Divorce can be devastating when you’re a parent. You can’t just crawl into a hole and grieve, rant or rage. You must still care for the well-being of your children. And sometimes this is a challenge that overwhelms, resulting in parents who can’t cope with the responsibilities of parenting. When this happens, your children pay a high price. And too often, the parents aren’t totally aware of how their kids are affected.
It’s not always easy to remember that your children may be grieving as deeply as you are during and after divorce. It’s even more frightening for them because they were not responsible for the divorce nor the complex dynamics that led up to the split. Their fears are compounded by apprehension about whether Mom or Dad will ever divorce them — and what will happen to them and their family in the future. As dramatically as your life has been altered, remember, so too has theirs.
In their innocence children often mistake their parent’s grief as rejection. They are aware of changes in Mom and Dad’s behavior, attention and state of mind. But they don’t always understand the depth of pain their parents are experiencing and how it can affect their day-to-day parenting. While kids can see when you are sad, they may not always comprehend that your emotional pain is keeping you from being with them in ways you were in the past. When you’re not in the mood to play with them, prepare dinner or help with homework they may simply feel rejected – or believe you don’t love them anymore.
Due to their lack of sophistication children often fail to understand that your being upset about the divorce is affecting your parenting behavior. They may question why you’re not as attentive, whether your sadness is their fault or whether you’re angry with them for loving their other parent. This can create emotional instability and deep anxiety for some children who don’t have words to express their feelings.
Here are some suggestions for helping children adjust to the complex emotional changes in family life due to the divorce.
1. Be generous with your affection: Even if you can’t be “yourself” regarding activities you used to do with the kids, always offer a hug, a few minutes of cuddle time or kind words of affection to remind them that they’re still loved and important to you.
2. Be discreet when you need to emote: There’ a time for raging, hitting pillows and venting to your friends. But it’s not when the kids are within earshot. When you need to express your grief, find a place away from the children. Remember, you don’t want to deprive them of their childhood nor make them your confidant or therapist!
3. Be sincere about your feelings: When you’re overwhelmed with sadness around the kids, be honest but also clear that it’s not their fault. Say something like “I’m feeling sad and don’t feel like playing right now. It’s nothing you’ve done. I hope to be feeling better a little later, okay?”
4. Be receptive to professional help: Having a trusted support system can make all the difference in helping you cope with your divorce. Find a therapist, divorce coach or support group specializing in coping skills for parents to help you move through the transitions ahead while being there for your children. Also consider professional resources for your kids. Ask at their schools about programs and professionals who specialize in divorce recovery.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! To get her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, coaching services, free articles, her ezine and other valuable resources for parents, visit //www.childcentereddivorce.com.
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