DID YOU THINK ABOUT DIVORCE DURING THOSE WONDERFUL MOMENTS? NO!
When you made those vows in the beautiful dress with the man you couldn’t wait to spend the rest of your life with, divorce was the farthest thing from your mind. When he sat with you in labor and then watched in awe as a miracle was placed in your arms, you weren’t thinking about divorce. Now here you are in the throes of divorce and your one, two, three or maybe more miracles are hurting.
The trauma of divorce doesn’t have to destroy a child. Yes it is painful, but children can thrive when the parents follow a few guidelines.
THE AIRLINE THEORY:
Children don’t need to live in the same household with both parents to be happy, well adjusted children. However they DO need to have at least one healthy person in their lives who believes their child is the absolute best. Commit to be that person for your child by first taking care of yourself. It is the airline theory. Put on your oxygen mask first so you won’t pass out while trying to help your child. Seek professional help in a therapist, counselor or coach. Pump up your self care with good nutrition, exercise, meditation, laughter, play and a network of supportive friends. Your happiness and health is the mirror of your child’s well being.
CONSISTENCY AND CHOICES:
Divorce shatters a child’s sense of safety. Do your absolute best to keep routines and lifestyles the same as long as humanly possible. Make a commitment to live in the same house and keep the same working or at home status as your children adjust to the divorce.
As a newly single parent, it is easy to let things slide because you are tired. However, such loosening up adds to your child’s insecurities. Keep daily routines of meals, activities, bedtimes and household rules consistent. Structure helps make children and adults feel secure.
Your children didn’t choose this divorce and thus often feel helpless and out of control. Look for opportunities where they can choose. Allowing them to choose a dinner, which movie to rent, or what outfit to wear will help strengthen their personal power.
The message single parents want to give their children is “We are going to make this family work. We are and always will be a family.” Words help but actions speak louder. Develop a new ritual to strengthen your family’s bond.
Soon after her husband moved out, one mom started a candle ritual at family meals. At the end of the meal the whole family gathers around the candle, makes a wish and blows out the candle together. Seven years later, the candle still burns and if she forgets a child always says, “Oh we need the candle”
Rituals can also ease the burden of transitioning from one house to another. I know of a single dad who makes cookies with his daughters every time they visit. They are now teenagers, but they still make cookies with dad every other Friday night.
YOU CAN’T CHANGE DNA
Regardless of what your ex did or didn’t do while married to you, he is part of your children. You can’t change the DNA. Each time you say something negative about your child’s other parent, you are in effect saying it directly to your child.
Don’t bad mouth your ex spouse in front of your children. While it may be difficult in the beginning, make an effort to end all of the bad mouthing so you will never accidentally spill within your child’s listening range. Experts say that is not the divorce that hurts children. It is the after math of the divorce and the continual conflict many exes engage in that is the most destructive.
If you learn that you are being bad mouthed, take the high road. The view is always better there. Don’t blast back and don’t show any personal emotion, especially if your child is telling you. Stay calm, focusing only on your child’s feelings. When you realize how painful it is for them, the high road will become the only road.
Divorce affects children long after the ink dries on the decree. As children grow and reach developmental milestones their feelings around their parents’ divorce change as well. As parents it is difficult to allow our children to voice their pain. It is even more difficult when we feel like we have somehow contributed to it. The best way to allow difficult conversations is to get your own feelings out of the way.
Your child comes to you and says, “I wish I had a dad.”
A response such as, “You have a dad honey and he loves you so much.” focuses on your feelings and ends the conversation.
A response such as, “You are missing your dad today huh?” focuses on your child’s feelings and allows him/her to open up.
Divorce is difficult for children but parents have enormous control on how well their children adapt. In spite of it all, you can be that parent who makes it possible for your children to thrive.
Virginia McCormack, MSED has been working with families for over 20 years as a teacher, counselor, life coach, parent educator and Feng Shui expert. She is the founder and owner of Moms For Joy, Life Coaching and Career Counseling for Moms. http://www.momsforjoy.com