Helping Kids Cope With Divorce During COVID-19

A couple in a fight.

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Divorce is painful and difficult; its deep and lasting effects cannot be underestimated. Ending your marriage during the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly adds even more stress to the mix.

But pandemic or no pandemic, you can successfully lead yourself and your children through these challenging times.

Your kids need you right now and despite the life-altering and heartbreaking effects of your separation, this stage in your life does not have to break you. And it doesn’t have to break your children either.

Take Care of Yourself

Divorce isn't the time to put your needs to the side. Everything you can do to help yourself heal and thrive is beneficial to your kids.

This is a vital time to be well. Eat well, drink water, take hot showers, read self-help books (audiobooks are great; you can still fold laundry or do the dishes while “reading") and just take each day, hour, and moment as it comes. 

Prioritize your own care so you can be as well as you can as often as possible for your kids.

After her divorce, author and host of the Doing Relationships Right podcast Jennifer Hurvitz says she rushed into everything too quickly, especially dating. She ignored her own well-being and thought dating and sex would fill that need for companionship and love.

"I was so, so wrong," she told Verywell Family, adding, "how can you possibly expect anyone to love you when you don’t even know how to love yourself?" Hurvitz realized a slower pace was what she needed.

Jennifer Hurvitz, Author and Podcast Host

Self-care is so important and when I finally came to that realization, I learned how to sit in my “alone space” and spent some time healing. I appreciated spending the extra time with my boys and found they needed that, too.

— Jennifer Hurvitz, Author and Podcast Host

If there is one thing this pandemic can offer you, it's time, time without the distraction of the dating world, time with your kids, and time to heal.

But don't isolate yourself. Stay connected to friends and other single parents. Even if you're at home due to social distancing regulations, keep building your support system.

Call and text a friend regularly and perhaps check out some online divorce support groups. It can be extremely comforting to connect with others who relate to your experiences.

Seek Professional Help

Divorce alone is a stressful life event. Throwing a pandemic into the mix makes things even more difficult and there will likely be an increase in stress.

A recent study found a rise in anxiety and depression symptoms in adolescents and teens during the pandemic. Be sure to speak to your doctor and/or seek out a therapist if you have concerns.

Even if you feel like you're coping right now and the kids seem okay too, it may still be beneficial to book some individual counseling sessions with an online therapist.

You can all benefit from a safe and objective space to vent and process your emotions. It may even be a good idea to pass along 24-hour mental health hotline information to older kids and teens who may find themselves feeling the need to talk to someone, especially late at night when everyone else in the house is asleep.

Endings are hard. Beginnings can be too. But there is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. And there is life to be lived post-divorce. Don't forget that. Turn your focus now to yourself and your children.

This is a painful and confusing time, no question, but it doesn't have to leave permanent scars. There are some helpful choices you can make to support your kids as they process your divorce. Therapy is one of them.

Support Your Kids' Relationship With Your Ex

Your marriage has ended, but your kids' relationship with your ex is still important. Do everything in your power to rein in your own pain and raw emotion right now. Lean on friends and a therapist and stop yourself from speaking negatively about your ex in front of the kids.

According to family and marriage therapist Michele James: "Children deserve to believe the best about their parents. When a parent bad-talks the other parent it erodes the parent-child relationship. It can also put undue stress on the child, and may lead to problems such as anxiety and depression."

Remind your children that they are loved by both of you and that their relationship with the other parent is important.

James says: "Kids benefit from having a relationship with both parents for many reasons. Each parent has their own personality and strengths, giving children the opportunity to grow and develop with each parent. When one parent is excluded from, or chooses not to have, a relationship with their child, the child may feel abandoned or believe that they somehow caused the separation."

It isn't easy to maintain composure when the dynamic has become toxic between you and your ex. But remember who matters most here: your kids. Divorce hurts, but it doesn't have to cause lasting damage. So be careful as you manage your relationship with your ex.

Michele James, Marriage and Family Therapist

When parents separate, kids need to still be kids. They don’t need to carry the weight of their parents’ problems. They need to know they are loved, cared for, will (eventually) have two homes, and that the separation is not their fault.

— Michele James, Marriage and Family Therapist

So go ahead complain, rage, lose it! Just make sure when you do, it's to a friend, and your kids are out of earshot. Think of what's best for the kids and rise above it.

Encourage Stress Reduction

Help your kids cope with their feelings by suggesting healthy stress relief options.

  • Arrange playdates and hangouts with a few close friends when social distancing regulations loosen
  • Encourage your children to socialize in group video chats and online games with friends
  • Find a mindfulness app you think they might like
  • Help them to stay active (e.g., bike rides or jogging)
  • Suggest relaxing activities like bubble baths

Spending time with your kids is especially important during stressful times. Sometimes just being in the same room as your child while they play a video game or watch TV can help them feel supported. Sit down next to them on the couch, no words necessary. Just being close can bring a sense of comfort to both of you.

Keep Some Rules and Routine

It's challenging to find the energy to maintain rules and routines when you are going through emotional pain and logistical change. But your kids will feel a sense of stability with the presence of a few familiar expectations.

For younger children, this may be a set bedtime and a story before bed. For teens, this might look like a "no screens after 10:30" rule and a weekly movie night. These are the "perks" of COVID; the kids can't go anywhere!

Take advantage of this time and create some easy-to-maintain family routines. For example, dinners at the table without phones and tablets are a great way to encourage connection. Even if you can only make this happen once a week, it can become a routine that everyone benefits from.

Many parents are loosening expectations during COVID, but try not to completely release the reins. Pick a few important rules that you have the energy to uphold, and stick with them.

Seek Divorce-Specific Parenting Advice

Divorce inevitably changes the way you parent your kids. So now is a good time to seek out new knowledge as you face challenges and frustrations specific to single parenting.

Podcasts

Here are a few recommended podcasts to help guide you in your co-parenting and/or single-parenting journey.

High Conflict Co-Parenting

The High Conflict Co-Parenting podcast is hosted by Brook Olsen, a certified parenting educator, divorce mediator and coach, father, and author who offers perspectives and strategies for navigating high-conflict parenting relationships.

Moms Moving On: Navigating Divorce, Single Motherhood & Co-Parenting

According to divorce specialist Michelle Dempsey-Multack, letting go and moving on after divorce takes guts, strength, and a whole lot of support. Dempsey-Multack and her guests aim to offer single moms all three in the Moms Moving On: Navigating Divorce, Single Motherhood & Co-Parenting podcast.

Books

Books can help you and your family navigate your divorce. There are many options, but consider these to start.

How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce

In How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce, Samantha Rodman, founder of DrPsychMom.com, offers advice on how to raise a happy, thriving family in a changing environment.

Rodman provides counsel for discussing your divorce in healthy and effective ways, including breaking the initial news, fostering an open dialogue, and ensuring that your children's emotional needs are met throughout your separation.

Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex

In Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex, co-authors Amy J.L. Baker and psychotherapist and social worker,Paul R. Fine share a positive parenting approach to dealing with a hostile ex-spouse.

You'll learn ways to protect your children from painful loyalty conflicts, how to avoid parental alienation, and techniques for developing trust and talking honestly with your kids.

Parenting through Divorce: Helping Your Children Thrive During and After the Split

Parenting Through Divorce, by Lisa Rene Reynolds, concisely lays out the specific emotions and reactions parents might anticipate from their children while going through separation, divorce, and beyond.

Reynolds offers a common sense approach, providing readers in a state of emotional distress with the practical, down-to-earth advice they need to guide their children through the often-painful divorce process.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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