Your Child Experiences Grief and Loss When You Divorce
You can be sensitive to the fact that when you decide to divorce, your child may also experience the same grief that you feel as a parent: that of grief. You are losing your dream of a married, loving commitment. They are losing the presence of a parent that they have grown accustomed to. You can help cushion their sense of loss.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grieving in her book "On Death and Dying." When someone loses a loved one to death, they process through these five steps but I think that those same five steps apply to divorce as well as to dying. And it's wise to help your child accomplish this processing with the wisdom of your guidance.
When an adult loses someone due to a death, they have the lifetime of experience behind them to help them cope with the loss of their dear one. And we all know adults who have suffered a long time trying to come to terms with this very painful kind of a loss. But when a parent is ripped out of the life of a little child who does not have much experience that would prepare him or her for such a loss, they have no tools to help them to process through the emotions surging inside them.
If you are the parent of such a child, I'm going to list Dr. Kubler- Ross's Five Stages so that you can watch for them and help to coach your child through them toward acceptance and the regaining of some new semblance of order in his life. Children don't always adapt to change readily but you can help them.
When a child experiences denial, she may express it in some form of withdrawal or isolation. She won't want to play. She might refuse to speak to you. Be patient and continue to talk to her. This stage might last for just a little while, or it might take a bit longer. She is processing her denial that this horrid divorce can have happened to her.
It won't take you much at all to recognize when she hits this second stage. She's somewhat accepted that her other parent won't be living there any more, and she's gone from denying that it happened at all, to figuring out why this happened to her, of all people. She could be mad at the parent she thinks she should blame and more so if you helped her to understand that it was not her fault.
If she begins to tell you that she'll be a better girl; she'll keep her room tidy; she'll do her chores, you'll know that Stage Three has arrived - bargaining. She won't use this one very long, so enjoy having the rooms cleaner for as long as it lasts. And listen to what she's praying for at night - she might be bargaining with God to bring mommy or daddy back into her life.
In the fourth stage, depression, she may get sulky or moody. It's a reflection of what is happening inside her: she has given up caring what happens any more. In fact, she is more than likely numb inside as opposed to what it looks like on the outside.
Eventually, the anger, sadness, and yes even mourning is beginning to melt away and your child has wrapped him or herself around their loss. She is at the stage called acceptance and has become stronger because of her processing, so she is ready for what comes at her next.
If you continue to provide exposure to your children's friends, a healthy diet, lots of exercise and the appropriate amount of rest, along with the most important thing - both your ears and a loving heart - then they won't be scarred by this process but will be stronger for it.
Don't encourage your child to look on the bright side. This will keep the grief inside. As their parent, help them to process their grief. Ask them how it feels when Daddy isn't here to tuck them in at night? What does it feel like when Daddy is not sitting at his regular place at the table?
Keep asking questions about how they feel about your divorce and allow those words to come out without any judgment from you. Expressing themselves gets the emotions outside of themselves where they might just lay there and do damage when they aren't expressed.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In his book "Getting Over It: Wisdom for Divorced Parents," Len Stauffenger shares his simple wisdom gleaned from his divorce with his daughters and with you. Len is a Success Coach and an Attorney. You can purchase Len's book and it's accompanying workbook at http://www.wisdomfordivorcedparents.com