By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Making the transition from married to single life won’t be easy for you or your children, but it can be an exciting time of personal growth. Your divorce can be seen as a transforming event, and you alone are responsible for creating a new kind of family for you and your children.
As a single parent, it is of primary importance that you help your children cope with your divorce and develop a mindset of being a positive role model for them. In order to do this, you must take care of yourself. Parents who take control of their own lives, with courage and resilience, help their children do the same. Single parenting is not for wimps. It draws on every ounce of energy from you, forcing you to become a more compassionate person.
How can you embrace this time of your life as an opportunity? First of all, it’s imperative that you focus on the things that are truly important and learn to let other things go. This involves making a commitment to helping your children adjust to your divorce and practicing amicable co-parenting. Working together with your ex and communicating effectively is ideal. However, if this isn’t possible, either because your ex is absent or adversarial, you can still become a successful single parent.
The key to successful single parenting is to reflect daily upon the importance of preparing for your new life and accepting that change is necessary. It will take time for you and your children to adjust to your new lifestyle but developing a positive mindset will help ease the transition.
Here’s a small slice of advice that will help you and your children adjust to divorce:
Give your kids time to adjust to the news that their parents are no longer married. Keep in mind that they will need time to get used to their new schedule and they may show signs of distress or withdraw at times. Divorce is a decision made by parents and children may react negatively to the lack of control they feel. Reassure them that you are there for them and that things will get better.
Open up the lines of communication with your kids. Be open and honest without giving them too many details or blaming your ex for the divorce. Even if you perceive that he or she was responsible they shouldn’t hear it from you. Take every opportunity to listen, support, and encourage them to talk about their feelings with you and/or someone they trust.
Make peace with your ex and keep it that way. No matter how you feel about your ex, don’t bad mouth him or her or argue with them in front of your kids. Children pick up on petty fighting and may take it personally. So walk away or take on the role of peacemaker if tension is brewing with your ex. Otherwise, your children will feel forced to take sides, which may cause them to develop loyalty conflicts.
Ensure smooth transitions. Children often experience high stress moving from parent to parent. Try your best to develop routines for their leaving and coming home. Be sure not to make them a messenger or ask them to report on the parent they just left. Attempt to be flexible yet consistent with the custody schedule. Keep in mind that as kids reach adolescence they may become rebellious about following the original custody schedule and need more control.
Remember to set limits and maintain positive parenting practices. At times, you may feel guilty about putting your child through a divorce but don’t let that stop you from setting effective limits and boundaries. For instance, allowing your child to stay up late or sleep with you may backfire because you both need your space and sleep. Be aware that kids play parents off each other and may say things like “Dad (or mom) lets me stay up until midnight.” Even if this is true, you can say “Your dad (or mom) has his or her rules, but in my house bedtime is at 9pm.”
Learn to trust yourself and embrace your new life by taking care of you. For example, sign up for yoga or an exercise class, eat healthy, and schedule in social times with friends. You will be a more effective parent if you are rested and feel connected to others. Counseling, coaching, or a support group can be helpful supports that will enhance your transition to your new life.
As a parent who is taking care of themselves and gaining confidence, you are equipping your child with the best tools possible and the self-esteem to move forward with their life. Developing a sense of adventure and new rituals such as family game night or walks will help you stay connected with your children. You can choose to model self-acceptance and hope for your kids. Learning to laugh at yourself and focusing on the big picture will enable you and your children to make a good adjustment to divorce.I’d love to hear about your experiences as a single parent. Please share your stories in the comments below.
Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”
Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW