On the list of life’s biggest hurts, divorce ranks high when it comes to kids. For parents, the transition can bring on a host of stressors—emotional, financial, and physical—making it that much harder to focus on the instinct to protect your children, says kids’ mindfulness and yoga teacher (and recent divorcee), Susan Verde.
“It’s hard to separate yourself from the worries that come with divorce, like money, custody, and visitation, change of lifestyle, and loss. If you’re lucky, many of these things go smoothly, but it’s still an enormous transition, especially for the children involved. A more difficult divorce can be filled with a lot of animosity, sadness, guilt, and other intense emotions,” says Verde.
“Kindness toward your feelings helps your children be kinder to themselves as they process what’s happening.”
However, if you can try to sit with your experience and not judge yourself, you can navigate through a divorce mindfully. “You can begin to approach each issue in a more present, thoughtful way,” says Verde. “You don’t need your own inner critic interfering with what you’re already going through. Kindness toward your feelings helps your children be kinder to themselves as they process what’s happening.”
When a marriage breaks up, it can cause one or both partners to become self-conscious of what others will think and often leaving them to feel alone.
“When I start to feel isolated and alone, I try to notice those feelings, to let them happen. If I need to cry, I cry. I do my best not to judge myself for these feelings. And when I find moments to laugh hard, I try to appreciate every second. I’ve come to accept that the low moments are just as important as the high moments. This is one of the most important gifts I can give to my children.”
Try these coping strategies for parenting mindfully through this life transition.
Take Time to Care for Yourself
If you’re not looking after yourself, there’s no way that you can take care of your kids. Practicing little self-care rituals can really help to let go of self-destructive feelings of failure and those of self-blame, says Verde. “If you can find it within yourself to meditate, you can create a moment for yourself, where you’re not so caught up in it all–where you’re just sitting with whatever it is. You may not feel like eating, but listen to your body. When it asks for nourishment, get a smoothie, or something comforting to you. Get a massage, go outside, take a walk, look at the sky, and nature around you. It helps to connect to something more beautiful and powerful than what’s going on in your head. Treat yourself kindly, regardless of what you’re feeling. Reach out to good friends and lean on them.”
Acknowledge Your Emotions without Indulging in Them
It’s okay for kids to see you feel,” says Verde. “You’re allowed to be sad in front of them. They pick up on your energy anyway, as communication is so non-verbal. What they create in their mind can be so much worse than what reality is most of the time. But, if you name what you’re feeling in a calm, tangible, and connected way, it allows your kids to express their feelings and not shut down. You need not share every detail and place blame, but show them it’s okay to talk and have emotions.
Listen to Your Kids without Fear
When you do share “the news” of your divorce with your children, think about what you’re going to say ahead of time. If you can talk with them together to present a united front, that’s great, says Verde. “Emphasize that it’s not anyone’s fault, says Verde. “Remove your own projections about how you want them to respond and let them react. This way, you’ll be able to hear what they’re thinking and respond to serve them. Their responses may not be what you expect, and without your own fears and pre-conceived notions in the way.”
Protect Your Children from Damaging Negativity
Expressing negative thoughts and opinions about your ex can be very damaging for kids, says Verde. If you’re feeling such hostility, “Find a moment to pause and another way to release such feelings. A friend or counselor might come in handy. Keep negative energy away from your kids, as they have to navigate their own relationship with their other parent.”
Allow Your Children to Grieve
When the family unit is broken, it’s normal for kids to have a sense of loss. Suddenly, one parent may not live in the house anymore. Perhaps your home needed to be sold? “It’s important to maintain consistency as much as possible–by going to the same school if possible, or continuing daily rituals. Creating new traditions is also helpful. If you used to put up the Christmas tree together, this year, let your kids put on the lights. Assigning them more tasks gives them more ownership and control over their situation.”
Help Your Kids Find Support
Kids often feel like there is a stigma attached to divorce. Talk to them about the many kinds of families there are. Some kids are adopted, some have same-sex parents, some kids’ parents are together, and others aren’t. Everyone is different and everyone has challenges. Knowing this can be very helpful. Ask them if they would like you to share with their teachers. This can make them feel like they have support, even when they aren’t at home.
Find Moments of Gratitude
“Keeping a gratitude journal and committing to writing in it upon waking, and before bed, can help you to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Verde. “The more you do it, you’ll find that there’s so much to be thankful for. Start with something small, like the first morning breath, and grow your list. Your kids can do it with you, or have their own. Leave yourself or your kids Post-It notes with affirmations to lift you up when you’re all feeling down. Life shifts happen, as do low-points, but there’s always a new chapter. Soon you’ll be grateful for the lessons you’ve all learned along the way.
Appreciate Your Capacity to Love
New loves can happen. Get on board with your ex, so that neither of you speak negatively about the people you date. Initially your kids might feel uncomfortable sharing their fears, and feelings on loyalty and replacement, so be aware and understanding. When you’re ready to find a new partner, it’s a good thing. It shows you have the capacity to love and want to try again. It’s a wonderful thing to model for them. You might find out that your kids want that for you, too. That love is still possible is a wonderful lesson. For all of you!