Many caring parents I speak to admit to feeling tremendous guilt during and after their divorce. It’s easy to understand why. Parents who are aware of the emotional toll a separation or divorce can take on their children feel torn about whether they made the right decision.
Are they being selfish in moving ahead with the divorce? Will this experience psychologically scar their children for life? Will the kids ever forgive them – or their other parent – for initiating the divorce? Are they making the right decisions regarding co-parenting, visitation, communication and discussing all related issues with the kids?
These are valid questions to ask yourself. The answers should be seriously considered before making any move in the direction of divorce. However, divorce is never a black and white issue. Changing the form of a family unit doesn’t necessarily mean destroying the family or the love between parents and children. It all depends upon how you handle the challenges. Sometimes divorce is the wisest decision or the best direction to move in to provide stability and peace of mind to a family experiencing devastating emotional turmoil.
Guilt in itself can be a very destructive emotion. It’s based on focusing your attention on the past. When you bring a magnifying glass to your past you’re inevitably going to find many decisions, behaviors and actions to regret. Guilt is about getting stuck in those regrets. It can consume your thoughts, your days and your activities — and fill you with shame, remorse and self-flagellation.
Don’t be a victim of your own guilt. Take action instead! If you behaved in ways you regret, said things you wish you hadn’t or didn’t do what you now know you should have – determine how you can make amends.
Can you sincerely apologize to the parties you hurt? Or perhaps write a note? Can you begin taking a new direction in your life based on wiser decisions?
Would you be able to teach or share lessons you learned with others? This is often a valuable way to take the sting out of life lessons so that your pain is not in vane. Many divorce coaches and family therapists have stories to tell of their own misguided decisions which they are eager to share with clients.
When you move your attention into the present, rather than the past, you’ll feel relief and a sense of power over your life once again. You’re taking steps to right a wrong or make a challenging situation more tolerable. You’re changing the course of your life and hopefully the lives of others involved – moving it in a better direction for all concerned.
Most important of all, you are more likely to come to the place of forgiving yourself and letting go. You’ve attempted to make amends. You’ve acknowledged your errors and taken a wiser course of action. You’ve learned valuable lessons you can share with others. You’re taking responsibility for your behaviors, not lingering in a pity party over past deeds.
These are ways you can start projecting your thoughts back into the present – not the future. From here you can begin living a life that is more rewarding, peaceful and satisfying – despite or as a result of – your divorce!
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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? Her free ezine, blog, articles, coaching services and valuable resources for families are available at www.childcentereddivorce.com.
I really like this post, Rosalind. The only thing I would add is to remind parents that just as they shouldn’t get stuck in their guilt and should move their focus to the present, their children may take a both a longer time to get there and they may regress back from time to time as well. And I think the worst response or sense a child can get from a divorced parent is ‘hey, I’ve moved on and I don’t want to hear about that’. And that’s another really bad side effect of guilt, not letting children express and own their emotions because it makes them feel guilty.
Parents who decide to divorce have made a very difficult decision. But it’s a decision that they have to become confident in and comfortable with. Because that’s what is going to give them the strength to help their children through everything they will struggle with.
Thanks for your insightful comments, Carolyn. Your points are well-made and important to understand. I appreciate your sharing this with us!