Every parent hopes that their children won’t be negativity impacted by their separation or divorce. In my co-parenting program I hear parent say “I don’t care about me – I only care about my kids. I want them to be OK!”
Well, I always confront parents who do not understand the importance of their own emotional health and happiness. Parental emotional health and functioning might be the single most important aspect of raising healthy and happy children. Parents should never underestimate the importance of their own emotional welfare to this end.
There are multiple factors that predict how your children will adjust to a break-up between their parents. The child’s age, temperament, and gender are aspects that parents will have no control over however these aspects will have a bearing on your child’s reaction to a separation. The other two factors are 1) exposure to parental conflict, and 2) parental functioning. These are very important dimensions parents do have a choice about. This is why my program is packed with skills to help launch a journey or parental healing and growth. I have learned that no matter how many tips and guidelines for co-parenting that parents learn, they will be limited in their ability to implement and stick to the guidelines when they are not feeling good inside and are struggling with unresolved internal conflicts.
With seldom exceptions, happy well-adjusted parents make happy well-adjusted children. Kids actually take it quite personally when parents are not emotionally well and happy. Children cannot separate themselves from their parents well enough to understand that they are not enough to make parents happy all the time. They might say they know that it is not their fault if you are not doing well, but deep inside they will blame themselves and wonder why they are not enough to make you happy. This is a fact of child development I think parents sometimes do not entirely comprehend. Please realize that I am telling you the truth in this – your kids need you to be OK. They will not be OK unless you are.
When parents work to address their own issues, find ways to heal, and grow in awareness and functioning, they are helping their children. This is actually the best way to make sure your kids are OK. When you seek to examine yourself, heal your wounds and learn new skills for coping and relating in healthy ways to others, your kids have a better chance of growing up with a healthy mind-set themselves. But how do parents gets started in their journey of healing and growth? Below are some suggestions to get started:
Get therapy: Therapy is not for the weak. It is for people brave enough to ask for help and get it when they need to. Therapy involves self-examination which requires courage and trust. You cannot be a weakling and engage in such a process. Do it and you will be glad you did.
Read self-help books: Self-help books are a dime a dozen as most used books stores. You know what parts of you that need attention. Go into the self-help section and see what stands out to you. There are many ways that you can learn and grow by yourself when you put your mind into the process.
Enroll in a co-parenting program: Getting support from other people going through the same challenges in life can be a relief. These programs are chalk-full of portable skill building activities. Anything you learn goes with you to work and your other personal relationships. These programs are well worth the money. I recommend a program that has an interactive component because of the personal attention group contact allows.
Learn to tame your mind: The mind with all of its stories and negative thinking can be enemy number one when it comes to feeling better. Meditation, cognitive skills, self-talk, and developing a positive attitude are things that will have a big impact on your functioning. I like the MBSR, which is an 8 week course of mindful-based stress reduction. This is free on the web and is worth every minute of your time.
Do not be a martyr to the wounds and emotional traumas you carry inside. As a parent, your children need you to be okay and to know what you are doing. They cannot take care of you, you are the only one who can. Embarking on a journey of growth and change will be something you will never regret and no one can ever take away from you. I encourage and support you to get on your way.
Erin Bunnell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent over 20 years working with co-parents in a program that helps reduce conflict, establish appropriate boundaries and protect children from the effects of chronic conflict after divorce or separation. As a divorced parent herself, Erin uses her own co-parenting experiences to help parents heal, cope, and find positive ways to move forward in a high conflict co-parenting relationship. You may reach Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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