Provide yourself and your children with support using these 8 important tips.
Although couples with children have a slightly lower divorce rate than childless couples, 40% of married households with children still end in divorce. Divorce is a major life change and is considered the second most stressful life event second only to the death of a spouse. For all family members, it is a difficult time. Working through custody, property, and financial matters can, unfortunately, bring out the worst in people.
There is so much to cope with and manage, and often parents are struggling with their own complex feelings as well as their children's. Divorce is painful and you will mourn the end of your marriage even if you accept the relationship wasn't good and know that ending the marriage was the best thing to do. When relationships end, we can experience a profound sadness, anger, and grief. These are all common reactions whenever we experience a significant loss in our lives. We are disappointed at the loss of shared dreams and the commitment we shared with our partner.
When marriages fail, everything is disrupted:
- Consistency of your usual routine is upended
- Loss of companionship
- Disruption of financial stability
- Your responsibilities may double
- You become a single parent
- Your identity
Your children will need comfort and reassurance and this may seem difficult to provide when you are uncertain about the future.
Because you are the parent, your children will rely on your reactions to help them determine how they should be acting. If you are angry, anxious, stressed, or depressed, your children will mostly likely be as well. They need you to take care of your own emotional health so that they can believe that things will be ok. For many parents, it may seem as though they can’t take the time they really need to mourn the loss of their marriage because they are also working hard to manage their children’s needs after the breakup. How To Tell the Kids You're Getting Divorced
Recognize that yours and your children’s needs may change after the divorce and it’s important to take steps to maintain your mental and emotional health. At this trying time, it is more important than ever to take good care of yourself.
Pay attention to your own needs too. Sometimes we spend so much time worrying about the needs of our children or others we forget to take care of ourselves. It’s important to maintain balance between work, parenting, household responsibilities, and personal activities/hobbies.
Avoid using alcohol, drugs or food to cope. Often, when you’re hurting, you may be tempted to try to soothe your pain with alcohol, drugs, or food. But trying to cope in these ways is unhealthy and self-destructive in the long run. It is also important for your children to see you using healthy coping skills.
Get plenty of rest. It is important to make sure that you get enough sleep (without sleeping all day) so your body and mind can relax.
Exercise. Vigorous exercise 3-5 times a week will go a long way to assist you with relieving some of the stress you are feeling and boost those serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain, which help you feel better.
Try deep breathing exercises/relaxation techniques. It is critical to learn how to calm your body and mind down when it is feeling tense, stressed, anxious, depressed, or any number of intense emotions. Deep breathing and other relaxation techniques force the body (very gently) to relax. When we feel intense emotions, the tension in our body causes our breathing to become shallow and our body then isn’t getting enough oxygen.
There are many different techniques of deep breathing/relaxation, but the most basic one is to sit in a quiet room by yourself, either lay down flat on your back or sit up straight (but not rigid) in a chair (keeps your diaphragm and lungs unobstructed). Have your hands by your side or on your lap with your palms face up. Close your eyes or look down at the floor. Keep your legs uncrossed. Then take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of 5, filling your lungs with air. Your diaphragm should rise and your chest should expand. Hold that breath for a count of 5. Then breathe out through your mouth (very fast and forceful) to a count of 5.
Continue this process for 15 minutes. If any thoughts come to mind, simply acknowledge their presence and refocus your attention to the breathing and counting. This should become a daily practice and is something you should consider also teaching your children, as it is very empowering to be able to calm yourself down quickly.
Journal in times of grief or sadness. It can be easy to slip into a negative thinking pattern where we think poorly of ourselves, our former spouse, our children, the world etc. Once you fall into this pattern of thinking, it is a slippery slope towards depression. Begin writing in a gratitude journal daily. In it, only write statements about all the things you love, appreciate, or are grateful for in your life. It can be statements about yourself, your children, the weather, your family, your support system — anything you can acknowledge in your heart from a place of gratitude. Avoid using the words not or don't in any of your statements. Use only positive language. Write in this journal every day, even when you feel you have nothing to feel grateful for, as these are the most important days to write something.
Engage in new activities. Divorce can also be seen as a new beginning. See this as an opportunity to explore new activities or interests. This is your chance to enjoy life in the present rather than dwell on the past.
Get support from family, friends, or a support group. But don’t rely on your children (whatever their age) for emotional support.
Grief can seem paralyzing after the end of a marriage, but the sadness should soon start to subside. If you find that the sadness is unrelenting and you are unable to move forward with your life, your grief may have turned into depression.
Symptoms of Depression
These can be feelings of worthlessness and helplessness, trouble concentrating, excessive or prolonged crying, fatigue, depressed mood or overwhelming sadness, intense feelings of irritability, anger, and hostility, overeating or loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss or weight gain, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, withdrawl from friends, family, loved ones, and thoughts of self-harm/suicide. Acceptance: Finding The Gift In Depression
If you suspect you are suffering from depression, call your doctor immediately and make an appointment. It is important for your own mental well-being and your children’s mental and emotional health that you get effective treatment immediately.
Healing from a divorce can seem challenging at first, as you may feel paralyzed by fear or overwhelmed with grief, sadness or anger. However, it is important for you to know deep within your core that you can and will move forward with your life. Healing takes time, so be kind and patient with yourself.