Anxiety is normal.
A little helps you adapt to uncertainty or a new challenge.
Since divorce is a major life transition involving many unknowns, it can bring with it a significant amount of anxiety – for the separating spouses and, where they also happen to be parents, for their children. Questions like “Where will I live?”, “Who will I live with?” or, put another way, “What will happen to me?” can be overwhelming for a child.
While there’s no way to prevent your children from experiencing some emotional distress in connection with your divorce, there are some things you can do - and avoid doing – to make them less anxious about the changes happening in their lives.
In our experience, a child’s greatest source of anxiety during divorce is often her parents.
For most parents, divorce involves not just the end of a marriage, but some form of separation from your child. The move to two households and shared parenting inevitably brings with it some sadness and loss – and your own anxiety. The challenge is how to manage your worries and fears without transferring them on to your children.
It’s common for one parent to disagree with his ex’s parenting style or practices. Where things become problematic is when a parent expresses his concerns to his child, either by criticizing his ex or by asking his child unnecessary and intrusive questions about life in his ex’s home.
Another common scenario is where a parent talks to her child about how sad she feels when the child is away, and how much she misses him when they’re apart.
The most extreme parental response to their own separation anxiety is a resistance to shared parenting, and attempts to limit the amount of time the child spends with the other parent (typically through the use of lawyer).
In all of these cases, the parent’s message to the child is “There is a reason for you to feel anxious about spending time with your other parent/being apart from me”. The parent’s own anxiety about being separated from their child leads them to behave in a way that fuels the child’s anxiety and, ultimately, the child is made to carry an emotional burden that is actually the parent’s to bear.
If any of these scenarios hit home, we have good news and bad news. The good news is, it’s within your power to help ease your child’s anxiety. The bad news is, it will take some effort – but in the end, it will be worth it for both you and your child.
Here are our suggestions for reducing your child’s separation anxiety:
- Reassure your child that, while you will miss her, you will be doing things that you enjoy while she is with your ex – and also that she will have fun with her other parent.
- Don’t delay shared parenting. We know it can be extremely hard to adjust to spending less time with your kids, but if the plan is to eventually have an equal, shared parenting schedule with your ex, it’s best for everyone if you implement it as soon as possible. If it helps ease your mind, remember that research suggests that children benefit from equal time with both divorced parents. (One important caveat here is that there are certain specific instances where shared parenting is not recommended, such as where family violence is present, or your child is at physical or emotional risk of harm in your ex’s home.)
- Start moving towards acceptance of your new reality. Pretty much everything changes when you divorce, including the amount of time you spend with your children, and as painful as these changes can be, resisting or avoiding them won’t make them go away.
To learn more about how separation and divorce can impact your children, join us for our November 22 Divorce Salon where we will welcome guest speaker Child Specialist Alyson Jones.
Alyson is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who is passionate about families and children. Through her work as a Parent Coordinator, Mediator, Collaborative Law Divorce Coach and Child Specialist Alyson advocates for the best interests of the children and encourages parents to do divorce better. She assists in conflict management and working towards a healthy resolution for the entire family. She developed and oversees the innovative Family Forward Reunification Program which guides families through the navigation of highly complex issues.
To learn more about Alyson, visit her website.