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 being affected.
It’s not always easy to remember that your children may be grieving as deeply as you are during and after divorce. Consider this: It may be even more frightening for them because they were not responsible for the decision. Nor do they understand the complex dynamics that led up to the split. Children’s fears are compounded by apprehension about whether either of their parents will ever divorce them. They also worry about what will happen to them and their family in the future.
As dramatically as your life has been altered, remember, so too has theirs.
Don’t let your kids confuse sadness for rejection!
In their innocence children often mistake their parent’s grief as rejection. They see 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. Most kids can pick up on when you are sad. But they may not always comprehend that your emotional pain is keeping you from being with them in the warm 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 they may 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 may be affecting your parenting behavior. They may question why you’re not as attentive. Or wonder whether your sadness is their fault. Or worry that 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.
Be the parent your kids know and need!
Here are some suggestions for helping children adjust to the complex emotional changes in family life due to the divorce.
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 and a smile. A few minutes of cuddle time or kind words of affection will remind them that they’re still loved and important to you.
Be discreet when you need to emote: There’s 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!
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?”
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. Their insights will 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.