My children are 7 and 10 years old. I am in the middle of a divorce that has been very difficult. My younger one is having meltdowns over little things like homework and the older one is getting in trouble at school. Neither wants to talk about what's going on but it's obvious that they are hurting. I didn't want to end the marriage so it's been very hard for me to help my kids when my heart is broken. What can I do to help them?
When the seas of life get stormy, our children need us to be what I call the captain of the ship -- someone they can count on to ferry them across rough waters. Of course this isn't always easy, especially when we ourselves are hurting. But when we are steady and calm in uncertain times, children do adjust. (You may want to join me for a free four-day series for single and divorced parents as well as those whose parenting style clashes with their spouse. Speakers include Arianna Huffington, Glennon Doyle Melton, Byron Katie, and more Please click here for more info.)
Here are some suggestions that may help you through this challenging time:
Help your children know that it's safe to tell you their truth. Many parents complain to me that their children refuse to tell them what's bothering them. This often happens because if a child does complain, mom or dad rushes in with remarks like, "It's not that bad," or "You shouldn't be so angry." These children learn that even if parents say, "Tell me what's wrong", they don't really want to hear the truth of their children's pain. Let your kids know that it's perfectly normal to feel angry, worried, sad, or confused. I recommend watching the film, Split which features children speaking candidly about their feelings about divorce. It can be an excellent conversation starter.
Keep things simple. When faced with big change and loss, it is important to trim your tasks to a minimum. Don't take on more than you can realistically handle -- no new projects or commitments right now. The simpler you keep the pace of your days, the better off you and your kids will be. Keep life quiet, get plenty of sleep, eat well, and maintain familiar routines.
Set aside one-on-one time with each child. When we try to force children to reveal their struggles within the context of an intense conversation, it usually doesn't work out. But when we relax with them, they often open up. Set aside 20 minutes a day to simply be with each of your kids without having an agenda for discussing their troubles. Take a walk. Rub their back. Play tic-tac-toe. When you are fully present, your children may share more of what is going on. Be patient.
Take care of yourself. It may be tempting to numb out with alcohol or binge on food or TV. But in the long run, this will only prolong your pain. Remember that saying: When Mom's happy, everybody's happy? You and your children will benefit if you take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Lean on a trusted friend to unload the burdens of your heart. Reach out to neighbors for a little time to yourself. And if need be, find a counselor who can help you move through your grief. Looking after yourself is essential.
It takes time and care to adjust to the changes brought about by divorce. Take things slowly, and make sure your energy is reserved for the things nourish your heart and soul. I wish you comfort and healing.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.