By Mackenzie Howard
In July 2021, I was given the opportunity to present during Triangle Divorce Lawyer’s Second Saturday Workshop on family and emotional issues in divorce. This is a big topic that lends itself to many different avenues for discussion. Emotions can run high in divorce, and this can be exacerbated when children are involved. Based on information provided by Triangle Divorce Lawyers, the subject has been broken down into the following categories:
It is probably fair to assume that when most people get married, they are not simultaneously planning their separation or divorce. Divorce often takes people by surprise and can feel like it comes from out of nowhere. Divorce can be the death of a formerly held belief around marriage and vision of the future. It can be traumatizing and scary to think of having to “start over,” especially if there is tension between the partners.
In our society, divorce is often viewed as a failure- tied up in shame and sorrow. While this can be true for some, divorce can also mean taking care of yourself. It can mean that you are prioritizing your mental, emotional, and physical health. Leaving an unhealthy situation, although it can be difficult, can be empowering and liberating. I encourage people who are going through separation/divorce to set an end goal and keep that goal in mind. What do you want your life to look like when everything is final? What steps will you need to take to make that happen?
Going through a divorce can be an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved. Regardless of which party initiates divorce proceedings, there are strong feelings tied to every part of the process. More than likely, you have heard of the Stages of Grief (anger, denial, bargaining, shock, sadness, ambivalence, and acceptance). These Stages are present throughout the divorce process. I do not view the stages as a linear process, rather they fluctuate based on where a person is at in the moment. It is important to be gentle with yourself as you navigate the divorce process and pay attention to the things, situations, and interactions that trigger you.
One of the most necessary tools for navigating divorce is a strong support system. As mentioned earlier, divorce can be an extremely emotional process, so it’s important to have consistent people in your corner who are going to stand by your side and hold you up when times get tough. These support systems should exist not just for you, but for your child(ren), as well. Frequently, it can be difficult for kids to talk with their parents about how their divorce is affecting them out of fear of saying the wrong thing or hurting their parents’ feelings. They need people in their lives who they can lean on and confide in- examples: friends, school counselor, aunts/uncles, coaches, etc.- without feeling like they have to protect their parents’ feelings.
Another important strategy is staying organized. Making sure that your ducks are in a row is a simple, yet effective way to reduce stress while going through separation and divorce. Create a folder on Google Drive or create a physical folder that you can store in a safe place. Check in with your attorney about what kinds of documents you need and make sure you have them ready to go. Assume that your partner is also keeping documentation of your communication, as well.
With that in mind, be aware of what your communication with your partner looks like. It can be tumultuous and emotionally exhausting to talk with your partner, so rather than reacting off emotion, take the time regain control before responding. It might be a good idea to establish hard boundaries around how you will communicate- that might mean only texting/emailing or utilizing a Parenting Coordinator.
Helping Your Children
Having the talk with your children can be an overwhelming task. What do I say? How do I say it? How do I support them? There are a million questions that run through your mind as you mentally prepare to deliver the news to your child. Remember that talking to a 5-year-old is vastly different than talking to a 16-year-old, which is different than talking to 32-year-old. Your approach should be flexible depending on your child’s age and needs. There are many resources online that provide suggestions for parent having conversations with kids, and I have linked one here.
The most important thing you can do for your child is to listen to them. Some kids might have questions right away- while other kids need more time to process and will ask questions as they come to mind. Either way, take the time to hear them out and answer their questions honestly. If you do not know the answer to something- like which parent is going to move out- then just say that. Let your child know that you and your partner love them and that will never change. Consider checking out these books to see if they can be useful for you as you talk to your children: Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families by Laurene Kransy Brown and Marc Brown and Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive through Divorce by Robert Emery.
Be mindful of your tone and the words that you use regarding your partner. Children can pick up on changes in tone and body language, and it is not their responsibility to carry the weight of tension between their parents. Do not vent about your partner in front of your children, and if you cannot say anything positive about them, be neutral. Remember that children do not need to know every detail of a divorce- as my grandma would say, “That’s grown folks’ business!” Before disclosing information to your child, consider your motivation. Are you telling them because they absolutely need to know? Are you telling them because it will shine a negative light on your partner?
Taking Care of Yourself
What does it look like for you to take care of yourself? I encourage you to take some time to figure that out. Self-care, while somewhat of a buzzword these days, is so necessary. Taking time from the stress of separation to do something for YOU with people who lift you up can make all the difference. Additionally, seeking therapy for yourself (and your children) can be extremely beneficial as you’ll have an unbiased, uninvolved person with whom you can share your deepest thoughts and emotions. We at KKJ would be honored to support you and/or your children!
I am grateful to Triangle Divorce Lawyers for giving me the opportunity to connect with the community!
If you or someone you know feel that you could benefit from some extra support while navigating a divorce, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.