My husband and I have separated. Our kids are taking it hard. Is there a mind-body-spiritual approach to help them through? Thanks, Separated Mom, Mankato
As my best friend turned 14, her parents divorced. It was ugly. There was a new husband, a new baby and a new home in quick succession and “truths” were told that left my friend reeling. Overnight her face turned stony, her dress grew edgy, roll ups drooped from the corners of sad lips and our friendship was consigned to the dust pile of life as she strode out with louder, tougher, angrier kids who had weathered divorce and could relate. I mourned the loss of my friend for years, but somewhere in my teenage heart I knew that my sadness was a fleeting shadow of the pain she suffered. So I watched from afar, missed her often and said nothing.
Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2012), nearly half of all first marriages fail, and 60 percent of second marriages and 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce. Two thirds of first marriages involve children — approximately 1.5 million children a year — and close to half of those children will see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage.
Clearly, divorce is common — and it’s difficult. It affects every area of life: from finances (living expenses typically double while combined income likely remains the same), to home or home routines (a key pair of hands are no longer around to help), to relationships that change (“We don’t see grandma anymore”), to the need to reshape hopes and dreams for the future. And that’s without the emotional fallout of separating from the person you once loved. As for kids, divorce is simply life-changing.
Dunham Counseling notes, “Children are especially vulnerable to the stress from divorce. They have no say in whether a divorce happens, sometimes blame themselves for it and have few safe places to discuss these adult issues.” Renowned divorce researcher Dr. Judith S. Wallerstein agrees. “After divorce,” she says, “childhood is different. Adolescence is different. Adulthood — with the decision to marry or not and have children or not — is different. Whether the outcome is good or bad, the whole trajectory of an individual’s life is profoundly altered by the divorce experience.”
That’s why, when we walk through the door called divorce, we must prioritize our spirited kids first, and ensure their journey is a healing one. So, how do we do that? With a 5-step healing plan, of course!
Help Your Kids Heal, Step 1: The Power of Love
Kids often feel that they are being divorced. Circumvent abandonment fears with love.
The power of love to heal is profound and has even been proven by science. Two psychologists, Drs. Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, found that “connecting with others in loving, meaningful ways ensures better mental and physical health, shields us from the negative effects of stress and helps to promote positive feelings.”
So hug your spirited kids, affirm them, tell them you love them and let them know that the divorce is about you and your ex, and not about them. Daily loving will help negate your kids’ fears and will let them know that even though family life might look different on the outside, on the inside, the love remains the same.
Help Your Kids Heal, Step 2: Soothe her Soul with a Support Group
Not every parent can provide the emotional nurturing their spirited kid needs. So create a community of support for your child outside of the family unit.
Utilize counseling services, sign your child into a Children of Divorce support group, encourage your spirited kid to join a church group, invite your child’s teachers and school counselors to provide your child with a listening ear. Go online and ask for prayers from a prayer line and healing from a healing group (see Facebook’s Healers Sanctum). Pray together.
The more support a child receives emotionally and spiritually, the more balm for her soul. As D’Arcy Lyness, Ph.D., says, “With time and good support, most kids can make a healthy adjustment to divorce.”
Help Your Kids Heal, Step 3: The Healing Power of Forgiveness
Offer a sincere “sorry” to your child. It’s good medicine for you and your kid.
Children of divorce can feel angry, depressed or anxious as a result of parental divorce, which is why apologizing is a must. A heartfelt apology (“I’m sorry our divorce has been so very hard on you!”) is healing to hear and allows your child to share how they feel, opening up authentic communication between you both.
An apology is also a vehicle through which you can elicit your child’s forgiveness. If your child can forgive, then she will be better able to adjust to divorce and move on with her life.
As Dr. Fred Lusckin, author of the bestseller Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness and Stress Free for Good, notes: “People who forgive become less angry, more optimistic, compassionate and self-confident. They also carry less stress.”
Help Your Kids Heal Step 4: Encourage Creative Expression
Help your spirited kid navigate her feelings — with the arts.
It’s not always easy for kids to articulate how they feel, but it’s necessary. Painting and drawing is a vehicle through which children can safely give voice to what’s going on inside of them. Since the creative, right-side of the brain is also the side of the intuitive center, art can help unleash the intuitive voice, which offers internal wisdom and illumination that can help your child rebalance, reorient and renew.
Psychologist Kendra Cherry agrees: “The creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.” So gift your child with a journal, paint in tandem or take a music class together and notice how art can inspire healing in the both of you.
Heal Your Kids Heal Step 5: Set Intentions
Children can feel disempowered by divorce. So empower them post-divorce to build the life they want.
Finally, if divorce has made your family unit smaller in size, make it bigger in spirit with the Power of Intention. Sharon Salzberg describes intentions as, “Our overall everyday vision, what we long for, what we believe is possible for us.”
Encourage your kids to discuss how they want the future of the family to look. Brainstorm ideas and then create a vision board (collage magazine pictures of your vision) that you hang prominently and affirm daily. As your spirited kids begin to see their vision manifest, they will feel energized, enthused and optimistic for a new family future.
Elena agrees, “My daughter and I wanted our life together to be harmonious. So we called our new home, ‘The Harmony House.’ That’s where we live and that’s what we’re creating — together!”
Divorce is about endings, and it’s also about beginnings. Offering our spirited kids hope for the future and healing from what has passed is essential if we want to minimize the scars and help divorce become, if not a positive experience, one they can cope with and grow through. Ultimately, we just want our kids to be happy; and with love, support and understanding, they will be.