By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
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 wellbeing of your children. And sometimes this challenge is so overwhelming parents fail to cope with the responsibilities of parenting. When that happens, your children pay a high price. And very often, you may not be fully aware of how your 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 are they aware of the complex dynamics that led up to the split. Their fears are compounded by apprehension about whether either parent may ever divorce them. They fear what will happen to them and their family in the future.
As dramatically as your life has been altered, remember, so too has theirs.
Put yourself in your children’s shoes for deeper awareness!
In their innocence children often mistake their parent’s grief as rejection. They pick up on changes in Mom and/or Dad’s behavior, attention and state of mind. But they don’t always understand the depth of pain you are experiencing and how it can affect your day-to-day parenting. Of course, kids can see when you are sad. However, they may not always comprehend that your emotional pain is keeping you from being with them in ways you were in the past. Some days you may not be in the mood to play with them, prepare dinner or help with homework. A child can interpret this as rejection – or believe you don’t love them anymore.
Due to their lack of sophistication children often fail to understand that you’re feeling upset about the divorce. And that is affecting your parenting behavior. They may question why you’re not as attentive as in the past. Or whether your sadness is their fault. Or if you’re angry with them for loving their other parent. This can create emotional instability and deep anxiety, especially for children with limited abilities to express their feelings.
Mindfully protecting your children as a divorcing or divorced parent!
Here are some suggestions for helping your kids adjust to the complex emotional changes in family life during and after divorce.
1) Be generous with your affection: Be aware of when you can’t be “yourself” regarding activities you used to do with the kids. At those times, offer a hug, a few minutes of cuddle time or kind words of affection. Those gestures will 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. Even more damaging is making them your confidant or therapist!
3) Be sincere about your feelings: When you’re overwhelmed with sadness around the kids, be honest. But also be 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. You’ll discover better ways to move through the transitions ahead while being there for your children. Also consider professional resources for your kids if they are struggling. Ask at their schools about programs and professionals who specialize in divorce recovery.
You are not alone. Don’t suffer in silence or pain when you can take advantage of proven strategies that work. Reach out for a support system for both you and the children you love!
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC, is a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network. She is also the 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, her coaching services and other valuable resources for divorcing and divorced parents, visit https://www.childcentereddivorce.com.
© All rights reserved. Rosalind Sedacca