The thing is, it doesn’t matter how much you try to shield your kids from divorce, they will feel the fallout. Unless as parents, you are able to work together during this volatile period, the reality is an uphill struggle for the primary caregiver to remain the constant in the midst of the storm. Worse still there is no forecast as to when the storm will end, and no life jacket in sight. Metaphors aside – in my case – with two confused and unhappy young children to contend with, life was tough.
There is nothing like divorce to become the gateway to either complete emotional shutdown or visceral anger in children. The breaking point for me was collecting my 8 year old son from school and literally being punched in the side whilst walking to our car. Inside the car it got worse and he raged like a toddler. I felt powerless and I just didn’t know how to soothe him. At school he showed nothing, just a docile boy who complied with the rules, but at home the anger was palpable. My 5 year old daughter became even more clingy, and they argued like never before. Car journeys felt like a battleground.
My knee jerk reaction was to ‘fix’, to distract, to talk excitedly about the next trip to the seaside, the upcoming playdate, the new fun house that daddy will have, how nice his girlfriend’s cat must be. I alternated between this and thrusting myself forward as the disciplinarian who ‘will not be spoken to like that’; and when that failed to produce any sense of calm and order, a reward chart and various marble jars were issued. This too ended in arguments and tears.
Trust me, I tried it all – and to no avail.
Welcome phase one of parenting solo … ‘operation rescue’: the purchase of a dog.
Our Hungarian Vizsla puppy (quickly named ‘Gordanella’ or Ella for short) was a love bomb that hit our house at exactly the right moment. We needed this dog to cuddle and to love, she gave us all a focus and a way to centre on the positive – as well as forcing us out into the fresh air come rain or shine. In return Ella was doted on, quickly becoming the bridge between my two children who had struggled to get along since the split. I had no regrets and she quickly became part of our new version of a ‘family unit’– despite teething marks on furniture and the occasional chewed up sock.
The reality was that even with Ella in the house, there was still work to be done on an emotional level. I needed to connect with my children in a much deeper way. I came to a realisation that perhaps it was me that needed to change … because I didn’t want to just survive in my own home, I wanted us to thrive and be genuinely happy.
The key question for me was how could I help to build real emotional resilience in my children from the inside out? When my son was tested for dyslexia at school, the report flagged up his emotional detachment – and play therapy was suggested. We began play therapy and I soon realised that it was as much about my ability to connect with my child, as my child’s ability to connect with me. This shift in mindset led me to research new parenting techniques that focus on attachment rather than punitive control. I had to let go of my fear of being out of control – and open myself up to the possibility that my children might actually have some inner wisdom of their own.
Welcome phase two of parenting solo … my baptism by fire into the world of ‘conscious parenting’.
Besides being a methodology backed by the Dali Lama, conscious parenting is actually not as pretentious as it sounds. Put simply it is working less hard to ‘fix’ and harder to listen. Essentially it is about being mindful and kind … which is not the same as a pushover. In my case I was pre – programmed to skim over difficult emotions, and I was doing this at a very sub-conscious level.
I will give you a quick example:
‘Mummy everyone at school has a mobile phone and I really want one (my son)’
The old me: ‘Do they really? Well you have a kindle and that is pretty cool too’. ‘Yeah but you only let me have it for long car journeys and that just isn’t fair’. ‘Well when I was your age we only had our imaginations for company.’
The end result – one furious child.
The new me: ‘Oh gosh, I can hear that you are telling me that ALL the other people in your school have a mobile phone! That must make you feel left out and like you really want one too.’
Nothing more is said from me. I wait – just letting him think about what I have reflected back …
The end result is a clear recognition in his face that I have listened, and a real appreciation that I have taken his concerns seriously – without assuming I need to lecture or fix the problem. The silence gives my son the space to find his own answer of ‘yeah well I don’t want to be the same as all the others’ … shortly followed by ‘but when I need to travel by myself I think I should have one.’ I agree and we give each other a hug.
The power of empathy
I know, it sounds too simple. I was deeply sceptical myself, until I used the technique and saw the change almost instantly (there was initial resistance which is quite normal – kids are clever and will question your new found resourcefulness). When used with genuine empathy, I have never known it to fail. Kids just want to be heard, plain and simple – and my big lesson was understanding the tools needed to listen. I needed to be present first and foremost, and let go of the fear of failure.
Change is personal
Now for the hard bit, knowing the tools is one thing, but applying them daily required me as a mother to be conscious of my own parenting and what my triggers were. The question for me was how are those triggers connected to the way I was raised and the expectations others placed on me? In this way I could see my childrens ‘difficult behaviour’ as the ultimate challenge to my own ego. I looked at them and suddenly I could see a mirror – it was my behaviour that was to dictate what their response might be. This profound revelation gave me the power to transform. I am truly grateful for the chance it has given me to be a better, kinder parent.
For more inspiration on this topic these are my top 4 recommended reads:
- “The Awakened Family: how to raise empowered, resilient and conscious children” by Shefali Tsabary
- “The Conscious Parent: transforming ourselves empowering our children” by Shefali Tsabary
- “Attachment-Focused Parenting: effective strategies to care for children” by Daniel A. Hughes
- ‘The Power Of Now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment” by Eckhart Tolle