Divorce can be one of life's biggest traumas for children. It boosts their sense of insecurity and being out of control. It can heighten feeling alone, lost or abandoned. At these times, pets can often be helpful to your children and the entire family. If you already have one or more pets, let your children have access to them as much as they desire. There is a great emotional benefit to them and your children are fortunate that the pets they love can still be in their lives.
If you don't already have a pet, I recommend getting one -- but only if you are in a position to be responsible to that innocent animal during this time of additional stress in your life. If a family pet is out of the question, please consider giving your children time to play with the pets of friends and family. Take them to petting zoos. Allow them contact with other life forms that can give them joy when they are likely to be experiencing much stress and insecurity.
In the United States alone, close to 65% -- or about 71 million households -- have pets. Statistics from the National Pet Owners Survey say 39% of these households own at least one dog and 34% own one or more cats. This should come as no surprise since pets can be a blessing in the life of any human being at any age.
Here are six key benefits a pet provides for families coping with divorce:
1. Unconditional Love: It has been proven again and again that pets are a source of support and unconditional love for children. During and after divorce, when there is so much instability and insecurity in a child's life, a beloved pet can be the bridge to sanity. While much around them may be changing, sweet Fluffy is still there to love them and be by their side.
2. A confidant. Children like to talk to their pets. For most children, pets are a trusted friend in which they can confide and share their deepest fears. This is truly a gift to children and greatly helps with emotional resiliency. Pets are nonjudgmental. They listen attentively. They "understand," and they always love you back. Isn't that what your children need at a time like this?
3. Security. Pets have been shown to help children better cope with challenging times within a family, including divorce, illness and death. They feel less alone and abandoned. The relationship with the pet provides a deep sense of security that can't easily be duplicated. In early childhood, a stuffed animal often serves much the same purpose. But kids rarely outgrow their bond with Fluffy, even when they mature into their teens.
4. Bridge to adults. Pets can bridge the emotional and communication gap between adults and children -- especially when Mom and Dad are preoccupied with so many other time-consuming details during and after a divorce. They are a valued part of the family, a source of calm as the family moves through the storm of post-divorce transition.
5. Stress Reduction. Medical studies have shown that pets are just as beneficial for adults. Walking and talking to your dog or petting your cat can actually lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, not to mention overall stress. Pets also are a great source of laughter and joy, a reminder that there are facets of life that are still wonderful to experience. And laughter is always healing!
6. Best friend. Pets also provide unconditional love, nurturing and comfort to adults who greatly need it as they transition through the grief of divorce. They're a best friend when you're alone and an appreciative ear when you want to vent or shed tears.
Connecting to other life forms is also a wonderful way to get perspective about our place in the universe and our responsibilities toward others. When life can feel like it's crashing in around us, it is valuable to remember that we share this planet with other beings who depend on us for love, sustenance and nurturing as well.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of the internationally-acclaimed ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children -- with Love. For her free ebook, Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right! as well as other valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.