Change. It can be liberating. It can also be stressful…for you and for your child. The change you experienced when you and your ex parted ways may have either depressed you or set you free, depending on who asked whom for the divorce or separation. It may even have been liberating for your child…up to a point. If it meant the end of infighting, hassles, and other nastiness that he got caught in the middle of, or merely had to witness, it may have meant a great relief for him. But it surely also meant an unwelcome change as well.
Accustomed to living in a two-parent household, she now finds herself living with just one parent. Accustomed to having her other parent (most likely you’re Mom, but in this day and age you might be Dad) living with her, suddenly she’s living with just you and not Dad/Mom. Change is rough.
Change is rough on all of us. Even on you, as much as you might welcome it. Change is medically proven one of the greater stressors there is, and even for you but especially for your child, when the other parent moves out, that ol’ demon change moves in and sets up shop in your household.
What can you do about it?
One: Make the most of the positive side of change. If change has liberated you from frequent infighting, consciously focus on the relief you feel, whenever the worrisome aspects of this change begin to rear their ugly heads.
Two: Recognize change for the stressor that it is, so that if you or your child starts exhibiting signs of stress, particularly if your child starts acting out or becomes suddenly withdrawn, unusually boisterous or feisty, or uncooperative, or reverts to babyish behavior, you understand where she is coming from. That doesn’t mean that you have to accept unacceptable behavors. That doesn’t mean that you should let your child walk all over you because “she’s having a rough time.” But it does mean understanding what’s bothering her. Then you can sit her down and say, “Look, I know it’s unsettling to undergo change. I know it’s tough not having Dad around anymore.” (And, if applicable, “And I know it’s difficult to cope with moving to a new home / not having me at home when you get home from school anymore / not going out for Sunday morning breakfasts anymore / [whatever else has changed].”) “I understand that change is tough. You can complain about it, cry, talk to me about it…I’ll even take you to talk to a professional therapist if you want to. But this sort of behavior is not acceptable.”
Understand your own feelings and reactions, too, and don’t be too tough on yourself. Maybe you can’t understand why you’re so weepy when you were the one who wanted the divorce. Maybe you don’t understand why you feel scared now that the man who bullied you or browbeat you is finally out of the house. Understand that change is difficult to adjust to…even good change. Change—of any sort, bad or good—is, for many people, scary. There is a certain comfort to what’s familiar, even if what’s familiar is not good. When the pattern you’re accustomed to is suddenly disrupted, it’s upsetting and unsettling. Even when it’s also a relief.
This is true in an unwanted divorce, too, but in that case, your feelings are more comprehensible to you. The person you loved and expected to spend the rest of your life with has announced that he (or she) is leaving your relationship and your home. Perhaps, too, your comfortable living circumstances will now have to change. You may need to move to less expensive living quarters, or get a job, where before you were a SAHM, or get a full-time job, where before you worked part-time, perhaps put a young child into daycare or hire a sitter to stay with the kids from after school till you get home from your new job. These are not just changes but potentially unsettling changes.
But you may be baffled by your own reactions if you are thrown for a loop by the divorce even though you were the one who wanted it. They key word is “change.” And if you understand that, you’re halfway home to coping with it.
There is no magic formula for de-stressing from change. But understanding why you are feeling the way you do gets you halfway home to coping better and ultimately to fully adjusting, so you can cope with change more easily.
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Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 100 books, many of them for parents or kids, many of which help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens, The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family, all in print, and such e-books as Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way. Learn more about them at Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiamacgregor.com.
Cynthia is available for copywriting, ghostwriting, and editing. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.