Separation and Divorce: Building Resilience in Our Kids

co-parenting Nov 20, 2016

I’ll be completely honest with you – when my ex and I separated I wanted, more than anything, for the kids to be unaffected.  From where I sit now, I can see how completely naive and impossible that idea was – thankfully I’ve grown a lot since those early days!

I think it’s fair to say that no parent wants to see their kid(s) to struggle.  Especially, when they struggle with a situation that you’ve had a hand in creating in their lives {insert a pile of guilt here!!!}.

It’s also hard to attend to your kids as best you can when you’re struggling as well.

So, between us all, let’s agree to drop this unrealistic expectation from here on out.

Kids will struggle when adjusting to a separation or divorce.  That’s ok.  It’s a massive change.  Who wouldn’t?  Separation and divorce is painfully hard.  And sad.  And crappy.  And the short end of the stick. And an overall struggle for a length of time (thankfully not forever though)!

Don’t despair.  Take heart - this too shall pass.  It's also an opportunity for something new.

And so, I’ve come to strongly believe that there’s far more long term benefit to teaching our kids how to properly work through times of struggle.  These are skills that they will use time and again, as they navigate a long and healthy life.

Frankly, I don’t know anyone on the planet who’s gotten through life without a single struggle.  Do you?  …I didn’t think so :)

So, truly what’s a parent to do?

Well, if we agree that we can’t keep our kids from struggling entirely, then we might as well make sure they know how to get through the hard times as best as possible.

So, let’s aim to build resilience in our kids, below are some ways that I’ve found helped my kids to keep moving forward when the way through isn’t totally clear:

1) Acknowledge their feelings – ALL of THEM. Especially the hard and painful ones.  This is so tricky when everyone is so emotional as it is .  And when life ‘going well’ just seems so far from reality.  But acknowledging and accepting where your kids are at in the process is the start of healing.  So, please, please don’t skim over this part of parenting.  Especially when parenting through crisis like separation/divorce.  Listening to your children and letting them vocalize their feelings or physically acting out their feelings (in safe ways like a punching bag or exercise) is the only way to begin to work through everything and come out the other end well-adjusted and even better!  And in my case, I’ve found their questions or ponderings come out at the strangest times, but just be open to the flow of the conversation.  And reinforce over and over that they are loved and that the separation/divorce wasn’t their fault at all – that both parents love them so much!  Time heals, and so does openness and acceptance.  And if they are stuck on an issue or a feeling, look into therapy to get to the bottom of their pain.

2) Be sure to point out and talk about the good aspects of life – there’s always something to be grateful for :)  And perspective is a miracle.  Always look for the good because when going through uncertain times, it’s easy to get into a rut of negative thinking that drags you down further.  Model this behaviour for your kids and get them to participate with you – this can be done over dinner or right before bed, or anytime that’s convenient really!

3) Talk about other people in their lives (or have other adults/kids they love in their lives talk with them) that they look up to and admire.  Discuss how these other people have overcome hard times in their lives and continued on to be successful human beings.

4) Don’t forget to laugh :)  Play with them and be silly/laugh together. This is awesome for everyone!  And it is a great reminder that, no matter what’s going on, there’s still fun to be enjoyed.

5) Routine – keep as much as possible the same as before, so that they still feel in control of some aspects of their lives.  Be consistent with the co-parenting schedule and let the kids know in advance of any isolated changes to it.  Ask for their opinions on new things, to allow them to feel apart of it all.  Not that everything is just happening 'to' them.

This has taken my kids and me a long way.  And it’s funny, I’ve noticed that they continue to grow and learn and experience life to the fullest - it's amazing how resilient kids can be.  They are able to see smaller issues for what they are: ‘mostly not a life changing, huge deal, end of the world thing’.  And I imagine they’ve also learnt some spiritual lessons along the way as well, however they are a bit young to be able to verbalize that ‘bonus’ to the whole process.

Take care of yourselves and your amazing children, as we head into this busy Christmas season!

And I'd love to hear from you - what else would you add to this list?

Much love,

Lisa

PS. Please share if you've found this post helpful - thanks in advance!

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