How Do I Make a Separation/divorce Easier on My Child?

Updated on February 12, 2009
L.H. asks from Colorado Springs, CO
14 answers

My husband and I have been having problems for approximately 2 1/2 years. I have desperately tried to make things work out for the sake of my daughter but have now gotten to the point where I need to just end my marriage. My husband is a good father and I have every intention of sharing custody with him equally, even though I want to be with my daughter every day. She's very close to her father and this will be an upset, to say the least. She is more of a Mommy's baby and everything is "Mommy do" including all of the bedtime routine. How do I make it easier on her? Especially since she's going to have to get used to be away from Mommy a few nights a week?

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answers from Denver on

We live in a disposable world where marriage is also disposable. There is nothing you can do to make a divorce situation "ok" for a child. If the decision that you and your husband make is to divorce then it is about you. This is not the best decision for the child so don't try to justify it. Unless you are in an abusive situation you need to keep trying. Love is not a feeling, it is a committment and its hard and it takes work. Don't ask for it to be easy, ask for it to be worth it. Your childs needs should come first, its her emotional security and happiness that is at stake.

I would challenge you and your husband to call a truce for an evening and watch the movie, "Fireproof." There is a 40 day challenge you can do to try to turn things around. Please don't make a decision before then. The movie will stir some raw emotions and you may need to watch it with a couple you trust, who knows what is going on.

I have been down this road, made a decision that seemed best for me but certainly has caused long term issues for both of my daughters. I was selfish in my decision and justified it because I really thought I was going to die if I stayed with him. He has sinced turned his life around and we could have worked things out.

The cost for children is too great. Good luck and you and your family will be in my prayers.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I'm sorry this is a decision you have to make. I just want to tell you that even though kids always appear to 'get over it' and will put on their best face on for you, its what they do, they never 'get over it'. My parents divorced when I was 5 and I spent several years trying to get my family back together again. I, too, shuttled back and forth between homes and had two wardrobes, two rooms to call my own, two sets of toys. I did not however, have a home that was mine. I had two homes where I was a part time resident. Its is devastating for a child, especially as an only...they have no one else.

I don't know what to tell you to alleviate the pain. Being considerate of her feelings. Fighting for full custody so she doesn't have to be shuttled. It will hurt for her, you and your soon to be ex. Pay for good counseling. GL.



answers from Denver on

I agree with Jan M. and Mommy - "Fireproof" is an excellent movie!! I have 3 children, they were 5 weeks, 1 1/2 & 5 1/2 years old when their dad left. I have since remarried a wonderful man who loves my children tremendously and they still spend time with their dad, but things will never be the same for them. It's incredibly difficult no matter which way you go! I do hope that you and your husband are able to work things out, but I am not hear to judge you - it's painful either way. If you choose to end your marriage, there will be a grieving process for all of you! There is a group called Divorce Care & they have a group for kids - you could look into that as well. I'm sorry you're going through all that you are.



answers from Denver on

Hi L.,

I'm sorry to hear that you're going through this. Unfortunatly no matter what happens its still exteremly difficult on the children and try to remember even though she is only 4 she knows something is going on, so don't think that shes too young to know whats happening. Being passed back in fourth between two parents and two homes is extremly difficult for a child, so here is my suggestion and for this to work it will take both you and your husband to get over what ever issues you have with one another to make this easier for your daughter. I suggest that he moves out of the house and you remain living there with your daughter while he lives in an apartment or another home and when it's his week to get his daughter he comes back to the house that your living in and stays there with her while you leave and go stay at his apartment or house. It may not be working between you adn your husband and you guys want the divorce not your daughter, so don't make it difficult on her by having her go back in fourth between two homes you and your husband should switch back in fourth that way she can still have as much stability as possible. I hope this helps and I'm sorry to hear what your going through.



