“Mami and Papi still love each other, but Papi is going to live in his own house where you’ll have your own room too. Most things will stay pretty much the same. You haven’t done anything wrong; we both love you very much.”These are the standard three sentences that, with some variations of inflection, parents—including Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony—should say to their children when they are separating or getting divorced.
Sometimes the breakup is less than cordial, in which case the children’s experience often and unfittingly takes the backseat. Calm, rational explanations are foregone and replaced with embarrassing expletives describing the other parent’s wrongdoings.
At three years of age, Emme and Max, JLo and Marc’s twins, probably have a vocabulary of about 300 words; the most salient will relate to the location of their father’s new home. How much will daily life change for the Lopez-Anthony little ones? Probably not very much. Both parents have very hectic work schedules. Extended family, caretakers, nannies and teachers will and should stay the same.
Read Related: The Brighter Side of Divorce
The arguments that children, celeb offspring or otherwise, have witnessed may be manifest in their play. Many children who have been exposed to tension and arguments may be clingier or have sleeping problems. So Max and Emme’s caretakers would be wise to keep an eye out for behavioral differences.
Will they be traumatized by their parents split? That depends on Mom and Dad. All the divorce research points to the type of breakup, that is to say, the amicability of it, as being the crucial factor in how children will emerge on the other side of divorce. Do Mami and Papi put ego aside and make good co-parenting a priority? In homes where there has been tension, life post-separation or divorce can actually become more peaceful and organized.
Read Related: How to Explain Divorce to Kids
Research also shows that the younger the children, the easier the adjustment. For example, many of my adolescent patients, who describe their parents’ attitudes and arguments pre-divorce, are relieved when they each have their own domicile. Post divorce, arguments about finances and parenting schedules are most disruptive.
As Max and Emme start kindergarten, chances are they will be far from the only students with divorced parents at their school. It might even be the norm among their classmates’ parents. As they get older and peers become more important, camaraderie around the topic also can minimize the impact.
Given their respective successful careers, JLo and Marc have an advantage that many financially strapped parents don’t. Many unhappy couples are forced to live together because of job loss or finances during the ongoing recession. Some postpone divorce because of the costs; JLo and Marc’s lawyers will likely deal with the number crunching.
The couple should, however, take into consideration how this divorce will affect their reputations and how it will play out in the media. Marc will now have two ex-wives, with four children between them. He also has a daughter from a previous relationship. This will mark divorce No. 3 for JLo, not to mention a high-profile split from Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and a called-off engagement with Ben Affleck. Still, seven years of marriage is nothing to sneeze at, particularly by Hollywood standards.
Coverage of the split will soon be replaced by speculation about the other man or woman in Mami and Daddy’s lives once they start dating. While “average” parents can keep this under wraps until they’re ready to share with their children, this pair will have to work extra hard to protect Emme and Max. Already paparazzi are hot on the trail, looking to “catch” JLo with someone or who Marc may have at his side at upcoming events.
As fans or onlookers, naturally, we find ourselves looking for clues as to what happened. Despite the couple’s statement that the separation is amicable, there are of course outrageous rumors as to why they are calling it quits. Was the discrepancy in earning power an issue? Or did it have to do with two alphas with little experience or motivation to learn couple problem-solving? Was infidelity a factor?
Regardless of the reasons, our concern is that the twins adjust as best they can. Even in the best of circumstances, divorce can be painful. But research is on their side. And with family playing such a big role in Latino life, we’re confident Emme and Max will be surrounded by love.
Tips for Divorcing Parents
- Do not underestimate how much your children sense. Even if you are not crying or shouting in front of them, they can pick up on non-verbal cues that tell them that things are changing.
- If they do pick up these cues, validate their observations. Saying, “No, everything is fine” only teaches them that their intuition is not good.
- Remember to reinforce the idea that they have done nothing wrong in arriving at the decision to divorce.
- Keep your eye on the larger goal, no matter how slighted you feel by your significant other. The goal is good co-parenting. Period.
- Make sure you are getting help and support for the times you feel depressed or angry. Don’t “fake” it in front of the kids—find a support group, a therapist, or an outlet of any sort for your feelings.
What & What Not to Say
We won’t speculate as to why JLo and Marc are splitting, but we will address some FAQs about how parents can to deal with different scenarios when it comes to telling the kids.
Q: If one parent cheated and this is the cause of the breakup, should this be explained to the children?
A: No, that is adult information. Resist the temptation to blame your spouse, no matter how wrong he or she was. Do not vent to your kids. Use your friends or therapist for that. Your job is to protect your children.
Q: If there is a possibility that we may get back together, how should I explain this to the kids?
A: Depending on their level of maturity, they can understand the concept that you are working through some problems in your relationship and that the future is uncertain. Emphasize that they will always be loved and taken care of. Watching two people discuss and problem-solve can actually be a wonderful lesson.
Q: My spouse and I are doing okay in dealing with our divorce. We really do love each other very much, however, getting our in-laws on the same page is a nightmare. How do we get everyone to understand what is appropriate or inappropriate to say or do?
A: Call a family meeting or at least place a conference call where you are very firm about setting the tone: loving but practical. You and your ex-spouse should present a united front in making the rules clear to your in-laws about what is appropriate.