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