Divorcing? You’re Not ruining your children’s lives!
For my clients who are parents, there’s usually one big fear at the top of their list of questions about divorce.
“Am I ruining my child’s life?”
And my answer to that question is a firm no.
Yes, divorce is stressful for children, as it is for you. It’s a major upheaval to their home, their routines, their family structure. It can raise a lot of strong feelings. But it doesn’t have to have a negative impact in the long term. If handled sensitively your divorce is a way to model to your children that it’s possible to come through difficult situations and feel stronger as a result.
In Divorcing?You’re not ruining your children’s lives! we’ll look at what you can put in place to support your children as you divorce. And why, whatever happens, your divorce is not ruining their lives. read more here How to support your children through divorce
Allow the feelings
It’s hard to see your children in pain. But, there’s no getting around the fact that, for most children, divorce is an upsetting time. So it’s likely they will be sad, angry, withdrawn, confused and a whole host of related feelings at some point.
As parents your urge will be to fix it. And, unfortunately, you can’t. While you may be able to put treats and fun experiences in place, those difficult feelings will return. And, though it’s hard to witness, it’s normal. You can’t magic those feelings away.
If your children get the message that the way they are feeling is wrong, or upsetting for you, they may try to hide their emotions to protect you. Which, ultimately, is more damaging for them. So the best way you can help your children is to normalise the difficult feelings. To show and tell them that it’s ok to feel worried, or scared, or sad or angry. That you feel those feelings yourself sometimes. But they don’t control you. They come and go.
And you can also tell them it won’t feel like this forever. Your job now – both you and your children – is to let yourself feel this sadness and know that you will ride it together. Let them know that they are loved, no matter what. They don’t have to be happy all the time to earn your love. That said, you don’t have to put up with aggressive behaviour. Your children aren’t allowed to hurt you, or each other, or anyone else – with words or physically.
Let them talk – even if it’s not to you
Some children won’t want to discuss your divorce with you. While that might feel hurtful, be reassured that it’s a normal reaction. If possible, encourage them to confide in a trusted adult friend or family member.
There’s also safe support out there if there’s no-one in your immediate circle they can turn to. If they are able to read, Gingerbread, the charity for single parents, has information written especially for children. You can use this as a basis for talking to your own children too. And Childline isn’t just for children in danger – they can call to talk through any of their worries and feelings about divorce.
An adjustment, not a catastrophe
There’s no getting away from the difficult feelings, but that doesn’t mean divorce is ruining your children’s lives – even if they tell you it is. Your job as parents (ideally working together – more on what to do if that’s not possible later) is to support your children through this turbulent time.
Here are some grounding principles to help your children adjust as smoothly as possible:
- Reassure them regularly that both parents still love them, and it’s not their fault.
- Don’t use them as a go-between or let them witness any conflict between their parents. Whatever your feelings about your soon-to-be-ex, don’t talk badly about them in front of your children.
- As far as possible, have clear and stable routines in place so the children know who they will be with in advance
- Let them stay in touch with wider friends and family, both from your side and your soon-to-be ex’s
- Give the children freedom to make some decisions where possible. For example, they may want to change their bedrooms around or decide what to have for dinner. But make it clear that you and their other parent are still in charge and taking responsibility for them. Your children will be reassured that they are still being taken care of – even if they sometimes grumble!
Over time you will all adjust to your new normal. And your children’s feelings of grief for what was will be replaced by acceptance of what is. They may even see some benefits to the new arrangements. Two Christmases might be on the cards, for example!
And, on a more serious note, the children will benefit from not living in the middle of an unhealthy marriage. Children aren’t daft. They can sense when things aren’t happy. As you settle into your newly separated/divorced groove, the children will see you being more yourself again. And that will bring them happiness and confidence to be themselves too.
If their other parent is behaving badly
It’s all very well if both parents are being reasonable, but what if your soon-to-be-ex doesn’t play fair? What if they are narcissistic and want to engage in power plays? If this is the case with you, sadly you’re not alone. Many of my clients have the added burden of having to deal with a high conflict ex-spouse.
First of all I want to remind you that you’re doing a great job. Rest assured that by divorcing your narcissistic spouse you are doing the best by your children, as well as yourself. You are showing them a new approach is possible. Your job now is to stay on track and not get derailed.
Your soon-to-be ex won’t be able to escape the win/lose mentality. But that doesn’t mean you need to get dragged into it. Your best approach here is the BIFF one, set out by high conflict expert Bill Eddy.
Make sure you keep communication with your soon-to-be-ex:
Brief (don’t add in any of the usual niceties – these are just invitations for more controlling behaviour)
Informative (stick to the facts, not judgements about you or them)
Friendly (don’t antagonise – keep things civil and ‘tepid’ in temperature)
Firm (don’t leave space for ambiguity and set your boundaries out clearly).
As far as your children go, they have you as their role model. You are enough. Over time they will come to recognise their other parent’s behaviour as wrong, even if they don’t see it now. All you can do is continue to show love, be there for them, and stay strong in your integrity. They will thank you for it in the long run. Let go of the co-parenting philosophy. It really isn’t for everyone. Parallel parenting is often the best approach in these situations. What happens on your parenting time is your business and what happens on theirs is theirs.
Seek help when needed
I’m not going to pretend that parenting during divorce is simple. Especially not if you’re in a high conflict divorce. If you’re worried about your children’s behaviour, for example if they are:
- Lashing out with aggressive behaviour at school or home
- Becoming increasingly withdrawn
- Refusing to engage in their usual activities for weeks or months
Then seek help. Talk to their school so they can involve the pastoral team. Make an appointment with the GP to access mental health support. And if you are worried about your ex-spouse’s behaviour around your children contact CAFCASS (Children And Family Court Advisory Support Service).
Look after yourself
You can’t pour from an empty cup, as the saying goes. So be kind to yourself throughout this difficult time. It can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders as you support your children during your divorce. You need to support yourself too. You will need reminders from others who’ve been there that you’re not ruining your children’s lives by getting divorced. You’ll need people who’ve got your back.
That’s where The Absolute Academy comes in. The women in there look out for each other. It’s a safe place to let down your guard. To ask “Am I ruining my children’s lives?!” and be lifted by the wisdom and experiences of others who’ve been there.
And with weekly Q&As with me as well as a whole raft of downloadable resources and toolkits it’s likely to save you thousands in time and money too.
And if you have any questions about whether it’s right for you at the moment, I’m happy to help. Book in a free chat today.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com