By Krista Stipe, Partner, Integrative Family Law PLLC
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be legal and/or mental health advice for any specific case and it is provided for general information purposes only.
Self-care is the buzz word of the pandemic and for good reason. Nearly all of us have felt suffocating levels of emotional exhaustion. But, self-care often feels like just another task to fit into the already bloated schedule of the overworked, overstressed parent – especially those in the midst of a divorce.
Most well-meaning parents try to hide their conflicts from their children and assume that is enough to protect them. While it is certainly important to insulate kids from conflict, simply stuffing one’s feelings without proactively caring for yourself is superficial and often short-lived. Perceptive kids typically know when parents are really struggling, and that realization can undermine a child’s sense of safety and intensify their worries.
But, it does not have to be that way. I am regularly inspired by divorcing parents who positively show up for their kids despite conflict and difficulties. One commonality I observe is that these parents are usually taking care of themselves, which in turn, makes them more relaxed, focused, and hopeful.
So, how can a divorcing parent engage in self-care without making major lifestyle adjustments? Here are a few self-care ideas to build your emotional stamina:
Intentionally Framing Your Mindset: Rather than seeing divorce as a loss, focus on how it may create a new and better future. Parents often feel it a shortfall when their children are with the other parent. But, it can be viewed as an opportunity for personal time to rest and re-charge.
Remembering the Little Things: Inexpensive and simple pleasures can improve how you feel:
- Get outside
- Exercise or stretch; practice deep breathing or mediation
- Laugh at life – settle in with your favorite stand-up routine or a great comedy
- Take a warm bath or hot tub soak
- Engage in hobbies you love
- Organize your closet (if this brings you joy)
- Order a delicious takeout meal so you can take a break from cooking and dishes
- Stay in bed for most (or all) of the day
- Listen to your favorite album
Reaching Out to Positive Friends/Family: Connecting with nurturing people is also very beneficial. We all have well-meaning friends who are too personally involved, overly protective or who encourage aggression and revenge. In the short term, it can feel cathartic to commiserate about how much you can’t stand your ex. While venting has its time and place, engaging with those friends/family all the time can end up making you feel worse or wanting to go on the attack. This often does not bode well in a divorce proceeding. Instead, try to seek out your more reflective friends, who are good sounding boards. Or, when you need a break from talking about your divorce struggles, spend time with people who just make you laugh and feel good about life.
Tapping Professional and Resources: Many of my clients obtain a great deal of solace by using professionals or reliable resources, such as individual therapy, support groups, parenting therapists or coaches, books on positive divorce parenting, etc. There are resources on the King County Superior Court website at: family-law-resources.ashx (kingcounty.gov). Attorneys can provide specific referrals and resources as well. The more you arm yourself with quality information and support, the better you are likely to feel and to parent.
Slowing Down and Giving Yourself Time to Think: Down deep, most people have a pretty good sense of the right course. I encourage clients to make a list of the 3-4 things that really matter to them and to review that list regularly so that they can stay focused on their intentions. The ability to reflect is often essential in evaluating what actions to take (or not) in your divorce. Knee-jerk reactions and short-term “wins” aren’t always what you really want in the end.
Compartmentalizing Negativity: Keeping negativity in check is an extremely difficult skill, but, when done, it can help contain overwhelming emotions. One way of doing this is to literally imagine the negative thought being boxed and set up on a shelf. Mentally putting aside the hurt and anger limits overly ruminating and helps parents keep presence of mind while they are with their kids.
Focusing on Solutions: Avoid engaging in negative conversations with kids about the divorce or the other parent. This harms kids and can also make your own life feel more toxic. When kids’ questions come up, listen to them. But, try not to seize upon what the other parent is doing wrong. Instead, focus on the resolution and building a sense of hope. I often suggest parents remind kids that they are loved by both parents and that the adults are working on the problems and solutions, so that this is not on the kids’ shoulders to fix. Then, let your kids just be kids.
In the midst of the toughest of times, taking small intentional self-care steps really can feel like a breath of fresh air.