A divorce can be devastating. Parents are often worried about the effect the divorce may have on their children, and children often feel frightened and insecure about their future. Here are some things that divorced parents should bear in mind about their changing family dynamic and everyone’s well being.
1. A divorce or separation may seem like a travesty. It helps to keep in mind that no matter what happens you are a parent forever.
2. Attempt to continue with a positive attitude during the point of separation. This is often a very trying time for all family members. Try to maintain a routine, and embrace activities which your children have always enjoyed.
3. Don't forget to nurture yourself. Going for a walk, having coffee with a friend, or reading a good book are ways to rest and regain one's energy. It is normal to feel exhausted when separating; and possibly for many months to follow.
4. Although very tempting, try not to speak negatively about your former spouse when your children are present. This issue, often called “parental alienation” can be a problem. Doing things such as putting your child in the middle saying negative things about the other parent, and using your child as a messenger put your child in a “no win” situation and create lifelong relationship issues for all involved. The reasons for this are many and include the following:
- The comments may confuse and frighten your child(ren).
- Many of your concerns about your former spouse are difficult for you to experience. It is very important that you keep these concerns to yourself. The reason for this is that children just do not have the emotional maturity to withstand information/situations that adults find stressful.
- Your child's identity and self concept is based on parental behavior. Even if it is next to impossible to say anything good about your former spouse try to do so. If this is impossible then don't say anything at all. Making negative comments about one another is not in the best interests of your child's future development.
- Children love to eavesdrop when parents talk to their friends. Telephone conversations are their favorite snooping ground. Make all effort to not discuss your divorce-related difficulties on the telephone when your children are within ear shot.
5. During the crisis point of separation try to remember that your children need both parents more than ever. This is not a time to deny access unless a professional deems it necessary to do so for safety related reasons.
6. If possible it is always best to jointly inform your children you are separating. If this is not possible, consider using the services of a counselor. Counselors can assist both parents with this difficult conversation and provide a safe environment if safety is a concern.
7. Separation is a stressful time for all family members; including children. It is important to accept the fact that a separation involves feelings of loss. Try not to panic if the following behaviors occur during the first few months of separation:
- Sleep difficulties like disrupted sleep, an inability to sleep, exhaustion etc.
- Social isolation
- Anger, intolerance, grumpiness
- Avoidance of divorce related conversations
- Obsessing about the divorce
- Appetite changes
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Tears and feelings of sadness which feel overwhelming etc.
The above behaviors are experienced by both children and adults. If the above feelings and behaviors do not begin to diminish after a few months seek counseling.
8. Although many children do not ask to see a counselor when their parents separate, they usually find counseling very helpful. The reason for this is that they have someone to talk to who is neutral, and objective.
9. It is important to acknowledge that children are very loyal and protective of their parents. If children are placed in loyalty binds they can experience anxiety. To alleviate their anxiety they may "pick a side." This is a coping skill which teens in particular use. This happens to very capable and loving parents. If your child engages in "picking a side" try not to feel rejected.
10. Divorce is expensive on many levels. Seeking the assistance of the courts is generally not helpful. All attempts should be made by parents to reach a divorce settlement between themselves or with mediators, and lawyers who specialize in family law even prior to filing for divorce.
11. Children who experience divorce are coping much better than the original research indicated. Methodological flaws in the early research prior to the 1990's have been acknowledged. It is helpful to keep in mind that children are very resilient.
12. Try to be positive by thinking about the good things in your life.
13. Think of yourself as a survivor not a victim.
- About Healthy Parenting
- Healthy Parenting Current Trends
- Healthy Parenting: Your Options
- Healthy Parenting: How Social Workers Help
- Healthy Parenting Tip Sheets
- Resources on Healthy Parenting
- Healthy Parenting Real Life Stories