The divorce process affects children differently and depends on a number of different factors. Child reactions vary across age, gender, and personality characteristics. It is impossible to predict with certainty how a child will respond to divorce. However, we do know that parental behavior plays a very important role in helping children cope with divorce. The following three factors can assist with the coping process.
Develop a business like attitude in dealing with the other parent
Maybe this title should read “maintain a friendship with the other parent.“ However, that is obviously not always realistic. Often times there is a lot of anger and hurt involved in a divorce. You may feel the urge to put blame squarely on the shoulders of the other parent for the divorce. You may also feel like the last thing you want to do is speak positively about the other parent to your children. If these feelings exist, it is important to try and adopt a mindset of being in the business of raising your child. This means that all behavior should reflect that value, and should translate in supporting your child or children’s relationship with the other parent (outside of extreme circumstances like child abuse). In a divorce involving a lot of difficult emotions, it can be next to impossible to be perfect in dealing with the other parent. Nevertheless, getting it right more often than not, can go a long way in ensuring that your child adjusts well to the divorce.
Adjusting expectations for yourself
When one is coping with divorce, it can be difficult (if not next to impossible) to avoid feeling overwhelmed. The job that may have been shared by two is now solely your responsibility when your child is in your home. The first couple of years can be difficult with adjusting to new routines and the absence of the other parent. To expect yourself to handle this transition “well,” and to be a model parent, can set you up for additional disappointment. The “diminished capacity to parent” is a common description for what many parents experience in the immediate aftermath of divorce. You are dealing with stress, your children are dealing with stress, and the other parent is likely dealing with stress as well. Taken together, this often times means that there is less consistent discipline, less capacity for positive interactions, and less supervision of your child. Some parents are able to handle this transition better than others, and divorce does not always mean chaos within the household. Yet giving yourself some slack, and adjusting your expectations within the first two years can help you manage your own stress when going through a divorce.
Even though the divorce process can seem overwhelming at times, it is important to do what you can to make yourself available to your child. Let him or her understand that they are able to speak with you about their feelings, and that they are allowed to express positive feelings for the other parent. Agreeing with your child and validating them can be two different things. Try not to tell them how they should feel, and respond with empathy toward their situation. You may not agree with their point of view, but you can show that you understand and that you care for their opinion. There is research that suggests child adjustment following divorce can be assisted by being present and available in a nonjudgmental way for your child.
It really does seem as though time slows down when we experience the emotional pain. Try to keep in mind that you and your child will cope and endure the divorce process. Both your and your child will experience a reality much different than what you have in front of you right now. Do what you can to focus on your time together with your child. Spending quality time during this process can be a great stress release for both adult and child. Being “present” during interactions with your child can provide some relief from difficult thoughts and emotions.