coParenting with someone who still provokes or triggers strong emotion can be challenging, and also re-wounding. Employing constructive strategies to protect your healing heart, soothe your raging thoughts, and relax your exhausted body (who’s sleeping?) will help you weather these early weeks and months of adjusting post-divorce/separation with increasing resilience and self-care.
Does any of this sound familiar? Here are some tips that will help you adjust to your new life:
1) Protect your healing heart. Limit your contact with your former spouse in ways that allow for supportive coParenting without unnecessary contact. Communicate what’s going on with the children, be respectfully cordial and business-like and resist the urge to engage about other tangential subjects. This may mean backing off on emails to once or twice a week with simple updates on how the children did during their residential time.
2) Separate yourself. Perhaps you want a separate “coParenting” email address so your daily email is not affected by incoming mail from your former spouse. Recognize and honor your need for some “separation” to heal before progressing forward into a “friendly” coParenting relationship. With time, it’s very likely that you’ll achieve a cordial, easier relationship with your kids’ other parent. Forced friendliness too soon results in prolonged healing and in scar tissue from repeated emotional fall-aparts.
3) Soothe your unsettled emotions. Oh dear, we are creatures of habit! When that hamster gets going on the hamster-wheel-in-our-brains, thoughts go a-spinning. One thought can lead to a cascade of memories that pile on a heaping bunch of hurt, anger, upset and unproductive, emotionally draining, not-particularly helpful reminders that you’re divorced/separated. For example, use distraction: watch a good, funny movie; turn on your favorite upbeat music; go for a walk, lift weights, do some work, call a friend and talk about something else! There’s a time and a place to process your feelings, and a trusted friend, counselor or post-divorce/separation support group can be a lifeline. Quieting the hamster, soothing your emotions, is an important job, done gently, with understanding, support, and a healthy dose of distraction is often needed.
4) Understand your grief. Pacing and restless energy are part of the grief reaction. If you find you can’t sit still, pacing around the island in the kitchen, or wandering through the mall aimlessly, understand that this is part of your grief reaction. Some experts see this as searching behavior—searching for what’s been lost. Within reason, no harm is done by allowing yourself to walk and reduce the anxious energy. Return to the list above for other options for self-care and healthy distraction. Go on an “anti-rage” campaign and commit yourself to disrupt, interrupt, and change your thinking as often as you can when the raging thoughts come roaring in. You are the architect of your future; let that include a meditation to breathe in peace and breathe out calm. Even if that’s only a moment here and moment there, over time and with practice, those moments will link together and you’ll find yourself on the other side of this crisis, feeling better.
5) Relax your exhausted body. Sleep is important—our bodies actually regenerate in our sleep, and that includes our “emotional bodies.” The longer disruptive sleep goes on (weeks into months), the more prolonged our recovery. Get help sooner than later.
6) Shutdown technology an hour before bed. As distracting and enticing as Facebook may be, it’s very likely to be an “energy gain” rather than helpful preparation for sleep. Similarly, save your exercise for during the day or early in the evening. Read uplifting and inspirational messages before bed. Gentle background music can help soothe ‘the hamster’ and distract your mind as you fall asleep. Remember to “let the meat hang on the bones” in the moments that you’re laying awake— practice relaxation, allow your body to feel fully supported by the mattress, let go of as much tension as possible while waiting for sleep to return.
Your healthcare provider is an excellent person to connect with if your sleep remains disrupted and you realize you’re “running on adrenaline,” running short on patience, running scared of an uncertain future. It’s likely that for a brief period of time, you’ll benefit from something (like counseling or medication or meditation) that can in a healthy, non-addictive way, help you break the sleep disruption and return to renewing sleep. With adequate rest you’re more likely to have the resilience to parent lovingly, and plan for a positive future. (On that note, this is a particularly important time to avoid alcohol, which often makes matters worse).
7) Focus on FUNCTIONING, not perfection. Learn to ask for help. Maybe you are one of those people who up until now prided themselves on exceeding expectations and giving help instead of receiving. Learn to readjust your expectations, accept accomplishing only what is of utmost importance, and accept less than perfection for a time. Give yourself space to feel and become aware when you have reached your limit. For a while, your max point or your limit may be significantly less than you ever imagined—and this is completely understandable. Give yourself permission to take a break, find time for yourself or lean on your friends, family and other supports. We hear from children how they feel the brokenness: hurt, anger, distress. You can’t be someone you’re not, and creating more discomfort by “acting as if” is not good for kids. Kids see right through us!
Editor’s Note: This piece has been taken from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK. For more information on Karen or her books, you’re invited to visit http://coachmediateconsult.com/coParents-handbook/