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“What? You Want to Have a Family Talk?”

Imagine you’re 7 years old. You come home from school; you’re excited to be home, hungry and looking forward to dinner. In a little while, you smell your favorite meal, fried chicken and mashed potatoes, wafting up from the kitchen. Things seem a little tense at dinner tonight, but that’s not out of the ordinary in your house. Maybe your mom and dad had another argument last night or on the phone today? No worries, you say to yourself, “I’ll just go up to my room and play video games till things ease up as they always do.”

But tonight, things are different. After dinner, your mom and dad tell you and your sister that they want to have a talk in the living room. You’re saying to yourself, “This is odd, we don’t have talks in our family.” So, you’re all in the living room and then the bomb drops — “Your mother and I have decided to get a divorce and I’ll be moving out.”

We all know that divorce is not uncommon; it happens to about 50% of families. But the end of a family as a child knows it can lead to many different reactions — including grief, sorrow, guilt, anger, or sometimes even relief. For the mother and father going through a divorce, some or all of these feelings will also apply to them. Given the emotional turmoil the divorce process brings, parents sometimes don’t pay attention to the impact it has on the children involved. Even worse, sometimes the children are used as leverage — but that’s for another blog.

This is a time that we must do what we can to help our children through this very traumatic experience. They need reassurance, support — and most importantly, they need to know that it is not their fault. Even if your family doesn’t have much experience “having talks,” it’s critical to do so now. Explain in very general terms why mom and dad can’t live together anymore, and  that whoever is leaving (mom or dad) will still always be their mom or dad. But most importantly, listen. Let your kids express how they feel — their fears, their anger — and answer their questions as honestly as you can.

Parents may have opportunities to learn how to do these things during a divorce. Some divorce courts, like the Mahoning County Domestic Relations Court, provide parent seminars for those going through divorce. Support groups are now even offered for children to help them see they’re not alone and that other children are going through the same thing. For more information on either of these groups, contact the Mahoning County Domestic Relations Court or Alta Care Group.