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ARCHIVED - Because Life Goes On...Helping Children and Youth Live With Separation and Divorce - Section 1

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Parenting Through Separation and Divorce

Divorce can be such a painful experience that many parents find it difficult to respond to the needs of their children just when they need extra emotional support and attention. To help your children cope with divorce, you need to learn to manage your own feelings and new circumstances. This section focuses on some of the challenges that you may face as you go through the process of separation and divorce, and how you can build a support network to help yourself manage better. Like many other parents in similar circumstances, you can move on and help your children move on too.

Knowing What to Expect

Divorce is not a single event, but a process that unfolds over time. It involves a series of family changes and reorganizations that may take several years. The events and emotions that accompany these changes cannot be dealt with overnight. It takes time for everyone in the family to adapt.

Separation and divorce can be an emotional roller coaster. You may experience feelings of anger, isolation, anxiety, euphoria, depression, guilt, loss of control, fear, incompetence and insecurity. You may doubt your ability to deal with the needs of your children because you also face pressing needs of your own. Sometimes parents may feel that they have failed their children, and may doubt their own worth. These emotions and difficulties are a natural part of getting through separation and divorce.

New Challenges

There is no doubt that the process of separation and divorce is one of the most difficult experiences in an adult's life - socially, emotionally and financially. Most parents are ill-prepared for all of the challenges and adjustments they may face, including:

  • Changing homes, neighbourhoods and schools, which may lead to a sense of instability and the loss of relationships and support systems.
  • Economic changes - two households cost more to maintain than one. Some parents may face a sudden financial crisis. (See resources for information on how to get financial assistance.)
  • Difficulty in concentrating on your job. Or you may immerse yourself in work, especially if you are no longer living with your children.
  • If you are not living with your children, you may feel as if you've been cut off from their lives.
  • You may have increased demands and responsibilities if you have the major role in caring for the children. It may seem that you don't have enough hours in the day to spend time with your children, and still find any time for yourself.

It's not surprising that with all the pressures of divorce, parents are under even greater stress. That's why it's so important for you to carve out some time to take care of your own needs. Try to schedule time for activities that help you get in touch with yourself, whether through a hobby, physical activity or simply relaxing quietly. Allowing yourself occasions to break away from the momentum of "doing" and simply "be", even for a few minutes, will help you regain your balance. It will give you a better sense of perspective and will help you stay on top of the day-to-day stress of work, children, and the separation or divorce.

Here are a few suggestions for activities to treat yourself to:

  • take a walk
  • photograph flowers
  • enjoy a long soaky bath
  • sing in a choir
  • ...

Getting Help and Building a Support Network

All of us need "emotional" support as well as "practical" support. Family and friends, support groups, professionals, as well as other support services in your community, can all help you adjust to the changes in your life. It is important to reach out for advice, encouragement and understanding to help reduce tension and the feelings of isolation and depression that often go along with separation and divorce.

Also, by reaching out to other adults, you are teaching your children a very valuable lesson in life: we all need help from time to time, and learning from - and leaning on - others is an important part of living and growing.

Personal and Family Support

Most parents rely on outside support at one time or another.

  • Family and Friends - Separated and divorced parents, especially those who live with their children, are often so busy with their child's day-to-day needs that they may neglect relationships with close family members and friends. Yet these people are the best allies you may have. They listen, give you a chance to enjoy the company of other adults, and help you get organized. They can become role models or sympathetic adults for your children. Family and friends can offer something crucial - compassion and understanding. Time alone with family and friends can help you get used to a new lifestyle.
  • Health Care Professionals - Your family doctor, your children's paediatrician, or the staff at a community health centre are an important resource when you or your children are experiencing difficulties. They also can recommend other professionals or services available in the community.
  • Support Groups - Many community centres and organizations offer support groups where people in the process of separation or divorce can talk about their feelings and experiences. Since parents often face similar problems, others in this situation can be a source of great comfort and inspiration.
  • Professional Counsellors - If depression, anger or loneliness interfere with your work, home tasks or parenting, professional counselling from social workers, counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists may help.
    If you are still considering ways to stay together, talking to an experienced marriage counsellor could be beneficial. A marriage counsellor can help you take steps to resolve conflicts, remedy past grievances and improve your relationship.
  • Family Mediators - Family mediators can help parents resolve their disputes and develop a coparenting arrangement out of court. For more information on family mediation, see pages 27-28 and 66-67.
  • Community Resources - There may be other resources in your community to help with your family's physical, emotional and social needs.
  • Family Service Agencies provide a range of services, including family life counselling, educational programs, family violence prevention and intervention, and credit counselling and referrals.
  • Other Organizations and Services, such as family- and youth-serving organizations, family resource programs, local religious congregations and community information and referral services can provide support, or help you find the help you need.
  • Local Libraries have books, magazines, audio-visuals and Internet access on a range of helpful topics. Ask the librarian for assistance.
  • See Resources to locate these and other community resources.

Legal Support

The decisions that parents make during the process of separation and divorce are important and have long-term consequences. Family law is complicated, and everyone benefits from sound legal advice in this situation. There are a lot of family lawyers in Canada who can inform you of your rights and responsibilities. How much you must rely on your lawyer depends on your individual situation and on how you decide to approach it. See pages 67 to 69 for information on how to find a lawyer, apply for legal aid and obtain pamphlets about family law, the Federal Child Support Guidelines and other related issues.

Getting Immediate Help

If you are feeling "out of control," extremely depressed, or involved in child or spousal abuse, don't delay getting help. Some people or services to contact include:

  • distress (help) lines (refer to the front page of your telephone book)
  • hospital emergency departments
  • shelters for abused women (phone numbers are often listed in the front pages of the telephone book)
  • 911, police, fire or ambulance (refer to the front page of the phone book).

Helping Yourself Helps Your Children

Reaching out for support for your personal needs during separation and divorce will make you better able to respond to the needs of your children. Knowing more about how children, at each stage and age of development, experience separation and divorce will help too. The next section describes some of the feelings children and youth commonly experience as their parents divorce, and how you can help them adapt to the changes involved and move forward in their growth and development.

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