How Can I Best Support My Children Before, During and After A Divorce?
First and foremost, children are the biggest consideration before, during and after a divorce. Children no matter how old are affected by the choices parents make and so it is extremely important to take steps necessary to ensure that they feel safe, loved and have stability.
Too often, I see one or both parents in a divorce using their children as pawns. One or both parents might be super self-focused as a means to find a new partner, or become depressed, or stressed and unable to see things objectively. I have heard parents say, “Kids don’t understand, they are too young,” or “I have to do what I have to do, and the kids will have to come along for the ride.” Even though kids are resilient, they are not free from having feelings and opinions of their own. What they hear and see when you think that they don’t, can create a sea of emotions inside of them that can manifest in ways parents never imagined.
A child’s outward reaction to his or her parents getting divorced can range from anger, silence, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, depression etc. Often times parents are working through their own feelings and emotions and do not often notice what is going on with their children until they receive a phone call from school, or notice their child not talking as much, eating more or less or not smiling as much as they used to. These are all red flags and need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Before, during and after a divorce, there is usually a lot of anger between both parents. It is completely normal and acceptable to feel these feelings, it is acceptable to reach out to friends and family to vent, it is acceptable to cry, and get angry. What is not acceptable is to do these things when your children are around. Even if you think they are too young to understand, or they are sleeping, or too busy playing to hear you or see you, they do see and hear what is going on. How they process what they are hearing and seeing can be very different than how an adult processes these emotions. You may feel anger and or sadness toward the other parent; however, your children do not feel the exact feelings you feel. Even if your partner cheated on you, or abandoned the family, hurt you emotionally and or physically, your children may have a completely different perception of the other parent and remember, they still love the other parent, and want to see them and spend time with them.
If you are struggling with how to talk with your children about this very adult concept of divorce, I highly suggest getting them into therapy as soon as possible. A therapist can be the grounding force, a person who will not judge, or verbally attack when they express their feelings about the other parent. Children want to be accepted and loved by both parents, therefore will often feel as though they need to take sides, or act one way around one parent and another way around the other parent. This creates anxiety and anger in children and can completely spiral out of control. A therapist provides a safe platform for children to discuss their feelings and have that reassurance that what they are feeling and experiencing is normal. Therapists provide strategies for children to manage stress and anxiety and help them understand what divorce means, and how their lives will be changing as they more than likely have to share time between two houses.
Contacting a therapist can be scary, and even embarrassing, it adds another layer to an already stressful situation, but is probably one of the most important things you decide to do during this process. Ignoring the red flags that your children are presenting will ultimately cause even bigger issues to arise later down the road.
If you are struggling with how to take the first step, a coach can help you research excellent therapists in your area, create a solid game plan for how to discuss divorce and the other parent mindfully, to ensure that your children remain safe, happy, healthy and well adjusted humans. Schedule a complimentary call.