Even in a perfect world where everything always goes according to plan and everyone is happy, raising children would still be extremely difficult. The truth is, of course, that perfect worlds don't exist. Even the happiest families have to battle serious adversity from time to time. It's our responsibility as parents to not only handle these dramas and tragedies ourselves, but also to help our children maneuver these difficult times, no matter how physically, financially, and emotionally exhausting these problems may be.
Being a conscious parent means being aware of everything that surrounds your children. That certainly includes the physical and emotional hardships that your family has to endure. Every difficult family issue, from relocating after a divorce to dealing with a loved one struggling with alcohol abuse, has to be handled with careful mindfulness and your children's best interests in mind.
If you're going through a divorce, for instance, not only do you have to get through this difficult situation on your own, you have to ensure that your kids are okay, too. Hopefully, you're already talking to your kids about what's going to happen, why your relationship with their other parent isn't working, how it's absolutely not their fault, and how everything is going to be okay. But the challenges won't end with one or two constructive conversations with your young ones.
In some states, there is a waiting period up to six months after the initial divorce petition is filed and served on the other spouse before the divorce becomes legally final. But no matter how fast a family finalizes a divorce, there will still be difficulties, especially for the children, in the months and even years that follow. That means you need a long-term plan for proactively dealing with any emotional fallout. Most importantly, you need to manage your kids' expectations and prepare them for the many changes on the horizon.
"Expect them to be most interested in how their own lives will be affected," said Leah Kungness, psychologist, and co-author of The Complete Single Mother. Your kids will be worried about things like where they're going to live and go to school, and they'll have a lot of difficult-to-answer questions. It's important to keep in mind that you let your children know they will be cared for and loved no matter what happens.
The average American citizen moves about 12 times in his or her lifetime, and roughly 40% of Americans expect to move within the next five years, which is fine. But if any of those moves consist of either the relocating of a child or a parent moving away from their children, some serious physiological stress might occur. It's important that you remain honest with your children well after the divorce or move has been finalized in order to maintain a healthy relationship. If your kid hates the fact that their mother or father now lives in another state, let them express their anger in conversation and potentially therapy, and not in outbursts.
No matter what happens, communication is key. Many parents will avoid telling their children about an impending divorce out of a desire to protect their kids from sad news. Other parents may believe they really can work things out. Unfortunately, divorce is becoming extremely common in modern society, and few people plan on getting divorced one day. Here's an interesting fact: although nearly 60% of employers identify cost savings as a benefit of telecommuting, one of the major benefits for parents is eliminating drive time. Because believe it or not, couples who have longer commutes are far more likely to divorce than telecommuters. As Forbes reports, a 2016 study showed that if one spouse commutes longer than 45 minutes, that couple is actually 40% more likely to get divorced.
Another extremely difficult familial situation that children have trouble handling is another family member's alcoholism or substance abuse. In the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers from the University of Michigan found that nearly half -- 48.3% -- of study participants with a current or past case of alcohol abuse got divorced at some point in their lives. However, that's about the same rate of marriages overall, and many couples persevere despite problems like this.
Unfortunately, alcohol abuse is much too common in the United States. Among emergency room patients who are admitted for injuries, roughly 47% test positive for alcohol, 35% were intoxicated at the point of admittance, and, sadly, 75% showed signs of chronic alcoholism.
Divorce is difficult enough on children when both parents are sober; adding in the troubles of alcoholism can be quite a burden on everyone involved. Make sure you remain honest with your children throughout these difficult times and talk out the various emotions your children might be feeling including fear, guilt, sadness, worry, rejection, shame, resentment, shame, insecurity, and feelings of uncertainty about the future.
Finally, don't forget to practice self-care during difficult times. You can't take care of your family unless you are taking care of yourself, too.
At Mindful.org, Susan Verde, a kids' mindfulness, and yoga teacher said: "When I start to feel isolated and alone, I try to notice those feelings, to let them happen. If I need to cry, I cry. I do my best not to judge myself for these feelings. And when I find moments to laugh hard, I try to appreciate every second. I’ve come to accept that the low moments are just as important as the high moments. This is one of the most important gifts I can give to my children."
As long as you stick with your children and continue to reinforce the fact that you love and care for them, no matter what happens, your family will persevere. With love and patience, you'll all get through any difficult situation together.
Kelsey R. is a writer and an avid world traveler. When she's not writing or listening to 80s music, you can find her exploring different countries, taking selfies with her dog Lady, and in constant search for the perfect brownie recipe.