Once you and your spouse have come to the difficult decision that your marriage is over and you’ve exhausted all of your resources with marriage counseling, take a moment to shift gears. Going through a divorce can bring out the worst in two relatively normal, kind people. Because this decision brings so much emotional turmoil, preparation is often needed. It’s important to slow down and take the time to evaluate your own emotional wellness.
For children, a divorce can be very traumatic and may be as difficult to handle emotionally as a death of a family member or friend. Adults are often ill prepared to handle the range of emotions and difficulties that may lie ahead. Proceed with caution and consider these ideas to reduce stress and minimize the emotional impact on your children.
Say No To Parent Alienation
No good parent wants to impart stress or anxiety in the hearts and minds of his or her children. But many parents do not understand the severe impact their negative words, even if very small and subtle, have on children. These negative comments and attitudes, over time, can easily turn into Parent Alienation.
According to the Parent Alienation Awareness Group (PAAO), “Parental alienation is a group of behaviors that are damaging to children’s mental and emotional well-being and can interfere with a relationship of a child and either parent. These behaviors, whether verbal or nonverbal, cause a child to be mentally manipulated or bullied into believing a loving parent is the cause of all their problems and/or the enemy, to be feared, hated, disrespected and/or avoided.” Parent Alienation is devastating to children and families, and it is illegal in most states.
Give Individual Therapy a Go
Do you need a therapist? Yes, you do! A good therapist can listen, provide a fresh perspective, help you address issues, and teach you coping strategies to reduce stressors. Putting positive strategies in place can really pay off in the long run. Learning to minimize stress will help you be a more effective parent and a more positive role model to your children.
Shift From Marriage Counseling to Separation Counseling
When married couples separate, there is an immediate shift in the family. Married couples are usually attached emotionally, financially, and structurally. The dysfunction of the marriage will typically carry over during a separation and divorce.
According to Attorney Sheera Herrell of Hofheimer Family Law in Virginia Beach, “Overall, if appropriate, I recommend parents go through ‘separation counseling’ after marriage counseling, where they can communicate in a safe environment about all of these issues. While some parents purposely alienate, I think many do it without realizing what they are doing. Going to counseling to help manage their stress and learn how to talk to their kids can help.” Children can also be included in family therapy to improve the overall function of the new family structure.
Sign Up for Collaborative Parenting Classes
Parenting during a divorce is hard! Why not seek help and reinforcements? A united front on parenting decisions provides the stability and predictability that kids need. It is comforting for children to know that Mom and Dad are still “on the same page” regarding the decisions that affect them directly like school, plans, schedules, discipline, routines, health, religion, and overall family wellness.
Collaborative parenting helps parents get ahead of the disputes and also helps prevent the children playing Mom and Dad against each other. The co-parenting concept takes patience, time, and planning to develop and implement. When you disagree, which you will, keep it private. Adult discussions about child rearing must be done between the adults, not in front of the kids. There are a number of free parenting classes and resources offered in our area, such as those offered each month by CHKD.
If you don’t have a routine of self- care, now is the time to develop one. Self-care is the practice of taking care of yourself: mind, body, and spirit. Try to find the time to do positive things for yourself. Read a book, go to the gym, take a yoga class, meditate, walk in nature, go to the beach, connect with an old friend, volunteer, and get back out there. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t do a great job of taking care of others. A happier parent is a better parent.
Seek Financial Advice from the Experts
A family that lives under one roof and shares expenses cost much less than running two separate households. Figuring out how to manage the new financial situation can be daunting for divorcing parents. There are many factors to consider when you are making financial decisions like spousal support, child support, dependent status for taxes, child tax credits, custody, insurance… the list is long. Seek the advice of the experts on this topic from a certified financial planner who specializes in collaborative divorce.
According to Margaret V. Little, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst from Virginia Financial Planning in Virginia Beach, “Almost invariably, one spouse has always handled the money, and the other spouse is not informed. It is essential for the ‘non-money’ spouse to get him- or herself up to speed quickly so that he or she can make informed decisions during the divorce process. Knowing what the couple owns, how much it is worth, and what the sources of income are is essential to decision-making. Having a clear tally of debts is also key.” Remember that children do not need to hear any information regarding your financial agreements with your former spouse.
As you navigate the challenges of divorce, remember to be mindful of your purpose. The ultimate goal of having two happy, functioning families working together is possible. It may take a little extra time to implement therapy and co-parenting agreements. However, if you slow down and address some of these issues ahead of time, you will save yourself and your children a huge amount of emotional turmoil in the long run.
Kimberly King is a child-development professional, certified early-childhood educator, and speaker who lives in Va. Beach. She holds a Bachelor of Science in early childhood development and family studies from University of Maine and a Master of Science in education. She is the author of “I Said No!,” a best-selling children’s book about sexual-abuse prevention, and “When Your Parents Divorce,” a kid-to-kid guide to dealing with divorce. For more information, visit www.Kimberlykingbooks.com.