Yes, it really is possible to express the pain of your heartbreak and become a better parent at the same time!
I know you love your kids. But when you’re recently separated or divorced, it’s easy to get lost in dealing with grief instead of parenting in the same way you did before the heartbreak of your split.
And it’s completely understandable! You’re going through one hell of a lot.
There’s a tug-of-war between what you need (to lie in bed with the covers over your head crying) and what your kids need (a parent who’s there for them as they make sense of their new life). And the constant back and forth adds to your guilt about not being the parent you were before.
What makes these seemingly opposing needs especially challenging is that the grief you’re feeling is actually changing how your brain works. Through brain imaging, researchers at Stony Brook University found similarities between romantic rejection and cocaine craving. No wonder you’re having a hard time!
But the truth is no matter how you’re feeling, you still have to parent.
So how do you accomplish both dealing with grief and parenting? By using your heartbreak as an opportunity to teach your kids about resilience.
Allow them to see your sadness as you’re dealing with grief. Reassure them that you will feel better and that your sadness is not their fault.
Answer the questions your children have about your sadness in a way they can easily understand. But don’t share too much information because it could be confusing to your children and because kids tend to see themselves as the cause for all that happens in their world. (Yes, this includes both your heartbreak and your divorce.)
Don’t be surprised if as you express your heartbreak that they start to more consciously express theirs too. They’ll be sad (and angry) about how their life has changed too. But with the example you’re setting of dealing with grief in a healthy way they’ll move through theirs in a healthy way too.
This is an important point: you’re going to do a much better job teaching your children about appropriate ways for dealing with grief by showing them than just telling them. Your kids look up to you and will mimic the way you’re behaving.
So don’t try to completely hide your misery. Your kids will see through your attempt at masking your feelings and learn to stuff down their emotions of sadness instead of expressing them.
When you look at your needs for dealing with grief and parenting from this angle, it may not make things easier for you on a day-to-day basis. But it may remove some of the guilt you’re feeling about how you’re parenting differently now because, actually, you’re teaching them a very valuable life skill – how to deal with heartbreak and keep living.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are wondering if staying married is the right answer for them. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And if you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
Looking for more help coping with your heartbreak? Read more advice in Dealing With Grief