answers from Cheyenne on

Some of the advice you have received already is wonderful. I just want to say coming from a broken family...keep your routine. She will definitely need that stability because even if you are ready for the separation your emotions will be crazy once it happens. Another thing is try not to talk negative about your ex in front of your daughter, especially since he will still be in her life. Things will work so much better if she can appreciate both of you even though she can't have you together. Sorry to hear that it had to end but hope things go better for you. Oh, one last thing...don't make your daughter your best friend...find a girlfriend that you can share your problems with. My mother tried doing this to me and until I got older I didn't realize how disturbing it it made me hate my father. Anyway, best of luck.



answers from Denver on

The first thing that you tell her is that mommy and daddy love her no matter what. Also: let her know that you still love each other too.
I would say the first thing that i would do is have her try spending the whole day then offering her to spend the night. As she gets older and is with him more( without mommy ) then she will definatly want to be with daddy all night long. Let her tell you hoe she feels about things without trying to solve it,just listening.
Good luck and god bless



answers from Denver on

I am so sorry L.. Kristen is way off the mark thinking staying for the children is healthy or good for anyone! Kids do need both parents, a good marriage is a great thing and the best for children, but if it has come to where it is not going to work it is NOT GOOD for children to live around that. Don't let anyone make you feel badly about your decison as of course you want what is best for your daughter. Kids are very smart and they need their parents to be happy and fulfilled, together or apart. Being with someone for a child's sake if you are unhappy is the worst thing you could do for your children!!! Stress of a bad marriage wreaks havoc on children and later on they will be upset you did not seperate. I just read a study that 65% of some adults that grew up with both parents that later divorced said that they knew their parents were miserable and both unhappy in their marriage. They said they would have rather the parents seperate in their childhood so they actually could have seen their parents happy.

I feel for you and what you are going through completely. My ex moved out and left when my son was almost one and my daughter was almost four.
I can say the mistake I made with my daughter was trying to protect her. Being honest, answering questions and talking openly ( to a four year old level) is the best thing you can do for her. Letting her know that you both tried very hard to make things work but have grown apart and that you feel that being together will not allow for happiness in the family and that you and your husband love her very much.
Reminding her it is nothing she did and that sometimes grown ups just cannot figure things out together.
It will take some time, an adjustment but I found that kids are amazingly resilient if you keep them informed, allow for them to talk about their feelings and you always reassuring her.
If he isn't moving far away, reassure her and have him show her where he will live and where she will visit. Make sure he has a room for her there, for her to decorate however she wants and makes it homey.
As far as bedtime routine that will change, kids hate change but you can have her call her dad right before bedtime every night and they can say their goodnights. Vice versa when she is staying with him.

Just keep the rules, don't cave where you didn't before, stay in charge but keep her aware of the changes, prepare her as much as possible and be there for her when she has a tough time. Seeing you happy, her daddy happy is ultimately all she wants in the long run. Kids adjust if they don't feel like it is a surprise as they need things to be predictable to a degree.

She will feel some insecurity as change does that. Talk with her with your husband there so she knows you two will both be there for her. Make a an agreement to never argue or bad mouth the other at all! Not good for anyone.
Be excited when she goes with her dad and encourage her to feel it is okay to have fun with him without you.
Making sure you are handling it she will too.

I made mistakes by coddling my children, and not being honest about the situation thinking I was protecting them. My ex moved out of state so that was extra hard as they pretty much lost him out of their lives. That made things worse later and we just now got through it all three years later. Keeping structure, giving her reassurance and being honest (again like a four year old can handle) is the best thing you can do~ God bless~!



answers from Billings on

Have you heard of the book, "staying together for the sake of the kids?" It's a how-to, and why. I have three kids, who love their dad.

