Divorce and kids don’t gel really well! I have been meaning to write this post for the longest time. It is such a personal thing to write about. No-one can really prepare you for what your divorce does to your kids.
There are loads of resources available online to help you navigate the divorce and kids situation. All of them give you insight into what your kids may experience. I had experienced the effects of divorce first hand as a child. Having been through it myself made choosing to get divorced all the harder. I was dead set against it and if I could fix my marriage by myself, I would have.
I hate what my divorce has done to my boys!
Firstly, I really haven’t blogged about what I did to fight for my marriage. Well, I did, but I posted them mainly as private posts. Perhaps it is time to reveal some of the hardship and struggles I had while fighting for my marriage? But I’d really like to make it clear, that if you are reading this post and you are still in two minds about getting a divorce. Make sure you have done absolutely everything in your power, to make your marriage work! The last thing you want to do, is to look back and wonder if you could have done more? Even more so, could you have spared your kids the heartache of going through something as horrible as a divorce?
The reason I am saying all of this is because you will look back! You will be at your lowest and you will wonder whether if your marriage was really as bad, as you thought it was. You will doubt your decisions to get a divorce and you will consider trying one last time.
I guarantee it!
It is during those times, that you will need to look back and recap all the things you did, to try and make it work!
If you have tried everything! And I mean, absolutely everything! Introspection, changed you to be more accommodating, prayer, threats, ultimatums! If you’ve tried to be the understanding and patient. If you have tried your hand at tough love and marriage counselling and there is still no change in your marriage. THEN THIS POST IS FOR YOU.
Divorce and Kids
I have two boys, their ages at the time we were separated, were 10 (Logan) and 4 (Oliver.) The conversations I had with the boys were very different. Their reactions, based on age and personality, were very different. Some of my observations are general observations, applicable to both boys, other observations were applicable by age and personality. Here are some of my observations and experiences.
Accommodate the emotion
Emotions are all over the place, as it naturally would be. Even when you are the person, making the decision to leave, your emotions are still all over the place. If your spouse leaves you, I can only imagine it to be much, much harder. Fact is, when your emotions are all over, your kids naturally follow suit.
For the first 6 months, post-separation, our home routine was slightly different, to accommodate the emotions. Yes, there were rules, discipline and consequences. But more than that, we had pajama parties where we binged watched series and ate popcorn. There was grace in terms of the rules. There was crying and there was being angry!
Quality One on One Time
Logan and I used to do Capoeira twice a week. Not only did it give us the opportunity to physically get rid of some of our frustrations, it also gave us quality time to talk. Once a week, while we went to Capoeira, my ex would come over and spend some time with Oliver. Quality one on one time was more important than ever!
Be Honest with your Kids
Nothing makes me angrier than when adults lie to kids. In this instance it’s even more important – you kids know you are not okay. They know you so much better than you realise!
Besides, life isn’t always rosy and might as well use the opportunity to teach your kids something about life! The long and short, stop hiding your sadness and tears! The ugly cry is a bit different, try and hide the ugly cry as far as possible.
Top Tip: Stop hiding and pretending. Tell your kids you are sad, but you are going to be okay and so are they.
Grow the biggest support structure you possibly can!
As I mentioned earlier, there is nothing that prepares you for the impact a divorce will have on your life. People who see a divorce as “the easy way out” really have no idea what they are getting themselves in. Divorce is hard!
Family + Friends
Family and friends become more important than ever. I had my mom and bestie on speed dial and often had to ask for help, both physically and emotionally. Often times, I didn’t even need to ask for help, somehow they knew exactly what I needed when I needed it and more importantly, they considered my kids at all times.
The very first thing I did, when I considered a divorce was to join a group at church for people going through a divorce/ separation. The group itself wasn’t perfect and unfortunately, in some instances, it was seen as a singles club, but that is beside the point. I connected with a couple of ladies who walked with me. They preempted and guided me through emotional changes with my kids. My kids befriended their kids and they had common ground. More than common ground, these kids were proof to my boys, that life goes on and life can still be beautiful and adventurous!
Get the teachers on board, regardless of whether you feel comfortable with it or not. Teachers spend an enormous amount of time with our kids! Knowing that someone else – an outsider for all intensive purposes – has your back and keeps an eye on your kid, makes all the difference.
