Going through a divorce has been described as comparable to experiencing a death. It absolutely can be that devastating and even if the circumstances are peaceful, there is generally an experience very similar to grief. While most parents going through a divorce are not oblivious to the impact it is having on their children, they often do not know how to help them or are so overwhelmed by their own emotions that it is difficult to meet everyone’s needs.
Following are some points to consider if you are a parent and going through a divorce or separation:
Kids need to remain kids.It is not uncommon when you become a single parent that you feel overwhelmed physically and emotionally.However, please keep in mind that your kids cannot (and should not) fulfill adult roles to make up for the second parent.Although there may be household chores that are appropriate for them to help with, they should not be burdened with tasks that they otherwise would not be expected to do, nor should they fulfill the role of “support” or “listener” for adult problems.
Kids WANT structure, boundaries/rules and discipline.Over and over I hear parents going through a separation or divorce say that they “feel bad” for disciplining their children when they are going through such a hard time.However, what actually helps children feel the most secure is when structure and expectations remain the same as much as possible, including discipline.When everything else is changing this is one thing as a parent that you can continue to provide.Even though children will never say they “need” or “want” discipline, when they test boundaries or rules that is exactly what they are seeking – they want to know that they can trust that those things haven’t changed.(Please note that by “discipline” I am implying an appropriate, non-hurtful response to children to assist them in correcting behavior).
It is normal for children to fantasize about their parents getting back together.Even if they aren’t making comments out-loud about this, they are usually thinking and daydreaming about it.So, as a parent the important thing to keep in mind is to try to avoid sending mixed signals or messages to your children.For example, some parents will attempt to find ways to still spend time as a family for the benefit of the children.While this is admirable and not “wrong” to do, it is important to help your children understand that this is just part of your family’s new routine, and does not mean that you are getting back together.Scheduling these family times on a consistent basis (one family dinner together the same night every week, for example), can help eliminate some of the confusion that often comes with these well-intended get-togethers.Most importantly, allow opportunity for your children to ask questions and talk about their feelings they might be having.
Never have your child be a “messenger.”Even if it seems innocent and simple, asking your child to tell the other parent something on your behalf immediately puts them in the middle.It is your responsibility as parents to communicate directly to one another and not ask your children to alleviate that burden for you.
Don’t talk badly about your spouse in front of your children.Although this probably seems like an automatic expectation you would have, unless it remains a conscious effort it can easily happen.Even non-verbal communication, such as rolling your eyes or sighing after you read a text from your ‘ex’ sends a strong message to your child(ren).This is the biggest complaint that I hear from children – that it makes them feel so bad when they hear one parent talk badly about the other.While the comment may even be justified, try your best to keep your focus on being supportive of your child and recognize that they still love the other parent, no matter what.
Watch for signs that your child may need additional help.There are many signs and symptoms that can indicate your child is struggling with your divorce and could possibly benefit from additional support or help.Some of these signs could include academic struggles, behavior problems, difficulty sleeping, seeming depressed or anxious, or frequent complaints of stomach-aches or headaches.Sources of additional support could include school counselors, your church or pastor, and therapists for example.
Allow kids to have their feelings, whatever they are.Just as you are grieving and possibly experiencing a myriad of different emotions, so are your children.And, just as you would not want someone telling you how you can or should feel, neither do your kids.They simply need a safe place where they can be heard and allowed to feel how they feel.If you don’t know what to say or how to respond, simply telling them that it is okay to have their feelings and reassuring them that you are there for them is often what they need to hear.
At Hope for Healing you will never be judged if you are struggling as a parent. Everyone does the best they can with what they know and what they have, and sometimes we all need help. Going through a divorce or separation can be one of the most challenging things a parent can experience and please know we are here if you need us.
I will end with a couple of resources/links below that you may find helpful as well.
Children’s book: It’s Not Your Fault KoKo Bear by Vicki Lansky
Book for Parents: Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the
Sandcastles Way by M. Gary Neuman