You mentioned that he is a good father... Please don't buy the lie that getting out will bring you joy. Research shows that people who stayed the course through marriage troubles are happier 5 years later than those who didn't. I've got many examples of that in my own family. Keep up the hope... there's a reason you chose that man... your marriage to him will cause you to grow spiritually if you will let it, and your willingness to embrace your own spiritual growth is the best gift you can give your daughter. Don't give up now!! (this is a link to a Canadian video on marriage that a friend of mine found very helpful)

Peace, courage, and light to you!



answers from Denver on

Unfortunatly, you can not make a separation/divorce easier for a child. You and your husband if you do separate/divorce just need to remember not to talk badly about each other or talk about any problems to her. A lot of adults forget that the child does not care what daddy or mommy did wrong, they sometimes think it's their fault even if you tell them its not. But again there is no way even if others that have divorced say there is, to make it easier on a child. The child will feel they are losing one if not both the parents at some point. Sorry I know that is not what anyone wants to hear but the child always gets hurt some how even if you do everything to make sure its easy on them.
Good Luck



answers from Denver on

the most important thing is to set up family rituals. whenever you two do separate and set up visitation, make a plan for the visits. Pack a bag with a favorite toy and picture of the two of you. sing a special song together and remind her that you will speak to her every night as part of her bedtime routine, or whatever time you and your ex work out. make a plan for when she returns to you = like always have her favorite foods and watch her favorite movie or play her favorite game. By having these special rituals that she can rehearse over and over, she will learn that you will be there for her and she can count on that. Because she is only 4 keep the routines very short and specific. Having pictures of you at his house and him at your house in her room will help her keep it together during the visits. Keep clothes and toys at both houses so she's not lugging suitcases around if at all possible. Keep disruption for her at a minumum. Consult a psychologist if you feel you need more help or if she's reacting badly to the separation.



answers from Pueblo on

HI L.,
I can understand your concern. I have been spearated from my husband for 5 years. It took us 3 years to get the divorce completed. Children do better in a non hostile enviroment. You can easily provide that. You are most likely her rock while Dad is more for leisure. Let her set the stage for routine within reason. If your ex is understanding he hopefully will also be concerned about your child. Reinforce to her that she can call and come home whenever she needs to. Try to get him to agree to that at least for the first year. She will settle into a routine that works for her. I also think a therapist for her is good outlet. It takes you out of the equation when the anger sets in. I have 2 children and my fiance has a daughter who we share custodity with her Mom. Good Luck, M.



answers from Grand Junction on

Hi L.

You've gotten a lot of advice, so I thought I would just share my story. I divorced in 1996 when my sons were 3 and 7. We went to a counselor to find out the way to tell the boys and what would be best for them as far as arrangements. The counselor told us they were young enough that they should see and spend time with each parent every day. We tried that for a few weeks and it just didn't work. Too much rushing around and not enough relax time. We tried every few days, then every two weeks, then every month, then every two months and eventually they came to my house and never left. The last 5-6 years, they haven't even spent 1 weekend at their dad's. He's allowed that to happen, which worked for me. I never would have let it. i would have insisted on at least weekends.

When we divorced, I told myself it was the best thing for the kids. I didn't want them to think a normal marriage and life was what my 1st husband and I were living. I knew I could be happier, either by myself or with someone else. I was right in that I remarried a little over a year later and have been very happy for over 10 years now. My kids have the example of my present wonderful marriage and they have lived a life that has included a lot of laughter, respect, and love, as well as how to give and take, how to for sacrifice for each other and others and how to form a partnership in life. They never would have seen or shared any of that if their father and I would have stayed together.

My thought was and is -- How can children be happy if their parents aren't? My husband and I have shown them happiness.

That is not to say that the divorce or living with divorced parents has been easy for them. I didn't realize until years after the divorce, when they were older and more able to express their feelings, just how hard it was and sometimes still is, on them.

Do your best to put aside your personal feelings and understand them. Emotions run high during a divorce, and sometime even 11 years later. They don't need to experience your high emotions. They need you to make them feel grounded and safe. Your child is not your sounding board. Find an adult you can rant and rave to. When it comes to talking to and about your childs' dad, always be calm in front of them and to them. Even when they are in the next room. Their emotions feed off of yours.

In my case, their father and I worked well together for the first few years. We agreed on discipline and shared parenting decisions and time. However, once the kids were at my house more and eventually full-time, I dinged him for child support, his wife didn't like us working well together and things changed to where we have a difficult time getting along now.

