Children of Divorce – Collateral Damage

By: Mary B. Hammock, MSN, CPNP

Each year more than one million children become collateral damage in their parent’s divorce. While I understand ending a marriage and dividing a family is a gut-wrenching decision, helping your children through the divorce and its aftermath MUST be top priority!

Take Care of You

Divorce is stressful and being a single parent can be overwhelming. Depression is common and it is necessary to minimize its effects by staying on routine, getting good rest, eating healthy and exercising regularly. Avoid pursuing mundane tasks, such as watching TV just to “zone out.” Seek counseling or medical advice as soon as possible as needed.

Emotions Need To Be Expressed

Express your emotions with a peer of the same sex – not with your children. Aligning yourself with your children can develop an “us against the world” mentality and that will lead to hurt and trust issues. Expressing yourself to an opposite sex adult can be easily misinterpreted as a romantic interest instead of a caring ear. If you don’t have an adult you can go to for emotional support, consider a recovery support group.

Realistic Expectations

Set realistic expectations for yourself. You no longer have a partner to share the parenting load. Don’t try to do everything, just the important things. Take advantage of carpools, pick up a healthy meal and don’t over-extend your schedule.

Taking Care of Your Children

Many children think they had something to do with the divorce. It is extremely important to set the record straight. It may be necessary to give a kid-friendly explanation and to repeat why you chose divorce. Be truthful and respectful of your spouse, while avoiding blame. Tell your children that you love them and your feelings for them haven’t and will not change. It is extremely important that you be patient. Your children may seem to understand one day and be confused the next. Reassure them as often as you need too. Reassure them that both parents will be part of their lives and that things won’t always be easy but that they will work out.

Your children must learn to cope with their new and changing circumstances- where they will live, will they have to move, who they will be with on holidays, can they still go to gymnastics, etc. Listen to your children’s feelings and schedule regular time with your children to talk about how they are feeling. Put your own emotions aside to keep from losing site of theirs. This should simply be a time of listening and understanding.

Keep your word. Being a reliable and predictable parent will help to rebuild your children’s trust. Keep your promises and do your best to be on time. This is extremely important in lowering anxiety- theirs and yours.

Positivity and Being Nice

Taking time for positive touch –hugging, rocking, hand-holding, even cuddling in bed to read – can provide security and help to restore trust. Children don’t get spoiled by too many hugs or comforting words. Resist the urge to drop routines and lavish them with gifts or let them break rules. When life calms down, you may have great difficulty with unruly behavior.
Finally, be nice. If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing. Don’t put your children in the middle or use them to send messages back and forth. Communicate civilly with your ex and take negative discussions away from the children. If it is hard – work on it!! Remember, your children didn’t ask for this.

Healthy Steps Pediatrics is helping to GROW healthy children one step at a time. Please contact us with any questions or concerns about your growing and changing family.