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Rebuilding Your Relationship with Your Children After a Divorce

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Francis and Diana were married for over a decade with primary school going children.  The marriage ended in divorce after Diana had an extra marital affair. Although she said she wanted to reconcile, Francis felt he couldn’t get over the hurt.

Two years following the divorce, Francis met and married Annie. While the children were respectful to Annie, they were angry at Francis for refusing reconciliation with their mother. The children accused their father of hating them and blamed him for divorcing their mother. Francis, hurt and upset lashed out at them verbally. A chasm filled with hurt emotions and misunderstood motives developed between father and children.

Divorce is a challenging time for parents. During the separation, parents are preoccupied with their own emotions- grief, anger, anxiety, and many other feelings, amplified by worries about the future. Divorce is difficult for children too. Children usually experience confusion and hurt, which may often cause resentment and emotional separation between children and parents. But parents can work at reconciliation with their children.

Here are some simple and practical recommendations on rebuilding your relationship together with your child after a divorce.

Reassure your children that the divorce is not their fault. Let them know that the divorce isn’t their fault. It’s easy for children to blame themselves for the divorce and wonder if they could have avoided this painful experience if they had been “better”. Thus, acknowledge your children’s feelings, reassure them that the divorce isn’t their fault, and let them know that you still love them.

Do not take your child’s anger or hurtful behaviour personally. In the aftermath of divorce, children often experience vulnerability, grief, loss, and anger.  They may also experience fear and confusion. They may find it difficult to express these complex and confusing thoughts and have frequent anger outbursts. Anger may be a natural defensive reaction to what is happening. You may see your children in denial about the divorce, angry about how it affects them and bargain with you to find a way to keep the family together. Behind that anger is often fear and shame of the divorce situation.  While you can’t control how your child is feeling regarding the divorce, you can monitor their behaviour, as well as your own. The most loving thing you can do is to be present and let your children know that it is OK to express whatever they are feeling and encourage them to share about what they are feeling. Being approachable, non-judgmental, and sensitive to your children’s needs is crucial to supporting them emotionally.

Be a good enough co-parent. The key to successful co-parenting is to separate the personal relationship with your ex-spouse from the co-parenting relationship.  This co-parenting relationship is entirely about your children’s well-being, and not about either of you. It is crucial to be purposeful and consistent in your communication for a successful co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. Through your attempt at a peaceful partnership, your children will come to recognise that they are more important than the discord that ended your marriage. Most importantly, they will come to understand that your love for them will continue despite the changing circumstances.

Get support. It is not always possible to manage with all the adversities on your own. Communication with your child after a divorce can be a test of strength for you. You may want to reach out to a counsellor to support you in this journey.

Talk to your friends and family if you feel overwhelmed and ask for support when you need it. You can also find help in support groups where others with similar challenges come together to discuss similar issues, share resources, and support each other. You can best support your child if you are feeling supported, too.

Francis took the first step by taking ownership for his part in the divorce and apologized to his children, reassuring them that the divorce was not their fault. Francis was motivated to work hard on rebuilding his relationship with his children.  He was actively involved in their lives and continued to provide a safe space for the children to express their feelings without judgement. Subsequently, Francis’ made efforts to keep his co-parenting relationship amicable with Diana which made access much more enjoyable for his children.

Final Words

Over time, your children will understand that it was not only difficult for them during the divorce, but also for you. But no matter how hard and painful it was, you had done everything possible to mend the relationship.

If you would like to seek emotional support for yourself and your children going through a divorce, you may reach out to us via [email protected] or call us at 62355229. We provide counselling and support group programmes for divorcing families.  Please register your interest in Transcending Divorce online group support programme via go.fycs.org/transcendingdivorce.

Our centre also facilitates Pre-action Mediation service (PAM). It helps couples who have decided to embark on divorce and are unable to agree on the reason for divorce and/or ancillary matters. During PAM, a professional mediator will guide discussions to support couples in reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. It could potentially reduce animosity between the couple and arrive at better outcomes- speedier settlement and reduced cost. You may contact us for further details.

Written by: Debbyrina De Thomas, Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services