Trying to get over a breakup when you’re a parent is complicated. You want what’s best for your life, your heart, and you have a sense you’re on the right path for your kids. But you don’t know for sure. Eventually, you simply worry all the time and the guilt is always there. When there’s a child involved, it’s difficult to know how to handle the stress of your divorce.
Unfortunately, divorce is truly hard on kids. Their world is thrown upside down and they miss their other parent. It’s difficult for them to process and manage all the fear and anxiety your separation is causing them. It’s a really tough time for the entire family.
In truth, divorce is also a really hard time for you too!
You start hiding so as to not make things worse for your kids. Like you only speak to your attorney or your best friend when they’re not around. Or you date when your kids are with the other parent. And you send the kids out of the room so you can gossip on the phone.
This behavior is necessary and it’s useful, it’s called “protecting your children.” But protecting your children means you start to hide and put on this fake image in your own home appearing super strong or invincible.
Not knowing how to handle the stress of your divorce makes these some of the most difficult experiences adults go through.
When you speak with friends or family about your divorce, neighbors you haven’t seen in a while, usually, everyone is concerned about your children. Which drives those divorcing absolutely crazy! The first question my clients need to know is, “Don’t I have a right to be upset and destabilized?” My answer… absolutely yes, you do! You have a right to ask for help and to get personal support!
The separation from your spouse can’t ruin your relationship with your children.
I’ve been around parents divorcing for a very long time. I’ve been a parent divorcing. It’s super hard to manage the balance between getting yourself your support, the inherent venting and frustration, and doing what’s right by your kids. Here are some useful coping skills and techniques so that you and your children can get through your breakup easier.
Divorce doesn’t happen in healthy families.
There are plenty of reasons – important, justifiable reasons to separate children from some adults – everything from addiction, emotional abuse, and violence to infidelity, criminal activities, and living like roommates. All along the spectrum, there are real reasons families break up. But just because there are good reasons to break up, doesn’t mean you won’t experience guilt and it’s cousin feeling, known as shame.
You do not need other parents to define your feelings they will not help you learn how to handle the stress of your divorce. You will automatically feel guilty and shame all by yourself. Toss in some embarrassment about the situation you’re putting your kids through and you’ve got plenty of your own heartache to contend with. So stay away from the people who don’t have your back. While you get your children the support they need.
Try not to compare what you’re dealing with to the person down the street.
The should’s that permeate the decision-making process could cause you to compare your life to your neighbor’s life. You may think that living in a sexless marriage is easy compared to the neighbor down the street who’s partner is hurting them. That it’s better for your kids, and they at least have two parents at home. But it’s not worth drawing comparisons. This is your life and only you get to decide what you can tolerate, and how much you’ll accept.
Most people go on an emotional roller coaster during a separation.
There’s the idea that you should be able to handle the emotional roller coaster you’re experiencing during the decision making part of a divorce. That’s just about the furthest thing from the truth! Learning how to handle the stress of your divorce takes time. It’s always at the time when your attorney and financial advisors are throwing tons of information at you. Or your ex is causing an emotional ruckus. At this point, you may wonder what’s wrong with you asking, “Why can’t I handle the stress? This is what I want.” Things won’t make much sense and you’ll wonder if you really can separate after-all as you learn to navigate the changes.
Sure, playing the comparison game keeps many couples together for way longer than they should be. It even brings couples back together again as they try to navigate the experience of separation. But no one else is in your bed with your spouse. So no one else can really understand what you’re dealing with. You will learn how to navigate this time in your life.
The feelings of guilt and shame are natural for people going through a breakup when a child is involved.
Your children may be chronologically young but many are quite wise. As an adult, how many times have you met a friend who knew their parents’ relationship wasn’t healthy when they were young? How many times have you personally had a friend tell you that their parents should have split up long before they did? When did you begin to understand the relationship your parents had? It usually takes a while but we know.
Your kids know exactly what’s going on without you needing to chime in.
They may not be able to articulate in detail what they’re feeling or what they know, but they have a keen sense of what’s up. They’ve seen the mean-spiritedness. When you’re together, they know you acted more like friends than lovers. They heard the fighting or unfortunately, witnessed the abuse. And they know how hard you’ve tried.
So, you really don’t have to tell them anything. You let them be and give them space to express what they need. And you go elsewhere to learn how to handle the stress of your divorce, not sharing details with your kids.
Try to move through the stress from the legal separation away from your kids.
Instead of indulging the anger and speaking badly about their other parent, do your best to share only what you can in bite-sized amounts that are age appropriate for your kids. Find a place to exercise as a way to handle the stress of your divorce. Or try to develop a daily meditative practice. If you need to, go back to church. Try to take a walk in nature. Basically, do anything and everything you can so that when you are in your role as a parent, you are as calm and respectful as possible.
You’re showing your children how to manage stress during difficult times.
When you mess up, just apologize. Try to give your kids the benefit of the doubt. Do your best to hear them out and acknowledge how upset they are about your outbursts. It’s embarrassing but necessary especially as you’re learning how to handle the stress of your divorce. Your kids can’t be lied to. They know what they witness and how they feel. Honor that. Respect them. And get them outside help.
Righting your heart and mind so that you can parent well is critical.
This may also be the time to get yourself some help. As much as you might want to pull in and hide, it’s the time to surround yourself with a team of people to help you get through this period of your life. There are real reasons why you and your spouse ended your relationship but figuring them out and moving forward at the same time isn’t easy.
Your emotions will be all over the place until you learn how to handle the stress of your divorce. The fear of change, and the stress that change causes will destabilize you. There will be times, you won’t recognize yourself. So breathe. Know this is normal.
Getting over a breakup when a child is involved makes your separation more difficult than you’d like.
The experience of divorce has its own rules and transitional steps. It’s very different than staying in a bad marriage. It’s also very different than being separated and creating a life on your own. Without learning how to handle the stress of your divorce, this change can be difficult to manage. Please don’t expect that you can handle this on your own just because, especially if you can’t. Don’t expect your children to be able to handle the stress themselves either. Both of you will probably need outside help.
Getting help is becoming more and more normalized and quite necessary to safeguard any lasting effects. I should know, I was a child and a parent in divorce!