The lessons I've learned are:

1. No matter what the kids say about their dad, no matter what the kids repeat that their dad has said about me, for their well-being and happiness, I cannot get emotional or ever, ever bad mouth their dad. Even when he has called me names to my sons, I have to stay positive for their sake. My sons, even now that the oldest is 19, need to feel safe and secure in life and sometimes my home is the only safe and secure place in the whole wide world. Defending myself, telling my side, telling them all the rotten things their dad has done...those things only make me feel better, they don't help the kids in any way. In fact saying anything negative about their dad, no matter what he does/says, only harms them.

2. No matter how rotten their dad is about money or how mean he is to me, he has to be involved when a kid is in trouble or hurting and the story has to come from me. Conversely, he needs to be told when the kids have successes or exciting news and he needs to hear that from them. I am the bearer of bad news and have learned not to get defensive when I convey that news. I've done the best I know how and I don't let him make me feel like a failure when things go wrong.

3. Boys need discipline and sometimes they need it from a man. I held my husband, their step-father, back from discipling the kids when they were younger and I regret that now. I kept hoping their own father would step up. I'm not talking about spanking or hitting, but teenage boys need a brick wall to run up against now and then. At least mine did. :) Luckily I figured out, by the time they were teenagers, that hubby could only do them good. At the time, they hated it and him sometimes, but now the three of them are close. They look to him for wisdom and guidance and I'm proud of the men my boys have become.

That's not to say that they don't look to their dad for wisdom and guidance too. They do and now that their lives have settled some after rough teenage years, it's easy for him to take part and take credit. I can't let that get to me. Whatever works for the boys is what's best for the boys, no matter how much that gets my goat. :)

4. Kids need a permanent home. I don't think we did our kid any favors by giving them two. They weren't sure where they fit in at either place.

I believe my kids lost some things and gained some things from the divorce. They sometimes have a strained relationship with their dad, who didn't help as much as he should have through their rough teenage years. I believe their teenage years may have been easier if their dad and I were together. But...maybe not.

They have gained a lot from my husband who they are very close to and who is a very different man from their father.

I am a very different person than I would have been had I stayed with their dad. I know I'm happier, but I also believe my horizons have been expanded, I have done more, learned more, loved and given more than if I would have stayed in a bad marriage.

Each situation is different, as is each parent, step-parent and ex-spouse. If you do get a divorce, do your very best to put the kids first even if your ex doesn't and even when you want to scream and cry in frustration. Don't kid yourself that the split will be easy for your kids, you or your spouse, it won't, but with love and good head on shoulders, you'll all come through it and might even be the better for it.

My two cents. Okay, this turned out to be long - maybe it is a dollars worth. Good luck.




answers from Missoula on

Jan M's advice is right on! I hope you can work it out! The Love Dare book spoken of in the movie is now available for purchase in various places, Amazon,



answers from Provo on

I think I am an expert on this subject. I have been divorced twice and had children twice. I was excited to read your entry and share my experience. I got divorced just recently and have a four year old son. The divorce is a brand new experience for all of us. The divorce education class that the state will make you take is a BIG help. Don't listen to all those people that tell you that divorce is SO hard on the child. Even though the parents are in separate homes it can still be a joint effort raising the child. Just remember to keep communication open. The child will have a small adjustment at first but then it all becomes second nature. My son thinks it is the coolest thing to say that he has a room and a bed and dad's house and also at mom's house. I sent one of his toy boxes to his dad's house and also sent a futon for him. My ex calls his house "Alex and Daddy's house." Your little girl will adjust so easily. You will be surprised. Just make sure to tell her that she still has a special room in both mommy and daddy's heart.

My oldest child, a girl, getting ready to go to Oregon State University in the fall. She was 12 years old when I got my first divorce. I thought it was going to be very hard on her. My parents made sure to tell me that it was the worst thing for my kids. She is definately a leader with a 3.98 GPA and I am very proud of her. The mom's role is very important for the daughter. She wants to be just like mom and if mom is staying in an unhappy marriage, she is seeing that and will not have the self-esteem she needs. You go for it!! If divorce is the right thing for you, she will adapt. Good luck and if you need more support, don't hesitate to write to me.

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