After your divorce, you can be feeling unsettled one day and a bit more yourself the next. Your family landscape looks completely different. You are still finding your ground again, emotionally, financially and mentally. On top of it all, you’re not sure how to bridge the growing gap this separation has placed between you and your children.
The truth is children are not yet able to hold on to two attachments they experience as incompatible. This can look like the child accepts one parent and disconnects from the other. A lot of this has to do with the child’s attachment brain no longer experiencing the parents as physically united.
During your separation, the attachment brain of your child may be connected to the other parent. Of course, this is painful and it’s essential to understand the inner conflict of the child and try to not feel personally hurt (or triumphantly confirmed, if you ended up as the “good” parent).
Whenever you can share good stories that are about good common experiences this supports your child. Giving your children the message:
“Our family is different now and this is sad for you. And there were many beautiful things in our history as a family, and your Dad/your Mom loves you and is lovable.”
Remember the importance of the message:
“Dad and Mom will always agree about how much we love you.”
Ask your friends and relatives to keep this message strong instead of rumbling about your ex. Be aware that little ears easily overhear and then make their own conclusions about what they’ve heard you say.
You are more mature, hold on to your kids despite their temporary rejection.
You may feel your child has taken your ex-partner’s side, and this will require you all your love to handle this situation. It can be helpful to remind yourself that your child’s hostile behavior is not a conscious decision, but an emergency measure of the young brain to handle an emotional overload that feels too much to bear.
Acknowledge how challenging it might be for your child to be in two different homes as they settle into this new dynamic. Bedtime can be a great time to bring in a sense of understanding.
“Oh, you are missing Mom/Dad right now, aren’t you? Tell me, which book is he/she reading to you right now? Oh, this is a wonderful story!”
When your child starts telling happily about the great time they are having with the other parent, listen and encourage the love they are expressing.
Let them FEEL what’s real for them
Your children will find their own balance and settle into the new normal if they feel they can cry in your arms instead of bravely swallowing their tears down and pretending to be happy to avoid sad or angry reactions from Mom or Dad.
In the day-to-day, children do not directly express their sadness about the separation, but about small frustrations of everyday life. Use every opportunity to comfort and encourage the signs of grief in the child, even if the reason seems unrelated to you.
There are circumstances when your child does not want to see you or hangs up when you phone or does not answer your text messages and emails. Many parents feel rejected and stop reaching out and trying to restore their connection.
Yet the response that will repair this relationship over time is to hold the bigger picture and understand what this is really about – your child feeling overwhelmed and caught in the tension of the separation.
Keep reaching out without expectation, stay friendly, send thoughtful gestures, and signal dependability. Your child is much more in need of your responsible caretaking than might be obvious right now.
It’s really important not to share your emotions with your child, don’t make them responsible for your feelings. Saying things like “I will be very sad if you do not want to come.” will have them move away from the feelings of guilt or responsibility statements like that impose.
Focus your time together on what your child really enjoys doing. Healthy attachment is best supported by sharing time together. If possible, spend time with each of your children alone to deepen the connection individually.
But my ex isn’t doing any of this …
This might be what points to some of the reasons you broke up. Yet, despite the fact of how “impossible” your ex is behaving: they are your child’s other parent, and your child loves their parent. Our children do best when they feel free to love both of their parents.
You can hang a photograph of the other parent in your child’s room, and talk as friendly as possible about the other parent. If you can do this for your child, there is at least one parent who is supporting love to flow.
Divorce is hard. Co-parenting when you are trying to work together from a place of pain can be exhausting. AND you want what is best for your children.
Which one of the suggestions in this article would you like to implement to support your child as they heal from their family changing ?