Four Important Lessons for Divorcing Parents to Keep in Mind By: Gabrielle Anderson, LMFT
As therapists, we support many families as they walk through the darkness of divorce. Passions often run high while transitioning through such a difficult change. Divorcing as a couple is different than divorcing as parents with children. While you and your ex are walking through this difficult time, take time to remember what this experience can be like from the perspective of your children. Below are are a few tips and nudges to help you remember to protect your precious little and big ones while you transition from one family unit into two.
Divorcing Nudge #1: Protect Your Sweeties From the Loyalty Guilt Trap
It is customary for parents walking through the processes of divorce to argue and fight. When children are involved, it is best to try to protect them from the fighting and discord. Whenever possible, send requests to your ex-spouse in an email or talk on the phone when children are in bed or away from the house. Children are wired to be loyal to those they love. When children overhear fighting, it often creates an anxiety in them and a sense of loyalty. How difficult it can be for a child to feel a split loyalty and desire to please or protect both parents. This is especially difficult for children experiencing an adversarial split in their family unit. Nudge #1. Protect your child from the loyalty guilt trap. When at all possible, notice this loyalty and help your child get to a place of neutrality where s/he does not feel the need to protect anyone emotionally but himself.
Divorcing Nudge #2: Teach Your Children to Protect Their Eyes and Ears
In a perfect world, parents would comply with Nudge #1 and protect their children from the stress and turmoil of parental discord. Unfortunalty, no one is perfect and divorce is stressful. Nudge #2 is to teach your children to walk away from parental stress. If an unplanned encounter occurs or unexpected fight begins, younger kids can be taught to run and play in another area of the house, and older children can go listen to music or watch a movie...but the key is to remove your children and teach them to removes themselves from stressful situations. Children do not need to hear the hurtful words and tones. Remember. You are talking to and about their mom/dad. Protect their ears from the words and their eyes from the nonverbal communication. Children see all. They see the intense look in your eyes and the balled fist near your side. While you are trying to work through the pain and grief of divorce, protect their eyes and ears.
Divorcing Nudge #3: Everything You Do with Your Attorney Costs Something
Separation and divorce can be expensive. Every email, phone call and subpoena that filters through an attorney costs something. Attorneys get paid for every minute task brought to them. This cost becomes quickly evident in your bank account, however what often takes longer to realize is the emotional toll taken by being in constant turmoil. Living in a state of hypervigilenece and scanning your environment for negativity will cost you and your precious bystanders. Beyond money, it will cost you peace and may cost you the respect of yourself and the respect of those who love you. Creating an environment of calm for your children takes purposeful determination and self regulation. Before you grab the phone to call or email your attorney, stop and think: in the long run, will this help or harm those I love the most? If it impacts your emotional health and your ability to create the calm atmosphere your children need during this transition, let it rest for a day and then decide.
Divorcing Nudge #4: Purposefully Create 2 Whole Homes for Your Children
Spouses divorce one another, but children do not. When dividing up the household items and furniture, be mindful of what the experience will be like for your child. It is best to move furniture out of the house when children are in school or away from the house and never ask them to help. It is important to remember what this experience will be like for them. Before your children come home, make sure that the furniture in the family house is rearranged to create natural looking rooms, not rooms with giant furniture holes in them. Our eyes take in information and help us determine how to react to situations. Help soothe this sensory experience by making sure the home still has the warmth of a home.
Do your best to make the second home look warm and inviting too. Often home #2 is an apartment or smaller house. Smaller spaces can still feel warm and family friendly. Maybe allow older children to help you pick out bedroom themes. Making mindful decisions about creating a second home for your children can help you decide what routines and structures to put in place. Home at mom's and home at dad's is the key. When children feel like visitors, it is hard for them to relax and renew.
When to Seek Professional Support During a Divorce
Divorce is difficult, but can be doable if you and your ex decide to navigate through the process mindfully and purposefully. Remember that your children are not divorcing anyone. Helping them walk through this change with love and validation will make all the difference in the world. If the process seems all too overwhelming and stressful or if your children appear to be struggling to adjust to the transition, it may be time to seek out professional help. A counseling therapist can help either parent or the children to adjust. If you or someone you love is struggling through divorce, nudge them to find help and support today.
Gabrielle Anderson is the Director and a Therapist at the Family Therapy Center of Northern Virginia, llc
She and the other team members can be contacted directly from the Center's Meet the Team page.
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