Maintaining Balance within the Family
by Kristin Cicciarelli
Sometimes, divorce is unavoidable, no matter how much resistance from one or both spouses. Even worse, it can be mentally, emotionally, and financially devastating, not just for the couple, but for their children too. However, while divorce is rarely easy, its impact doesn’t have to last forever. Once the first, necessary steps have been taken, there are opportunities for the family to continue in a positive, albeit different way.
For guidance on where divorcing couples can best get started, we spoke with Board Certified Dallas Family Law attorney Jeffrey Anderson. A partner at Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP (with offices in Dallas, Frisco, and San Antonio), Anderson’s 20-plus years in practice have provided him with a wealth of knowledge and expertise on the subject. However, it might be his own divorce a few years ago that had the biggest impact. He commented, “Though it didn’t change the way I practice law, it definitely gave me a different perspective of how divorce impacts the family.”
Telling the Kids
In a perfect world, most experts will advise a divorcing couple to sit down with each other and work out as many details as possible before bringing their children into the loop. Kids of all ages, some more than others, will naturally experience anxiety when they learn their parents are divorcing. However, according to Anderson, if parents have already determined answers to questions such as, Where will we live? and Where will we spend the holidays? it can significantly help reduce that anxiety.
Of course, it can’t always happen that way. Perhaps one parent has already walked out or begun a new relationship before the kids have been told about it. “Sometimes divorce happens more like a ‘shot’ than a ‘rolling ball,’” Anderson says, “In cases like this, I suggest clients talk to a professional counselor, someone who works with kids in their children’s age group, before telling them what’s going on.” However, even if one parent has already left, “It’s best to tell their kids about the divorce together. Kids need to hear that it’s not their fault, and that their parents will always love them no matter what,” he says.
While many people going through a divorce will tell you it’s one of the most difficult things they’ve experienced, the guilt associated with their children, “is nothing short of heartbreaking,” Anderson says. “Everyone’s different,” he adds. “And while parents need to give themselves some time to deal with their emotions, I know that time is also limited in this situation. Parents can’t put their kids’ feelings on the backburner until they’ve dealt with their own.” For this reason and others, he recommends counseling for the entire family as soon as possible. Counseling can be a tremendous help in providing the necessary tools to get through the process. “But you’re still going to have to do the work,” he says. “A counselor can’t do it for you.”
In some cases, clients require medication to help manage their emotions but worry that it might come out in any divorce-related court proceedings. Anderson says, “It’s better to take medication if it helps you care for yourself and your kids, than be unable to do so. Don’t be afraid to discuss medication options with your doctor, and even your lawyer.”
When parents agree to work together, they often find it’s easier trading off responsibilities and giving each parent a little break. While we all know the health benefits of getting proper rest, eating well, and exercising regularly, keeping a normal routine can be difficult during divorce, but it is certainly important. “While it shouldn’t be at your kids’ expense, this is actually a great time to start doing the things you’ve said you want to do,” Anderson suggests. He also suggests adding more participation in faith, meditation, or other activities the parents find meaningful.
While there’s no perfect time for divorce, maintaining a sense of balance within the family can make life less stressful for everyone involved. It’s easy to understand how parents can get so wrapped up in their own hurt that they lose sight of what’s important. However, if they remember to put the kids’ best interests first, seek help with their own raw emotions (rather than dumping them on the kids), and maintain as much balance as possible, they’ll have a much better chance of getting past the hurt and staying balanced in the areas that are important.
Reach Jeff Anderson at ONDAfamilylaw.com.