When anything develops over a gradual period of time, it's difficult to accept an immediate change that affects it.  It's especially difficult when the change is specific to whatever initiated it.

A strong marriage can be a primary element of a healthy, happy family. Therefore, the changes that occur when two parents choose to end their marriage can lead to problems for the entire family.

Divorce is not a magic solution

Some family members may begin to feel their family won't persevere if the two people who started the family are no longer together.  While those two people may accurately determine their family would benefit from their divorce, the changes that follow may still be complicated for everyone to accept.

"We aren't normal anymore!"

As a family develops over a period of years, each member begins to attach a certain sense of "normal" to their family identity.  Regardless if the family has developed a great deal of dysfunction, most people will still regard their family lifestyle and home as a comfort zone. 

Divorce changes that.  It immediately removes a certain aspect of "normal" that many rely upon when coping with outside sources of stress from places like school, work and social obligations.

Suddenly, it may seem as if there is no family comfort zone to rely upon.  It's very common for each spouse to want to blame the other for the changes seen in the family's stability.  It's also common for the children or extended family members to blame the spouses for family problems that occur as a response to the changes following divorce.  The blame, anger and sadness may begin to cloud everyone's perspective.  This makes it difficult for the family to effectively cope with the changes.

Children may begin to distance themselves from their family and home since neither may seem normal or comfortable.   Some may begin to lose their faith in God or feel betrayed by their normal system of beliefs.  They may spend more time with friends or away from each parent's home.  Some may start to have problems with grades or following rules at home or school.

A new family picture

As the family continues to change from a nuclear family to a blended family lifestyle, a new dynamic begins to emerge.  The failed marriage has been removed in an effort to make the home and family more functional, yet the initial result is often quite the opposite.  It may actually take on more dysfunctional elements before a positive change can be realized.

How to help your entire family when divorcing

Youth groups and retreats

It may help to get your children into a church youth group or other peer related activity.  Also, find out if there are any upcoming retreats that your children would like to attend.  Positive activities help with self-esteem and improve mood.  It provides something for your children to look forward to on a regular basis.  Your pastor or church coordinator should be able to give you information related to these types of opportunities.

Also, younger children would benefit a great deal from one-on-one activities with you.  Individual time with you may provide a better platform for your children to express themselves and feel the closeness to you each of them may recently feel like they lack.

Professional guidance

There are numerous resources such as self-help books and sites that can provide relevant guidance to your particular circumstances.  However, while articles, such as this one, can provide general information when going through a challenging event like divorce, you should also seek assistance from professionals who can get to know you and your family in an effort to provide the most comprehensive guidance for your family.  

Allowing your children to express their feelings to an unbiased, qualified counselor about the divorce and changes at home can provide them the support needed to cope with the difficult situation and advice to help them become acclimated to the new family dynamic.  Your children will also learn coping mechanisms and good communication skills in an effort to improve their relationship with you and other members of the family.

Help for the whole family

Don't wait for problems to occur to seek family counseling.  While therapy can be started at anytime of the divorce process to include post-divorce, it's best to start it in the beginning.  This will give you and your family the best foundation on which you can build your divorce recovery. 

Remember, when you get a divorce, your family goes through the divorce with you.  There will be problems; some will be anticipated and some will completely blindside you.  It would be a good idea to immediately enlist a family therapist following the call to an attorney.  Chances are, if you and your spouse had problems that lead you to divorce, the family has been in crisis for awhile and will need help with the transition.

What to do when problems occur following divorce?

It doesn't take long for family problems to become serious.   Often, parents are in denial problems exist that may need a professional's guidance.   

One big reason many delay seeking professional help is that they may feel it indicates they have failed in some way as one of the leaders of their family.  They may fear acknowledging the choices they made, such as those that either led to divorce or the divorce itself have caused their family to suffer.  This isn't always easy to get past and can delay seeking the professional guidance each family member needs (including mom and dad).

Other times, parents may be so caught up in their own struggles associated with the changes, they may be unaware their children's problems are becoming serious and that the family is slipping into a more significant crisis.

Unified co-parents regardless of marital status

Maintain awareness of each child's well-being and communicate with your former spouse to establish effective co-parenting. 

Seek resources and outside help to improve communication with each other and each child.  Contact your church to see if they currently have a divorce recovery group for members of the congregation.  If not, ask if you can lead an effort to get one started. 

Divorce groups provide it's members an opportunity to share their experiences and get helpful advice from others.  It also provides a wonderful opportunity to make new friends with similar circumstances and backgrounds.

Getting used to your new role as a co-parent takes time.  If it doesn't happen right away or if your co-parent isn't as vested as you, don't give up.  It just means the road to family recovery will require your individual commitment, that in the end, will make a meaningful difference.  Don't let a less than cooperative co-parent affect your children's positive outcome. 

Understanding your teenager's reaction will be different from your preteen

It's important to understand each child is in a separate stage of development and each may respond differently when struggling to cope with divorce changes.  Understanding ways to connect with each child will improve your chances in dealing with the problems and improving your relationship and family bond.

"I don't want to go to counseling!" 

Children in crisis may initially reject the idea of talking with a therapist.  As a parent, you'll need to stay strong in your decisions to do what you feel is best for your child. 

However, it's important to allow your child a voice in selecting the right counselor.  Some children will respond better to group therapy.   Give it some time for your child to get comfortable in therapy before you decide it is or is not working. 

The therapist may bring things to the surface that may initially cause a reaction that may cause you or them to want to discontinue therapy.  This is normal, so don't give up.  Continue with therapy/counseling and maintain strong communication with both your child and his/her therapist to determine progress and expectations.

Depression and suicidal behavior

If your child has medical issues such as depression, anxiety or ADHD you should seek medical intervention from your family pediatrician or a pediatric psychiatrist at the beginning of the divorce.  If your child demonstrates signs or indicates he/she may want to harm himself or others you should seek immediate medical intervention from a local hospital.  

Young adults and preteens tend to share less about their feelings with their parents regardless of their family situation.  Don't rely on "what they say" as much as the actions they take or behavior they demonstrate.  You should get to know the signs of depression and anxiety in these age groups.  

Keep communication open, but don't necessarily expect long conversations with your preteen/teen about his/her feelings.  Unfortunately, parents may be the last people these kids may want to speak to about the divorce or their feelings.   If you suspect your preteen or teenager is struggling, get a professional involved right away.

Order of care for depression and other medical behavioral health problems

In the case of medical problems such as depression and anxiety, it's best to start with a medical doctor who can prescribe medication and recommend counseling or therapy, as needed.  

Where to find counseling and group therapy

Reach out to your church to see if they have any resources that may help you and your family get through the problems associated with divorce.  Also, contact your local pediatrician's office or health insurance provider for referrals.  

Online sources like the DMK Directory also provide contact information for local counselors or therapists.  If you plan to use your health insurance, make sure the provider of choice (to include those referred by your pediatrician) are covered within your plan.  

Individual and family counseling together

Seeking counseling for your child is just the beginning.  Children who are suffering as a result of divorce are often indicators that the entire family and parents could also benefit from professional guidance, even after the divorce is final. 

It also helps your child in knowing he/she is not the only one affected.   Even if one child is struggling more than others, the entire family is affected.   Family counseling will help each member learn coping mechanisms and effective communication to reestablish an improved family relationship.



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