For Recovery Tool Box for Parents and Children of Divorce…
Suggestions from Christina Senatore-Zangari, M.S.Ed.
-Keep in mind that divorce is something that happens to a family which can be devastating at one point and life-saving at another point. Also, the road to understanding, getting used to, and processing a divorce is not linear and smooth…it is bumpy and irregular, sometimes like the expression which states “One step forward and two steps back”, or even “a quarter step forward and eighty-two steps back”, as I like to say on the not so good days… and sometimes this road is like being on a wild roller coaster!
-While never simple or a pleasure, some divorces are “easier” than others. But even if your divorce is mostly volatile, take comfort, because it does get better. Working with children, parents, and families along the journey of the divorce itself and thereafter, I know this to be true. Most significantly, however, I know this personally, as I am divorced and a parent. Even if the hostility between you and your ex-spouse waxes and wanes, or perhaps even never goes away…YOU can feel better by focusing on yourself, your life, your children, and what you can control. I have found the following “tools” to be very powerful and effective in helping to bring peace, happiness, and a healthy sense of control into life…perhaps for the first time in your life…However, be aware that this is not a “one shot deal” or a magic formula. This is an ongoing process of recovery, a journey, if you will, just like for everything else in your life that is worthwhile. And when children are involved, it is even more important to realize that they will understand and experience this divorce throughout their entire lives in different ways as they grow and mature
Tool #1: This one will sound very easy, but in reality can be extremely difficult:
DO NOT BAD MOUTH YOUR EX TO YOUR CHILD!!!!! Without getting too technical, research has found that speaking in negative and derogatory ways to your child about their other parent only damages YOUR relationship with your child! THIS IS A FACT…SO DON’T DO IT! And, if you feel so much anger and frustration that you almost feel compelled to do this (and no one is blaming you because divorce is stressful, to say the least), then it is certainly time that you allow yourself the luxury of seeking counseling for yourself to work these feelings out.
Tool #2: This one can be somewhat confusing, but in the end will help you a great deal:
GET ORGANIZED AND GET A CALENDAR! There are lots of things to remember in everyday life as it is, without life being complicated by a divorce, or even worse, an ongoing tumultuous divorce. Make the time for yourself, even if it means putting something else on hold temporarily, to get your personal, family, professional, and divorce paperwork together. Believe me, you will thank yourself that you did. This helps to feel like you have some sense of real control in a situation which by nature makes people feel horribly out of control. It also helps to feel that you are in charge of yourself and your newly formed family unit. This also may be the first time that you are officially in charge of all this paperwork, which may feel intimidating to you. Don’t worry, it only feels that way because you have never done it before, and NOT because you can’t do it.
Tool #3: Ughhh…this one can be extremely challenging, but ultimately so rewarding and the best thing you can do for your sanity:
DON’T ENGAGE YOUR EX-SPOUSE IN REPEATED AND SENSELESS ARGUMENTS!! CORRECTION: DON’T ENGAGE YOUR EX-SPOUSE IN ARGUMENTS THAT ARE MEANINGFUL AND IMPORTANT! There is a reason you are getting divorced/are divorced…you don’t get along! Continued arguing over the same subjects over and over and over again without any resolve only brings emotional turmoil, low self-esteem, anxiety, and a lowered immune system. Additionally, this is a way to perpetuate emotional and verbal abuse and intimidation of one spouse to another, or even to both spouses. And interestingly enough, the incessant arguing is a way to keep your bond and relationship with your ex-spouse alive and thriving! Just walk away, hang up the phone, bite your tongue, count to 10 or 1000 if you need to, work out, meditate get a glass of water, punch a pillow, stretch, just do something else! This does not let your ex-spouse “win”, it gives you empowerment and control. Trust me, if you can master this, it is priceless.
Tool #4: Very Important that you do not take it personally when your child, from time to time, asks you the same questions about the divorce, or voices the same unhappiness over and over again, even though you have explained it to them before….
EXPECT YOUR CHILD TO WANT TO PROCESS THE DIVORCE WITH YOU OVER AND OVER AGAIN, EVEN THOUGH IT WILL FEEL TO YOU LIKE IT’S GROUNDHOG’S DAY! Cognitively (i.e., intellectually) and emotionally, children do not have the same capacity to understand the divorce as an adult would in the same timely manner. To be honest, adults can’t even understand it at first, and unfortunately some can never move past their own anger and rage over it. So, can you imagine how it is for a child? I know that for my own child, it seemed like every 6 to 8 months we would be having the same conversation about the divorce. Her feelings were the same: confusion, sadness, anger, frustration. But what was different was her ability to understand what was going on, discuss her feelings, communication skills, problem solving ability, and sense of comfort, mastery, and confidence now that she has shared her feelings.
Tool # 5: This will take time…
YOU ARE NOT THE “DIVORCE”, THE DIVORCE IS SOMETHING THAT OCCURRED IN YOUR LIFE, IT IS NOT YOUR LIFE, NOR IS IT THE DEFINING MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE. IT IS NOT A CROSS TO BEAR AND YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WALK AROUND FEELING DAMAGED OR “LESS THAN” ANYONE ELSE. The Buddha says “Life is filled with misery.” Things happen, and bad things happen that are a million times worse than a divorce, even though it may not seem like that at the time. You have a right to struggle and suffer with your divorce, but remain aware that there are many other tragedies that if you were offered to trade your divorce for one of them, you would happily keep the divorce.
And finally, take one moment at a time…good luck!