Relationships: tell your child only what she needs to know about divorce
My husband and I are going through a bitter divorce, but we came to an agreement for the Christmas holiday about our daughter. She will spend time with both of us, separately. My husband is seeing someone already, which I am upset about, and what worries me most is that he might want to introduce his new girlfriend to our daughter. He will only have my daughter for Boxing Day and the following day. How do I explain all this to my daughter? And how do I survive this first Christmas on my own?
Most parents and children will experience some melancholy feelings during the first Christmas after separation or divorce, as it is a time rich with memories and expectations. Research, and my experience working with divorced parents, has shown that men tend to move on to a new relationship more quickly after a break-up.
Women tend to stay single for a lot longer to recover from the hurt or trauma. I don't know the circumstances of the break-up, and where you are psychologically, and how you've been coping. While you need some time to re-establish yourself as a new entity, you don't need to feel stuck, either.Instead of holding on to the past, use this special time to build new traditions for your daughter and yourself that could be just as joyful, and help you turn to the next chapter of your life. Is there anything you have always wanted to do, but never found time because of family commitments in the past?
Whether or not you have immediate family in town, reach out to your support network. The last thing you need is the feeling of having just the two of you in your new family. One of the difficulties of divorce is going through a "social divorce".Friends might take sides, or some couples might feel uncomfortable having you around because of your new "single" status. Surround yourself with people who care about you. You will be surprised how many people have been waiting for you to ask to join them. Plan ahead and make sure you are occupied the two days that you are on your own.Stay with friends with small children. They will be more than happy to have you to help out! Keep yourself busy. Know what might trigger memories that are too raw to deal with at this time, and do something different. Be kind to yourself.
It's splendid that you are being flexible and putting your daughter's needs before your feelings of hurt. Allowing your daughter to be with her father lets her know that although your marriage has ended, she will always have the love of both her parents.Try to keep your opinion about your soon-to-be-ex-husband and his girlfriend to yourself; she has the right to love her father, no matter what.Not knowing how old your daughter is, or if she is aware of the girlfriend, I can't advise you what to tell her. But information needs to be age-appropriate. Children are great observers of what is going on in life, but they are not very good at interpreting.Before you tell your daughter anything about the new girlfriend and the situation, ask yourself a few questions. Does she need to know that? How is that going to help her? What might her reaction be, and how can you help her understand the situation?
You might want to consider co-parenting counselling to help both of you see what is best for your daughter and to agree on when or how to introduce a new partner to your daughter. The two of you need to work out a new relationship.You are parents forever, and perhaps the best gift you two can give to your daughter is to put her needs before your feelings. Check out Canada's "Bill of Rights for Children of Divorce". Your daughter needs both parents to act like adults and allow her to be a child. If one parent is not being sensible, the other has to swallow some unpleasant feelings.You might feel like the victim in the break-up, but you still have a choice as a parent.
Use this time to grow and still be the parent your daughter needs.Get professional support for yourself. Getting the right support to move on might be the best gift you can give yourself this Christmas.
Lora Lee is a child therapist and parenting counsellor with a background in developmental psychology, play therapy, and post-separation counselling