It is in our nature as normal and loving parents to want to protect our children. We want them to be happy and secure and I certainly used to have an idea that somehow I could shelter my children from many of life’s harsh realities. And then my marriage ended…
I was suddenly thrust into a space where I had very little control over what was happening in my world (apart from how I chose to react) and I also had an extreme sense of powerlessness over the way that I had wanted my sons lives to look.
One of my most devastating experiences, was knowing that my sons (whose ages range from baby to young teen) were about to feel the extreme pain and trauma of losing their once stable family unit. The task of having to deal with my own grief as well as theirs, was massive. And I often felt completely defeated by the enormity of this challenge.
Then…I slowly but surely came to realize that I had no right to be trying to make everything ok. Everything was not ok. And not only did they have every right to mourn their loss but my role was not to try and block their eyes, but rather to hold their hands on this rocky path, and clean and dress the inevitable cuts on their feet.
I have learned to see the gifts and blessings that are waiting for us further down that path when we are faced with adversity. This was something that I first experienced when I lost my dad to suicide. He had Bipolar Disorder and his death catapulted me from young woman to adult in an instant. I grew in many positive ways after he passed away (because of choices that I made) but ironically it made me want to insulate my own children. What I have now come to see, is that not only are we depriving our children of gaining resilience by attempting to shield them from life but beyond this we do not have this power, nor should we.
Our response to our children’s pain during separation and divorce needs to be one of love, patience and reassurance. We need to explain to them (in an age appropriate way) that loss and pain are a natural and expected part of what we sign up for in life and also model for them (because believe me they are watching really closely) how we can come out not only ok but actually pretty damn strong on the other side. You are allowed to have days where you can’t cope and forgive yourself if you have times where you are not able to be even a little bit of a positive role model for them. But once you become aware of your moods and actions, make the decision to try harder the next day. Find as many ways to find support for yourself as you can (support groups, friends, a religious leader, a therapist or social worker) so that you can become stronger for them. They desperately need you to take charge of your own pain and recovery.
Because of this, I really had to start wearing my big girl pants more often (actually pretty much every day). And when my boys are having their time with their dad, is when I allow myself to have my wobbles. It’s okay and healthy for them to see me having a bad moment, but now that we are further down the healing path, I know that it really does not serve their best interests and actually just makes them feel insecure. They need me to be in control. And you know what? I need me to be in control too.
It is also so important, to give your children a safe space to share and cry and express, with a recommended therapist. They deserve the best support that we can give them in this regard, so that they can feeling heard, understood and normal. Divorce can make our children feel really lonely and isolated amongst their friends who they may feel do not get what they are going through. And don’t forget to share with their teachers about what is happening at home. They will need empathy and understanding at school.
Although on many days, it is incredibly hard to imagine that you or your children can or will ever feel ok again, remind yourself that it will happen. Accept that your divorce is part of your journey and your children’s too (even though this one is tough to allow to sink in). I share this with you, not as any expert, but as a fellow parent trying her best and attempting to grow from my experiences.
Try to let go of what you once pictured to be the only way or the right way and watch with pride as your children grow and are perhaps even better prepared to navigate life, then if this had not become part of your families story. And be proud of yourself too, even if it’s because you got through today a little better than yesterday.
I wish you strength, courage and the gift of being able to hope again.