Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Helping Toddlers Deal with Divorce

When my husband moved out 5 months ago, JD had a much stronger reaction than I was prepared for, and it terrified me.  Because his dad frequently traveled and worked a lot of nights, I naively thought JD wouldn't notice a huge change in our routine, but I quickly realized that not only did he understand that something major was going on, but he was also picking up on my own anxiety and sadness.  He started stuttering, biting his nails, and acting out (much more than usual).  I don't know if I was more devastated by my personal crisis or by watching JD go through his own.

I am relieved to share that the stuttering has completely stopped and his behavior has drastically improved.  (I will take any tips for stopping the nail biting!)  Here are a few things that I would attribute this to.
  1. Simplifying as much as possible.  At first I thought it would be best for the boys if I had their dad over for a couple meals each week, but I quickly realized that it was too confusing for them.  JD would start the next day crying and screaming because daddy wasn't still there.  Him coming and going from the house didn't make sense to them, and of course they picked up on the tension.
  2. Having a consistent schedule and pick-up & drop-off routine.  I noticed a huge change in JD's behavior after keeping drop-off & pick-up as quick as possible and right at the door.  I would like to think that I have less tension and anxiety because I know the schedule, and that impacts the boys, too.
  3. Being honest.  I have openly and positively talked with the boys about what is going on and how we are feeling.  From the beginning, they were comfortable talking about daddy's house vs. mommy's house, and they know that it's okay to be sad and miss daddy and also to be happy and excited to spend time with him.  I want them to learn that they can trust me to be honest with them- but it is important to note that that doesn't mean that I will tell them everything.  There is no reason for them to ever hear me say anything negative about their father or make them feel like they need to choose sides.
  4. Showing them similar situations- both in books and in real life.  One of my best friends is divorced and shares custody of her daughter.  JD was so excited to hear that she has a "mommy's house" and a "daddy's house", too, and my friend has been an incredible resource and support to me.  At first I was hesitant to get the boys books that used the D word, and there isn't much for toddlers anyway, but there are a lot of books that deal with separation anxiety and different kinds of families.  Our favorites are Llama Llama Misses MamaThe Family Book (We LOVE Todd Parr books.), When I Miss You, and Owl Babies.  I've had a harder time finding books about missing daddy (Anybody else notice most separation anxiety-themed books deal with missing mom?), but there are great books that depict a child spending time alone with their dad- like The Biggest BearMy Daddy and Me, and Because Your Daddy Loves You.  
This is just the start of our family's transition, and I hope to share more good news soon.


  1. Thank you! I am going through a divorce right now and your thoughts are right on. I especially agree with #3! I have a 4 year old boy and have been a stay at home mom for his entire life (lucky kid!). We have also read a few books. I really loved Two Homes -- it talks about going to mommy's house and daddy's house and how some things are different, and some are the same. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Rachel. I am ordering that book now! I was a stay at home mom for my kids' whole lives, too, and the transition back to work has been rough! So much change in a short time is overwhelming sometimes.


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