1. Helping your kids to manage stress will help reduce your own.
If becoming a single parent is nothing else, it is a major life transition, causing high stress and requiring major adaptation to difficult circumstances. To manage your stress and help the kids manage theirs, keep the following tips in mind. These tips are based on safety concerns being met. If a safety issue exists with one parent, the other parent is advised to seek legal and mental health counsel to determine the best way to minimize the single family’s stress.
~Make sure the kids are told about the separation and divorce together and with both parents present if possible. Avoid having one child know before the others, thus having to keep a secret.
~Even if one parent has left the home, talk with the children together about what the changes will be and how their lives will be affected. Children will have many questions re when they will be with you, how and when they will see friends and extended families, and what their new life will be like. Information helps to reduce stress for everyone. When parents do not have answers, let the children know that the parents will work things out and will tell the children the plans when they are formed.
~Refrain from bad mouthing the other parent in front of the children. This will hurt the kids and cause undo stress for everyone.
~Reassure the children that both parents will continue to love them and be involved in their lives.
~The kids may have many questions beginning with, “Why?” Do not discuss money, debts legal issues, sex or other adult issues with your children. Reassure the kids that Mom and Dad will work out the adult business.
The children did not “cause this” and they cannot “fix it.”
~Whatever the new dynamics are, keep as much stability and predictability in the children’s lives, and your own, as you can. The less children are burdened with adult information, the less stress will be created. When the children are feeling less stress, they are less likely to act out inappropriate behaviors.
Managing your stress will help your children to lower theirs.
People deal with stress in a variety of ways, and each of us has a typical coping style. What is yours? Do you vent when you are stressed? Do you seek to be alone, or do you talk things over with a friend? Do you shut down, or do you eat, drink and “be merry,” a bit too much? Do you lose your appetite? How you cope with stress will affect your kids. For instance, the stressed-out parent who stows away in her room will be less available to her children, possibly causing them to seek attention in negative ways. If you think your coping tools could use a tweak, here are some tips that might help.
~Do some self -esteem building. Sense of self can take a hit when you are separated and/or divorcing. Mine did. I lost a sense of who I was. Your belief system comes into play here. No other person can make you okay. But, after the loss of a partner, it is common to question one’s self worth, particularly if you were in an abusive relationship. The truth is this. You do not need a partner to be a whole person. You are worthy by virtue of just being.
~Take some time to improve and develop your coping toolkit.
When the kids see their parent managing stress, their stress levels go down. This is “Bette’s Law:” A child’s stress will go up or down in direct relation to the parent’s effective coping! Spending a little time examining your stress reaction can make a difference. Your strategies will be noticed by your children, and they will use you as a model. The “Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” motto is a myth. The kids will “Do as you Do!!”
3. Keep lines of communication open with the children, and with your ex.
This may be easier said than done, but doing it is very important to creating a good life. Open communication does not mean that you share your personal business or innermost feelings with your ex or with your kids. What it means is that you actually do the business of raising the children with your ex, whenever possible.
If safety is not a concern, than the task is to rise above the hurts, resentments, and frustrations to talk to your ex about the kids and what is best for them. Ironically, this might involve communication in divorce that was tough in marriage. However, doing it will reduce conflict and tension, which goes a long way to improving life for you and the kids.
Open communication with the kids means you allow them to talk about what they did at the other parent’s house even if it is hard to hear. You offer them opportunities to talk about their experiences and feelings without putting down the other parent. Open communication excludes talking to the kids about your anger at the ex. Doing this will detract from the good life you deserve to create.
4. Keep your outlook balanced.
You deserve and you can make a good life. A motto I found helpful (and still do) was “This too shall pass.” These words affirm balance because every moment morphs into the next regardless of whether it is a positive or a negative moment. Trust that problems can be dealt with and will fade. If you practice balanced thinking, you can release negative thoughts without too many ill effects. Here are a few tips for keeping your outlook balanced.
~Avoid resentment thinking. Resentment is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die.
~Avoid victim thinking. Seeing yourself as a victim will keep you hostage to anger and resentment. You may be at risk to react to your ex’s behavior or perceived behavior in ways that engender hostility and conflict. The freer life is from tension, resentment and rage, the greater the degree of serenity and the greater the ability to focus on what is important for making life sweet.
~When problems arise, use both critical and intuitive mind. Learn how to access inner wisdom for thinking that provides clearer solutions to life’s problems.
5. Rally supports.
Support is essential for every parent, especially single parents. Seek groups, friends, and family members who can give you a hand, lend you an ear, or offer an hour to sit with the kids. Affirm for yourself that it is okay to ask, and learn how to do it with your head up. Remaking a good life means having people in it that you can rely on in a variety of circumstances. This might take some time and some effort, but it will go a long way to making life better.
6. Have fun with the kids.
This key is often overlooked because single parents are typically busy, overworked and extremely tired. But having some fun is essential emotionally, physically, and research is now showing even neurologically! It is important for a single parent and the children to have positive time together to cement a sense of family and connection. If you can’t take a vacation, take a few hours off on the weekend to play. This does not have to mean “pay!” Take a walk. In the city go to a public garden. In the country take a walk in the woods.
Pack a ball, a frisbee, a picnic. Go to public concerts, outdoor performances, or in the winter sit together and tell stories. In the age of high tech and almost constant texting, this may be a challenge. However, the sense of well being created by having fun together can reduce everyone’s stress, lessen the chances of kids’ negative acting out to gain attention, and energize the feeling of having a good life that is so critically necessary to regain after separation and divorce.