I don’t think anybody gets into a marriage with the intentions of eventually getting divorced. I believe that every couple who gets married truly thinks ‘until death do us part’. But, what happens afterwards that ultimately leads to the breakdown of the marriage is everyone’s own personal story. The true casualties are the children involved. They will live with the consequences of our actions, which is why we must proceed with caution with every step we take.
Divorce is a difficult and life-changing event in one’s life. For all kids, this is a very sad and frightening time, uncertain of what the future will mean for them. Even in the most amicable situation, divorce is not easy. Factor in a child with autism and the situation is even more complicated and delicate. Many have difficulty with transition and change in their routine, heightening their level of anxiety.
But I also know that children are resilient, including autistic children. What they want most in this whole process is to feel safe, to feel loved and reassurance that everything will be okay.
So how do you handle yourself as you go through a divorce with your child with special needs knowing their world will soon turn upside down? Helping your child cope with a divorce starts with providing stability in your home, along with a positive attitude and constant reassurance that everything will be fine.
It won’t always be a smooth ride but these 10 tips can better help your child cope with the divorce:
Tell your child the news together. Decide beforehand what you will say and how you will say it. The way you deliver the news to your child is important. They need to see that as parents you are both there for your child and you are not saying conflicting information.
Leave your anger at the door
If you are the one blind-sided by the divorce, you will most certainly be angry as well as in shock and disbelief. There is never, ever a moment when it is okay to show anger towards your ex-spouse in front of your children. These are your issues with your spouse that need to be addressed with one another, not the children.
Keep the routine consistent for the children
Every family dynamic is different and unique. Therefore, custodial rights are based on individual cases. What is most important is that the routine for the children is least disrupted. Be flexible and be fair. Keep the children’s best interest when it comes to routine and schedules.
Reassure them it’s not their fault
Kids will automatically think they did something to cause the separation. Continuously reassure them they are not the cause of the divorce. Without getting into the details, just assure them they did nothing wrong and that you are both very proud of them.
Acknowledge their feelings
Every child will react differently. It’s important to never mitigate what they have to say or what they are feeling. Answer every question and address every concern they have with honesty. If you are uncertain about something, say so. Don’t give false information that can potentially give them greater disappointment in the future.
Tell them you will always be together as parents
Let them know that even though you are getting divorced, you will always be together for them as their parents. That part will never change and that unity will never be broken. You are their mom and dad forever.
Keep adult issues for the adults
There are certain explanations that children need to hear in order for them to cope and understand the process of divorce such as living arrangements, school, activities etc. This doesn’t mean airing out the dirty laundry or the causes that led to your divorce. Children cannot process and handle the information as adults do, which is why adult topics are best left for adults.
Never denigrate your ex-spouse
This has a profound effect on the children. Never denigrate your ex-spouse, especially in front of your children or even within ear shot. There is nothing positive or constructive about this behavior. It only makes the children feel terrible and it will only shed you in a poor and negative light.
Do not use the children as pawns
Respect the pick-up and drop off times. Don’t use the children as leverage or pawns. They deserve better than that and it will only add more anger and animosity towards your relationship with your ex-spouse. Even though you are divorced, you will always be parents to your children. That unity will never be broken.
Never put them in the middle
Do not make your children feel like they have to choose between mom and dad. They have the right to have you both. Teach them to love unconditionally, even through the difficult times. This will make them stronger, kinder and happier because they do not have any negativity in their heart.
This process doesn’t happen overnight but with a positive attitude, being consistent and providing a loving and stable environment for your child, you can all overcome this difficult transition in your lives.