Life after divorce can be a scary and stressful time: “normal” as you have known it is forever changed – for you and your children.
Children of divorced parents often struggle with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or fear. Even if children tend to be more resilient than adults, divorce can inflict painful, emotional wounds that may be felt long after the divorce has been final. So what can you do to help your child emotionally heal after your divorce?
Tend to your needs
We’ve all heard that safety speech the flight attendants give before the plane takes off – the one about what happens when cabin pressure fails. They tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you assist your child, which seems backwards somehow. Shouldn’t we always take care of our kids first? But think about it – you need to make sure you don’t pass out from lack of oxygen so that you can take care of your child. The same holds true when it comes to healing after divorce: the best way for your child to heal is for you to be healthy and strong first – physically and emotionally.
Take care of your body. Eat well, exercise, and rest. A strong body can usually deal with stress better.
Talk to a counselor or therapist to help you work through the emotional issues you’re dealing with. Find a support group that will not only encourage you when things get rough, but also help you acquire some coping skills to get through the tough times ahead.
Create a support system of family members, friends and trusted babysitters that will allow you to take a break when needed. Taking time for yourself to work through emotional issues or simply to rejuvenate will make you a stronger parent.
Protect your child’s innocence
No matter what happened between you and your former spouse, don’t try to make your child see your point of view or try to justify the divorce to him; children rarely will be convinced that the divorce was “for the best,” no matter how necessary it may have been.
Don’t put your child in the middle of disputes between you and your former spouse by using him to relay information. Your child should always be shielded from family disputes or conversations about visitation schedules, finances, or other difficult issues.
When you need a shoulder to cry on – or someone to vent to – lean on family members or friends, not your child. Your child needs to know that you are there to take care of him, not vice versa. This will give him a greater sense of security and relieves him from worrying about you.
Open up communication
The first thing you must communicate to your child is that she had nothing to do with the divorce. And reassure her that she is loved and wanted by both parents.
Share your feelings about the divorce with your child. When you name the feelings you have about the divorce or the sadness you feel because the family is no longer intact, you create a safe place for her to share her feelings about the divorce as well.
Child and family therapist Leslie Petruk, says, “By sharing your feelings in an appropriate way, you are modeling for your child what you hope they will be comfortable in doing with you. Letting them know it’s understandable if they are feeling angry, sad, or scared may help them feel safe enough to talk to you about what they are thinking and feeling.”
Invite your child to ask questions to help reduce her anxiety and fear of the unknown. Keep in mind that children process things at a different pace than adults, so her questions may not come out all at once.
Healing after divorce can be a long process, but most children can find healing with time, patience, and loving support. If your child has great difficulty adjusting, however, consult a mental health professional for help.