When you are alone with your children and suddenly it hits you, your feelings are hard to describe. Divorce is an isolating experience and parenting in this state of mind is one of the most difficult things to do. Whilst amidst the struggle to separate out assets, money, and parenting responsibilities, bitterness can take hold leaving us with fewer resources to cope with our children's grief.
Children suffer in many ways and yet you remain the best judge of their state of mind and feelings about the situation even if they are unable to tell you. As a parent we need to stay tuned-in to our children’s' feelings keeping a close watch on their behaviour, moods, choice of activities and their treatment of people around them.
In amongst our own grief it takes a tremendous amount of strength, patience and love to decipher our children’s feelings and give them the support they need. Often the support they need from us is quite the opposite of how we feel. Here are some suggestions to consider as you work you way through your separation.
- You need to be in good emotional and mental state to be there for your kids. Make sure you get some time to heal yourself.
- Often what children see, hear, and feel is reflected back at us in their behaviour and communication. Some of our emotions have more impact and are potent enough to upset children for extended periods even if their exposure to them is minimal.
- When talking with your children try to distinguish between your feelings about the situation and theirs. Validate both. Reinforce that they are entitled to their feelings, that they are entitled to love your ex partner whilst you are no longer obliged to. Giving your child the freedom to love the departed ex-spouse whilst at the same time making it okay for yourself to move on, allows your child to maintain a healthy relationship with both of you.
- Let them know what they should expect from both of you, things like security, support, time, love. Reinforce that separation between you as parents doesn't apply to them, that they will spend time with both of you.
- Realise that your children are unique, the old saying that 'children are resilient' is a generalisation. You are the best judge of your child's needs. Your ability to help them understand the situation and protect themselves from self-sabotage will pay off for all concerned.
- Realise that a child's anger is often directed at the parent that takes more responsibility and care and that the absent one is often idolized. Ride the storm and try hard not to criticise the other parent’s faults - bad mouthing usually bounces back at you.
- If you have a difficult ex that tries to target your emotions through your children you may have to consider affirming strategies. For instance, when your ex-spouse does not turn up for access... affirming that he or she may be an adult but 'adults make mistakes sometimes too', can protect that child from feeling it is their fault and help them put the responsibility of the mistake in its correct place.
- Value every moment with your children.
- Realise that there are thousands of other New Zealanders in the same position. Find someone of like mind to vent your stress.
- Most of all when times are rough reflect on the changes in your life in the last five years and realise that time will change our personal landscape. Ask your self the question… What will things be like a year from now? Look forward.
This article has been reproduced with permission from divorce.co.nz a self help resource for New Zealanders dealing with divorce.