Divorce is a word no one is happy to hear even when the separation is for the best. You’re probably feeling a cocktail of emotions that range from anger to relief, all while trying to balance daily responsibilities and adjusting to life without a partner.
The common words of comfort and jokes about the benefits of divorce all can seem to fall short when the reality of now having a broken family sets in.
If you have children, once the divorce is finalized, there are all kinds of new decisions that you have to make such as buying car insurance for a child of divorced parents, deciding if your child needs to change schools, and determining who will end up with custody of the child.
The Marriage is Broken Up, but the Family is not Broken
No matter if your divorce is contested or uncontested, keeping the peace between all members of the family can be complicated. Even when the decision is mutual, and you feel at peace with yourself, the ending relationship dealing with your children’s emotions is going to be a lifelong journey.
Statistically, the reactions to a family split vary depending on a child’s age, but feelings can come in waves, and taking steps to provide clarity and comfort to your child’s mind and their wellbeing will help them with this transition.
We often try to minimize or twist the reality of life events by thinking we are helping children understand mature topics, but this can actually be making your kid feel as if they are being left out. Children see parents as leaders of a team, so once the announcement of divorce happens, it naturally destroys the feeling of unity for children.
Let your child know that they are not alone by including them in more things than usual and encourage your ex-partner to do the same so that each of you can keep a consistent presence. Take this opportunity to teach your child about love, relationships, and self-care.
Usually these lessons come later in life, but in a divorce situation, there is no age limitation to understanding the basic building blocks of one’s happiness. Making sure your child understands the necessity of the divorce can improve everyone’s life and help ease any feelings of fault, anger, and confusion.
Respect Your Child’s Emotions
There’s your way, their way, and the way it goes. Sadly we typically don’t get everything we want, and the same applies to how others act. We may not be able to control our children’s emotions, but what we can do is respect them.
It’s hard not to see our babies as babies no matter how big they grow, but the decision to divorce puts the whole family into an adult situation. What your kid has to say might not be what you want to hear, but no matter how you feel, you need to give them respect for their feelings, too.
Granted, accepting what you do not like should be the priority as long as the decisions are not affecting anyone’s safety. If you find yourself in a custody battle or needing protection against your ex-partner, ensuring your child has a safe place to express their thoughts with you and others will go a long way.
Take a Proactive Approach
A part of being proactive means working to see what you need to be actively responding to. Give your child time and take note of their actions as your new way of life unfolds.
The natural emotions that come during divorce are anxiety, anger, depression, and guilt, which is why it is easy for children to develop mental illnesses. These emotions can be difficult to understand and cope with, which can cause problems for children mentally and psychologically.
If you and your ex-spouse are constantly fighting in front of your children, they will pick up on your negative emotions, too. Especially if the fights have to do with who will get custody, it is easy for that negativity to seep into your children’s lives.
Even if they seem to be handling it well, seeking out a family therapist for individual and group sessions is a great way to help your kids cope. Therapy or counseling can help your family stay firm, and realizing that they probably won’t share everything with you will help improve your communication skills with each other.
I know this advice sounds funny, cliche, or maybe even a bit invasive to have a stranger weigh in on your personal life, but the benefits of therapy will help you and your child in this hard time and probably for many years after.
Work on Staying Consistent
Understandably, kids act out in stressful times, but that’s no excuse to throw out all rules out the window. As children grow, the expectations of balancing stress while maintaining responsibilities become more significant, which means that talking back and slacking in school or with chores aren’t behaviors that should go unpunished.
This may feel like kicking them while they’re down, but as a parent, it’s essential to maintain the same standard they have always had. Keep in mind that your consistency isn’t only to help your child.
You are probably also feeling a lot of similarly negative emotions, and keeping a routine and familiarity in both you and your child’s life will help the transition into what will be the new normal. You can create new traditions and memories with just you and your children as things that you can always come back to do.
Finding new traditions to create hopefully comes naturally. Still, if you’re having trouble finding a natural flow, you can do things like making pizza every Tuesday night, playing cards, or committing to finding something new to experience at least once a month.
The activity you pick should be something where you both have a mutual interest that requires both you and your child to be attentive and present. It should be something that will keep you both talking and creating new family memories that comes from a positive space.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Divorce is hard, and trying to hide that will only send the wrong message to your children. Allow yourself to appear as human in front of them, and use these unfortunate life events to help your child learn positive coping mechanisms and to build a healthy outlook on mental health.
Merely saying the right things aren’t enough for anyone to feel secure if they do not see those words followed up by a positive action towards health.
Even if life seems like a mess at the moment, remain confident that you are still guiding your family towards a happy life even if the end picture looks a little different than you first imagined.
Caring for your children’s mental well-being means taking the time to listen to their emotions and thoughts, and reassuring them as much as you can that they are still loved by you and your ex-spouse.
Danielle Beck-Hunter is a researcher and writer for the auto insurance comparison site, AutoInsurance.org.