Logan, age 10
I know they say, parents shouldn’t fight in front of their children. It never worked in my previous marriage, even when we tried. For that reason, Logan saw the divorce coming a mile ahead. He used to ask me if we were going to get a divorce and while it wasn’t the case, at the time, it did bring an openness to our relationship, that I treasure. I made a commitment, to always be honest with Logan. It was during this time that I adopted the phrase: “My only aim is to do what is best for you, me and Oliver.“
To be fair I was completely open and honest with both boys, but a four-year-old’s the level of understanding is very different when compared with a ten-year-old.
Anger and Acting Out
Logan didn’t have the initial shock, but he was very angry! Logan got angry with the world and it was evident by the way he acted out at school and at home. The rejection was really hard on him. I’ve mentioned before that he had a double dose of rejection – the normal divorce rejection, along with full forced rejection when the guy that was his “dad” for most of his life, no longer wanted to assume the responsibility.
- He has battled with his own identity because of it, something we picked up in therapy.
- It has also made it really hard for him to trust people.
Assuming a Fatherly Role
Logan also assumed a “fatherly” role at home. His aim was to protect me and to step into the manly role at home. Naturally, this kind of behaviour isn’t healthy, even if it is normal for a short period. I’ve had and still have to have conversations with him, to let him know, that I am okay. And that he is allowed to be a kid.
Grace, prayers and time.
Oliver, age 4
For the longest time, Oliver didn’t understand the implications of the divorce. He understood that his dad and I were no longer in the same house. He also knows we both love him and that the divorce wasn’t his fault.
On the surface, Oliver seemed to cope quite well. For the longest time, he was the same well-adjusted little boy, he has always been. Earlier this year, Oliver’s teacher, who as fate would have it, has been through a divorce herself, contacted me. She was worried about Oliver because he wasn’t showing any emotion at school. No anger, frustration, sadness – he was in a blank, empty state.
Her explanation of his behaviour was, that he had to pretend to be okay with mom and pretend to be okay with dad. He was an emotionally exhausted little boy with no way to express himself. To make matters worse, he was probably wasn’t sure how to express his true emotions and wondered if he was allowed to.
Oliver’s teacher’s advice was true gold.
She recommended that I give expression to my emotion, name the emotion and give an explanation as to why I am feeling the way I feel. For example, I am so angry right now because the taxi drove in front of me.
- The way I expressed the emotion allowed Oliver to see, that it is okay to express emotions, even undesirable emotions. Like anger.
- Subconsciously, he made a connection between, what he perceived me to feel and what he was feeling. (Ah… so that is what anger looks and feels like.)
- The fact that I got angry, meant I gave him permission to be angry.
- By expressing what I was feeling and why I was feeling it, reiterated the fact that it is normal to feel certain emotions.
- And hopefully, the fact that I gave him my reason, would allow him to feel more comfortable to share his reasons for feeling a certain emotion.
Slowly Oliver started showing his emotions
Even though all my observations are listed clearly, like a manual. None of it has been easy or successful the first time around. Everything has been trial and error! Some days, it seems like you are seeing light at the end of the tunnel and the next moment, you feel yourself drowning in a pit again.
Progress takes time. Healing and acceptance take time. Be patient with yourself and with your child!
Oliver slowly started expressing himself again. It has been evident in his behaviour when I am not around, his school marks and generally with the sport he does.
From one extreme to another
Like every little boy, Oliver adores his dad. His dad cannot do anything wrong. I respect the sentiment and I will do everything I can to keep it like that, even to my own detriment!
Oliver’s dad is his hero. To a certain extent, I feel like Oliver has assumed a similar role with his dad when compared with the role Logan assumed with me. Oliver decided it was his sole mission in life to protect his dad.
With the fierce protective instinct, Oliver started resenting me. He blames me for the divorce. Naturally, I don’t know whether his dad, my ex, has anything to do with it and it won’t really make any difference. Being on the receiving end of Oliver’s hate has been one of the hardest things about this divorce.
But I have to admit, that progress is progress and being resented is for me a sign that he is processing things.
Again, grace, prayers and time.
One little sentence to say to your kids while going through a divorce
I had one little sentence I kept repeating while I was going through my divorce. It reads as follows: “My only aim is to do what is best, for you, me and your brother.”