Divorce: Helping the Child to Understand and Process

divorce with children

Picture this: You are six years old and are sitting on your suitcase in the kitchen as you watch your Mom and her friends move all of your personal belongings from your home. You and Mom have already gone to view the new home ,and you loved it, but are upset that your brother gets the “better” bedroom. Just when you think life is about to get more fun in your new home, mom hits you with the news. “Dad won’t be living with us at our new house”. Yep, you guessed it. “Divorce” is about to divide the household. At six years old, that word doesn’t make much sense to you. “Why would Dad not want to live with me anymore?” “No one else’s parents live separately!”

Feelings of confusion, anger, sadness, and loneliness can quickly set in for a young child experiencing such tumultuous change. Being able to discuss the change of family dynamics and new vocabulary words and phrases like “divorce” or “parenting schedule” are not easy to understand as a young child but are important to helping your child come to terms with their new family dynamics and assist the child with recognizing that the divorce was not their fault, nor was there anything the child could have done to prevent the divorce from occurring.

One way to assist a young child is to read picture books on the topic that they are struggling with to assure the child that they are not alone in their feelings or even the changes that are currently taking place in their life. Some suggested book recommendations to consider:

Monday, Wednesday, and every other Weekend by Karen Stanton: This book tells a story about a young boy and his dog who have two houses. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and every other weekend the boy and his dog live with Mama and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other weekend the boy and his dog live with Papa. The story helps children to realize that the parenting schedule that they may be experiencing is not a novel concept and is the norm for many children. The story goes on to discuss the wonderful things to do at each parent’s house and that, no matter where the boy may be, at the end of the day he is “home”.

Thursday by Ann Bonwill: This book tells the story of a young girl whose favorite day of the week, Thursday, was ruined after her parents told her on a Thursday about their divorce. The book expresses how sad the child was that she felt she couldn’t experience any of the positives of Thursdays anymore because of the sad news. Then, an imaginary unicorn comes to assist in cheering the child up and so that she is enjoying her day and helps the child to build a memory box of all the wonderful memories of her life “before”. The box is an item that is small enough to be brought back and forth between her houses to help her remember the positive and wonderful memories from before the divorce until finally Thursday turns back into just Thursday.

What About Neko? By Nancy Loewen: This book tells the story of Becca whose ordinary routine was to walk their dog, Neko, with dad every morning. Until one day, dad didn’t live with them anymore. The children understand that they will be going to see their Dad for the weekend but don’t understand why Neko can’t go too. The story explores some of the questions and feelings Becca feels as she adjusts to her new ordinary and Becca’s Mom helps Becca to understand that the new routine is hard on everyone but that her parents will help her work through her feelings and new routine.

That Missing Feeling by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: Mia is a young child who expresses what her daily life used to look like before she started getting two of everything. Two beds, two favorite mugs, even two toothbrushes. Mia expresses all the fun things she loves to do with each of her parents, but that when she is at the other parent’s home she often misses all the things about the other parent and other home, no matter how much fun she is having. Then one day, Mia’s grandfather gives her a journal and helps Mia to understand that drawing and writing in the journal could help her think about life and all the wonderful memories she has with both mom and dad. The best part of all is that it was an item that she could take to both mom and dad’s house so she could always look back on the happy times she experienced.

Haley Holmberg is a family lawyer and Guardian ad Litem who has been practicing since 2018. She is a practicing member of the Ohio bar. Attorney Holmberg is an associate at The Law Offices of William L. Geary, located in Columbus, Ohio. The Office practices solely Family and Juvenile Law.

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