Taking Care of Your Children Through the Divorce Process
Your child’s stability, emotionally and physically, should be your primary focus. Everything in your child’s life seems uncertain and potentially different when you are going through a divorce. Whatever you and your spouse can do to minimize those changes, especially in the critical first few months after your separation, will ease your child’s anxiety.
There are many steps you can take to make your children’s lives easier while you go through the divorce process. By mediating for many families through this critical time of transition, we have developed 18 Key Steps to Helping Your Child Through the Divorce Process. Please contact us for a copy of these steps and to set up an initial consultation or first meeting to decide if Family and Divorce Mediation is the right step for your family during this transition.
At C.E.L. & Associates, when children are involved, from babies to college age, their best interests are our primary focus when mediating divorces. When emotions such as anger, hurt, hatred and fear of the unknown come up during divorce mediation sessions, our Chicago Divorce Mediators assist our clients in redirecting and refocusing these emotions toward a focus on what is best for their children, and not either of them, when sessions get heated. Though this is easier said than done, as divorce mediators, we have no emotions in your divorce. We are trained to keep the process moving forward and toward good agreements, and when things pop up that have the potential to derail the process, we help remind our clients why they are mediating, to stay out of court, keep their children out of court and focus on their children’s best interests.
Dealing with Your Child’s Anger
Children whose parents are divorcing have many feelings and a lot to be angry and frustrated about. Almost every child whose parents are going through a divorce will be angry at some point during the process. It is almost unavoidable. Children may appear to be acting like themselves when they just are not expressing their emotions or not telling their parents their feelings. Watch for simple things like sleeping and eating normally, continuing to do well in school and play with friends. Later they may exhibit destructive behavior like substance abuse, delinquency or even depression (mental health professionals call this “anger turned inward”). Repressed anger may be reflected in physical illness. Pay close attention to your child.
How to Handle This Situation
Help your child understand that their feelings of anger toward their parent and/or parents is a normal and appropriate, even healthy, response to their current and temporary situation. Your child should be encouraged to express these feelings, not keep them inside. Developing healthy ways of dealing with anger so that nobody gets hurt is the goal.
Everyone can benefit from talking about our feelings, especially angry children.
The expression of anger by a child can be very hurtful to a parent. Parents need to be able to handle these emotional outbursts without arguing with the child or punishing them for expressing themselves when we have encouraged them to be open and honest.
- Can you listen to your own child say “I’m angry with you” or “I hate you” without feeling a need to defend yourself?
- Can you listen to your own child say “I hate Daddy (Mommy) without jumping in to agree or disagree?
- Can you listen to your child talk about how miserable he or she is without jumping in to fix it?
If you are not able to handle these expressions of anger, you might consider therapy and family counseling to help your child work through their feelings. You want to encourage your child to tell you how they are feeling without bad behavior.
The need to deal with anger constructively is particularly critical with a parent who has not been involved in ongoing parenting of their children. This means that the parent who has taking on the majority of the parenting must allow (sometimes force) access to the other parent, and this parent must allow children to express their anger. If you have not been an involved parent, try to model for your children the constructive expression of anger by talking about your own anger (but not your anger toward the other parent) openly and honestly. It is imperative that children feel the freedom to express themselves to both parents during these times of transition and stress. Remember, when helping your children with their anger, it is about helping them and not about you and the anger you may be feeling about the divorce. You must focus on their needs during this time. Try to separate their needs and feelings from your own. You must continue to be the parent.
Anxiety Can Be a Problem
Children of divorcing parents may also have anxiety. Anxiety comes out through feelings of abandonment, changes in living conditions, embarrassment that parents are divorcing, guilt, concern about additional separations, and a haunting fear of the future they do not know.
You may notice physical symptoms of continuing anxiety, such as nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and dizziness, as well as reversion in younger children to thumb sucking and bed-wetting. Children suffering from anxiety often become demanding or clingy, and they may not engage in activities with their friends.
When divorcing parents work together by helping their children cope with the divorce, the anxiety will typically go away with time. Children still need to see and believe that their parents both love them equally and are there for them in every way possible. Unfortunately, when parents vent to their children about the other parent, use their children as a shoulder to cry on, and try to get children to be on their side and be loyal to them, they are increasing their children’s anxiety even more. Though many divorcing parents are not aware they are making things worse, sadly, there are parents out there who purposefully heighten their children’s anxiety and then blame the other parent.
What to Do
First, deal with your own perfectly normal feelings of anxiety with a therapist, friend or other family member. Do not discuss your feelings with your child, regardless of their age. Encourage your child to express emotions and fears and be willing to listen to them repeatedly.
Ideally, once you and your spouse have reached an agreement on a parenting plan, who is keeping the house, where the children will go to school, and other details about their lives, the two of you can sit down with your children together and let them know the plan for the future. Though doing this together will not eliminate the anger, anxiety and fear your children may experience, it will go a long way toward helping your children work through their emotions in a productive way.
Be understanding and realistic in responding to emotions and fears expresses. Continue to offer reassurance that a fear will not come true calmly, logically, and in words they can understand.
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Chicago Family, Divorce Mediators
Divorce mediation services can be arranged during all phases of the divorce process. Contact our Chicago Family, Divorce Mediators at C.E.L. & Associates, Inc. for a consultation.