Most parents would agree that their children’s best interests should come first, even when it comes to divorce. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Divorce is difficult; nothing about it is easy. It’s a time filled with fear, anger, sometimes even hatred, and parents can find themselves so preoccupied with their own turmoil, that they are unable to distinguish their children’s needs from their own.

Experts are still evaluating the long-term effects of divorce on children. We know there are many factors and variables, ranging from the age of the child at the time of separation or divorce; the child’s gender and personality; and life stress from changes ranging from where they live, going to school or daycare, or having to make new friends. If you are a divorcing parent, there are many factors you may not be able to control, but the support and care you give to help your children transition through divorce can make a difference.

Parental competence and reassurance, during and after a divorce, can mean the difference between a well-adjusted child in the future, or one suffering with problems that can affect them throughout their childhood and possibly adult life.

One of the most important factors for children’s emotional health is simple: never, under any circumstances, expose them to parental conflict. Here are some other suggestions:

  • Remain present and accountable to your children, be ready to give them the nurturing care and parental guidance they need. Talk to them, keep things simple and straightforward, and remember to never discuss the other parent’s faults with them. Remember that they love both of you, no matter who has done what, and that it is important to respect that relationship.
  • Always remind them, no matter what age, at least once, and more if you can, that your divorce is not their fault— even if you think they know it.
  • Listen to them. Be alert to any signs of distress and seek professional help when needed. It can take up to two years or more for children to adjust to their parent’s divorce; be patient, understanding, and loving.

Your commitment as a parent is vital and comes first. Remind your children often that you will always be their mother or father, you will always love them, and that will never change. Be involved in their lives and cooperate as a co-parent on behalf of your children. Do not put them in the middle, and never ask them to choose who they want to live or spend their time with.

Take care of your own emotional health and physical well-being in this trying time as well. Being there for your children in a positive and sustainable manner depends on you being a stable and well-adjusted parent. Look to family and friends for support but, if needed, seek professional help for yourself and your children.