By Jennifer Butler
Divorce is not something anyone dreams about, wishes for, or plans out and it is certainly not what was intended when you made the decision to become a parent. When you come to the realization that your marriage is over and you are going to have to change what your family looks like, the hardest thing about that decision is thinking about how it will affect your children. Thoughts about delivering the news, how they will react, and what the rest of their lives will look like come rushing into your mind, making you sure of the fact that you have certainly ruined their lives and have no idea how to act or what to do to somehow get them through this. The fact of the matter though is, their lives are not ruined and you can and you will get them through.
I remember feeling the guilt and sadness that I thought would never go away. I would make dinner for myself and my son and I would freeze in this moment of thought, pondering over how it ended up just being the two of us and not the family I thought we would always be. My heart was broken and I realized that I was quite literally responsible for my son’s first heartbreak as well. I had not prepared for this and had no idea what was required of me. What I did know, though, was that I refused to buy into the belief that his life would forever be ruined as the result of this shift in family. I knew beyond a doubt, that it was not the divorce itself that would affect the rest of his life, but the way I chose to handle it from that moment on.
The choice was mine to make and one that would absolutely set the stage for the life my son would live. In that moment, I decided to show my son exactly what it meant to live from your heart and be your best self, even in the face of hardship. Without a doubt, my son would face challenges and disappointments in his future, it is in fact a part of everyone’s life. I had now been given the opportunity to show him how to overcome hardship with grace, dignity, and authenticity. I had the opportunity to thrive as both an individual and his parent.
When you make the decision to divorce and shift the structure of your family, there is a great deal of emotion for everyone involved. As a parent, it can be challenging as you attempt to navigate through your own healing while simultaneously being there to help your child navigate through theirs. This is what is necessary though, and there are behaviors you can engage in that will allow you to be the best parent you can be and give your children what they need during this challenging time.
1. Your children need your honesty
Children are wise and have the ability to see straight through to the truth. They may not have the skills to communicate this, nor the reasoning ability to make sense of it all, but they absolutely know when they are being lied to. There is always a way to tell the truth in a manner that is appropriate for your child’s age and maturity level. More than anything, you want your children to know they can trust you, and that trust begins with your ability to be consistently honest with them, even when it is difficult.
2. Your children need you to hold space for them
The hardest thing for a parent is to watch their child be in any sort of pain. Emotional sadness is pain and it is torturous to witness in our children, especially when we are struggling with all sorts of guilt around being the cause of that pain. What we often end up doing in an attempt to relieve our own discomfort is to try to make them feel better. We may try to distract them or tell them it’s okay, and this can at times be what is needed, but not all that is needed. What they really need consistently is for us to be willing to allow them their feelings, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for us to experience. Simply communicating to them that you see the way they are feeling, that they absolutely have every right to feel that way, and you will be here with them through it in a loving way shows them that you are holding space for their journey and not imposing your own process onto them.
3. Your children need you to be consistent
Trust is built on consistent behavior. When a person is consistent in their actions, we learn we can trust in them to behave in that way. For example, we know we can trust in certain people to always be on time or to always be honest because they have demonstrated those behaviors over and over through time. We trust them and therefore we feel safe. After a divorce, children need to feel safe so they can have the freedom to heal. When you are consistent with your children, they know they can trust you, they feel safe with you, and they are then able to find their way on their own journey toward healing.
4. Your children need your presence
Going through a divorce might possibly be the biggest challenge of your life thus far, and chances are all you want to do is disappear and distract yourself in whatever way possible. Even though this may be what is wanted, it isn’t what is needed and it is certainly not what is in a child’s best interest. Their family structure as they knew it has disappeared, and the last thing they need is for their parent to disappear too. Being present does not just mean physically being in space with them either, it means doing whatever it takes to be consciously focused and present in your interactions with them. Hearing them, seeing them, engaging with them, and connecting with them so they know they are not alone and you are right there with them.
5. Your children need to be left out of your conflict
Most divorces involve some level of conflict and children do not benefit from being placed in the middle of it. It does not help them to know each parent’s transgressions or to hear their parents fighting. They do not want to deliver messages and they certainly don’t feel good being pulled away from someone they love. What they do want and benefit from is a consistent effort from their parents to create a space of peace for them to exist within. It is a safe assumption that they are not being given a vote in the arguments and decisions between parents, therefore they do not need to be a witness to the experiences of it all.
6. Your children need you to actually put them first
We hear parents say this all the time, but are you actually doing this? In every decision made throughout the divorce process, the first question needs to be about the best interest of the children involved. Just as you can feel when someone is tuned into your needs and making you a priority, children can feel this as well. Words and actions must align for children to be able to exist in a space of love, trust, and safety. These are usually not easy decisions to make, but when children are truly put first, they are provided an example of what it truly means to love. They are shown, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that they are loved and respected above all else.
7. Your children need you to be your best self and to thrive
More than anything else, children are looking to their parents to lead the way. They are watching, they are listening, and they are absorbing the way parents are choosing to live their lives. When parents take the steps and do the work it takes to heal and to thrive in the face of hardship, children are taught to do the same and given permission to heal. The more you thrive, the more your children thrive too! A parent’s health and happiness is by far, the absolute best gift a child can be given.
You have the opportunity to be there for your children in a way that supports, guides, and empowers them. It will require that you do your own work and focused healing. It will require that you take the steps to be your best self. It will require that you take risks and get uncomfortable sometimes. In the end though, your children will have learned how to love in the face of hardship and find joy even in their darkest moments, and they will have learned all of this from you.
About the Author
Jennifer Butler is a writer and transformation coach, currently working as a community leader for DivorceForce. Beyond an extensive education, Jennifer also went through a life transformation as a result of her own divorce and has dedicated her work to supporting others. You can connect with Jennifer at JennJoyCoaching and on Instagram.