HOW DO SEPARATION AND DIVORCE IMPACT FAMILIES?
The decision to divorce causes major changes in the lives of all family members. Some upheaval is inevitable. The main trouble areas are:
- Financial. Money becomes a huge problem for most people. The cost of a divorce is extremely high, and two households cost more than one.
- Career. Being less focused at work and spending time away from the job for divorce-related appointments takes its toll. Logistics. Running your home is more difficult, because you no longer have a partner to help with daily chores.
- Emotional. Most people have periods of depression, sadness, anger, and fatigue.
- Fear. Divorce is frightening to children, and they often respond with feelings of anxiety. Children feel more vulnerable after a divorce, because their world has become less reliable. Wallerstein’s study feared that their mother would abandon them.
- Confusion. The children in divorcing families become confused about their relationships with their parents. They see their parents’ relationship fall apart and sometimes conclude that their own relationship with one or both parents could dissolve, as well.
- Sadness and yearning. More than half of the children in the Wallerstein study were openly tearful and sad in response to the losses they experienced. Two-thirds expressed yearning, for example: “We need a daddy. We don’t have a daddy.”
- Worry. In Wallerstein’s study, many children expressed concern about one or both of their parents’ ability to cope with their lives. They wondered if their parents were emotionally stable and able to make it on their own. Over half of the children expressed deep worries about their mothers. They witnessed their mothers’ mood swings and emotional reactions to the events in the family. Some children worried about suicide and accidents.
- Feeling rejected. Many children who experience a parent moving out of the home feel rejected by the parent. The parent is usually preoccupied with problems and pays less attention to the child than in the past. Many children take this personally and feel rejected and unlovable.
- Loneliness. Since both parents are preoccupied with their problems during the divorce process, they are less able to fulfill their parenting roles with their children. The children may feel like their parents are slipping away from them. If the father has moved away and mother has gone off to work, the children often feel profound loneliness.
- Divided loyalties. The children may (accurately) perceive that the parents are in a battle with each other. The children feel pulled in both directions and may resolve the dilemma by siding with one parent against another.
- Anger. Children in divorcing families experience more aggression and anger. It is often directed toward the parents, expressed in tantrums, irritability, resentment, and verbal attacks. Many children see the divorce as a selfish act and feel very resentful about the resulting destruction of their lives.
More than one third of the children in Wallerstein’s study showed acute depressive symptoms such as sleeplessness, restlessness, difficulty in concentrating, deep sighing, feelings of emptiness, compulsive overeating, and various somatic complaints.
HOW CAN I MINIMIZE THE IMPACT ON MY FAMILY?
The following list of ideas may help you lessen the emotional impact of divorce on you and your children.
- Take your time as you adjust to your changed life circumstances.
- Recognize that you are going through a major life transition that cannot be rushed.
- Set up temporary arrangements to help you get through the changes involved in your divorce process.
- Expect to feel frustrated. Avoid the temptation to act for the sake of acting just because it gives you a temporary feeling of being in control.
- When you feel uncomfortable, slow down and identify what you are feeling and why.
- Don’t force any more changes on yourself than are necessary.
- Explore both the benefits and costs of your new life.
- Think about the future. In your journal, explore the question, “What is waiting to happen in my life now?”
- Remember to ask yourself, “What am I supposed to learn from this?”
- Protect yourself against the inevitable forgetfulness and absent-mindedness which many divorcing people report. Make a list of important account numbers, telephone numbers, etc., and keep them in a safe place.
- Watch out for too many changes in your life as you recover from the divorce and the changes in your life circumstances. Change causes stress, and you have enough right now.
Let go of your need for perfection. You will not survive emotionally unless you lower your expectations. (This is easier to say than it is to do.)
Develop your ability to be flexible, and find creative ways to solve problems.
Learn to set priorities. Do the most important things first.
Trust your gut feelings. Pay attention to your instincts and act on them.
Simplify everything in your life. You cannot afford to keep it complicated.
Find an outlet for your anger. If a friend is not available, look for a minister, rabbi, or professional counselor. If money is an issue, look for a therapist who will see you for a low fee.
Focus on issues you have control over. If something is beyond your control, don’t waste your emotions on it.
Create a ceremony to acknowledge your divorce.
Learn to be assertive. You can’t say yes to every request, whether it is from your family members or people in the community who want your time and resources. If you give it all away, you will have nothing left for yourself.
Find ways to take care of your body. Get regular checkups and make time to exercise. You need rest now more than ever. Watch your alcohol intake.
Do at least one fun thing for yourself every week.
In your private journal, make a list of all the things you worry about.
Learn as much as you can about how children respond to divorce and life in a single-parent home.
Do not expect your child to respond the same way you do.