Concern about the impact of divorce on the children is one of the most common issues raised by divorcing parents, and on one level, understandably so. No parent would like to think that they are 'causing their kids to suffer', or even worse, 'messing them up' just because 'they can't get their act together' and make the relationship work.
Now, those are not my words and I certainly don't buy into those concerns as things that a divorce directly creates but as a parent who has been through divorce with two young children, admit that on occasion, I have had similar thoughts myself.
However, by 'buying into' or dwelling on those worries about us causing our kids to suffer, or us causing them long-term damage, we are misunderstanding something fundamental about how we function psychologically as human beings and how resilience works. Here is an example.
A client I was coaching through the process of separation had huge worries about the possible effect on the children. She was often gripped by a belief about how the separation and divorce would cause the children to grow up having 'emotional and behavioural issues and unable to have healthy, functioning relationships in the future'.
During our work together, my client started to have an understanding of the principles of how the mind functions, and what she came to see more deeply was that even though the children may experience ups and downs and even some displays of emotional distress, this in itself was not problematic, and she saw that her getting a divorce didn't mean that they would inevitably suffer long-term consequences.
How did she come to know this? Because she realised two things 1) she realised that the very idea that external events or circumstances i.e. a divorce, could actually cause her children (or herself) to feel a certain way or have a particular experience of it, was not possible. 2) there is a built in resilience within us.
As parents, we can find ourselves worrying about all sorts of things, whether it's about our children dealing with being bullied at school, falling out with their best friend , or divorce. When we misunderstand where the source of our experience is coming from, we innocently get in the way of our natural ability to be resilient and come back into balance.
What are we misunderstanding?
The misunderstanding we are talking about is the idea that other people, circumstances and situations can cause our feelings or experience. This simply is not possible because of the way our minds work. It is not possible for another person, situation or circumstance to put any feelings inside us, or cause our experience; our minds don't function in that way .
So how does the mind function?
It functions from inside-to-out; that is to say, our experience of anything in life is created internally by thought and projected out as our experience. The more we see that, the greater freedom we have from our thoughts and become less gripped by them. And this is true not only for us as parents, but also for our children and every other human being. Take a look for yourself (as this is best realised within your own experiences as opposed to being read about), how often can you notice that you can have a different experience (feelings and thought) about the same thing even though it hasn't changed in the external world?
How does this affect resilience?
Children, like all human beings are innately resilient. Young children are perfect examples of resilience in action. They go from happy and calm in one moment to sad and crying the next, only to bounce back to happy and calm again, and whats more, they do so with no judgement about, or dwelling on, the feeling states they have just experienced. They are what we would describe as 'in the moment', fully experiencing all of their feelings without any judgement.
Our natural design as human beings is to naturally come back into balance as long as we don't get in the way of it.
When we have lots of layers of thought about the separation and divorce and we believe that we are causing our children to suffer, we are not only blind to our children's resilience, we are also less able to tap into our own resilience in order to support them.
Of course we don't like to think that our children are suffering emotionally, however, the more we realise that their feelings don't need fixing or changing, the less we will see the need to do so.
And, the more deeply and insightfully we see where our (and our children's) perceptions are coming from (i.e. created internally by thought and projected out as our experience), how thoughts create our feelings and how that influences our behaviour, the more aligned we are with our natural capacity for resilience and the less inclined we will be to try and fix, protect, or change either ours or our children's experience.
It is from this space that as parents, we are more open to experience realisations and insights that will guide us through and allow us to support our children in a more deeply connected and compassionate way.
If you would like to find out more about our approach or how we can support you, please get in touch.