Jon is 54, and he's going through a divorce. He worries about his daughter, Nina, who is 12. "She's a happy kid, a resilient kid," he says, "But I worry about how she'll handle the divorce." Jon's father had serious drinking problems; he's had his own difficulties with alcohol and, at times, other drugs.
Some evidence shows that kids are more at risk for substance abuse problems when they deal with experiences such as divorce, but a divorce by no means guarantees that your kids will struggle.
Here are some thoughts on how to help kids stay safe and healthy through divorce:
Tip #1 Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
John spoke to Nina privately about the fact that he wouldn't be living with her and her mom anymore. He explained that he would always be her dad and that this decision had nothing to do with her. Instead, this decision was about how he and her mom needed to go in different directions.
He talked with Nina about when he would see her, how he would stay involved in her school, and he answered her questions about holidays. He reassured her that he would always be there for her birthday parties.
Tip #2 Talk Openly About Substance Use
Jon asked Nina if any of the kids in her class were drinking alcohol or using drugs. Nina said she didn’t know about anyone in her grade, but she heard that older kids sometimes smoked. Jon decided to take a big leap.
“If you find that you want to try drinking, talk to me about it. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink once you’re old enough, but it’s important that you don’t end up in danger from drinking or in an unsafe situation. As you get into high school, some kids will be drinking. If they’re ever pushing you to drink or do drugs, just call me - I or your mother will come pick you up, no questions asked.”
Tip #3 Stay On the Same Page as Your Ex
Jon and his ex-wife make it a point to present a united front to Nina. They never want to put her in the middle of their disputes, so they're careful to only argue when she’s not around. Nina’s health and happiness is always their first priority.
Divorce is hard, but with open communication, consistent messages from parents, and lots of love, kids survive and thrive.
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