My parents divorced when I was three. When I was ten years old, my mother decided she wanted me to attend a group therapy session for children of divorced parents. I told her I didn’t want to go, but she made me. Even though she was trying to help me, it was the wrong approach because it was forced and group therapy wasn’t what I needed particularly. It can be hard to know how to help children of divorce. It would have helped me more if my mother had chosen to go to therapy and work through her own issues regarding the divorce. Her anger and bitterness towards my father made things even harder for me, and therapy may have helped her work through those feelings so I didn’t get the brunt of them.
Every parent going through a divorce wonders how they can best help their children who are coping with divorce. Here are some specific ideas from the Focus on the Family guide to Helping Children Survive Divorce.
Take Care of Yourself
First, be sure you are taking care of yourself. While your own pain may make it difficult to keep up with your gym routine or getting enough sleep, you need to be in good physical and emotional health to take care of your kids. Confide in wise friends who can help you through the pain, or consider talking with a professional counselor. You may even find a support group for single mothers through a local church or community organization.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to become a master of financial management. If you aren’t “good with money,” check out a few books from the library. While it may be difficult, avoid the guilt traps of spending more money on your kids and giving into their whims. And setting boundaries goes beyond finances. As your family heals, you may need to say no more often to outside commitments.
Process the Pain
Help your children process their emotions by letting them talk things out and ask questions. If your younger children can’t express themselves verbally, have them draw or play-act what they are feeling. Encourage them to be honest with you and ask the questions they want, even though it may be painful for you. And listen to your children even when they say things you don’t want to hear, such as they miss their dad, even though you may still be angry at him. Be patient with your children as they cope with their losses. Give them lots of hugs. Spend one-on-one time with each of your children. If your children seem to have difficulties handling their anger, and are acting out through tantrums or destructive behavior, seek the help of a professional counselor. You may also want to talk with a counselor if your child displays depressive symptoms for longer than two weeks.
Help your children process their emotions by letting them talk things out and ask questions.
Remove Some Pressure
Don’t put too much pressure on your kids. Children of divorce often have to grow up too quickly because of added responsibilities around the house, such as chores and taking care of younger siblings. You may also face the temptation of wanting to confide too much or vent to your kids. While two-way communication is good, overburdening your kids with talk of painful adult relationships is not. As much as you will depend on your kids in new ways after the divorce, make sure your kids have time just to be kids.
What things have been most helpful to your kids?