In an ideal world, every family would be a complete unit, consisting of a mother, father and their children. Of course our world is far from perfect, and presently there are a variety of non-traditional family units to be found in every level of society.
It is especially difficult for children who have lived in a traditional family, to adjust to changed circumstances when one parent suddenly decides to leave. The remaining spouse not only has to cope with personal heartbreak, increased responsibilities, financial difficulties, but also help the children adapt with as little psychological damage as possible.
Here are some tips on easing the youngsters’ transition to a new mode of living as easily as possible:
* Assure them that they are in no way to blame for the other parent’s defection. They are going to feel guilty and wonder if, had they been better-behaved, the other parent would still be at home.
* Tell the truth as far as you know it, but to do it in a calm and non-judgmental way, for example: “Sometimes a person has to be by themselves for a while to sort things out in their mind”, or ” Dad (or Mom) has a special friend with whom he (she) wants to spend some time. I’m not sure when he’ll (she’ll) be back, but we’ll hear when he (she) is ready to see us.”
* The children will be very insecure for a while. If one parent can leave, why can’t the other? Do your best to calm their fear and reduce their anxiety. Assure them that you love them more than anything and that you have no intention of going anywhere without them.
* Call on family and close friends for support: grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles and trusted friends should rally around and assure the children that they have a wide circle of people who love them and on whom they can rely.
* Keep their routine as close to normal as possible. They should not feel that their lives will be upside down now that they have only one parent at home.
* Arrange some fun times for just the children and you. Go to a movie, eat at McDonald’s, have a picnic, attend a carnival. Let them stay up an extra hour on the weekend, pop popcorn and watch cartoons together. Help them realize that they are still part of a family and that you will all continue to enjoy good times together.
* Start legal action to get child support payments. The children’s standard of living should not fall drastically because they have a delinquent parent.
* Look after yourself. Get lots of rest, vent to your friends, not the children. Pamper yourself: get a new hairdo, invite friends over, plan for a better future.
There are single parent families in all segments of society today. See if there is a “Parents Without Partners” chapter in your area. This organization arranges enjoyable activities for parents and children together. Try to network with others in the same situation so your children will see that they are not the only ones in this position.
And who knows? Through this networking, you may meet someone who will be a much better parent and role model than the spouse you originally chose. After all, we can all learn from our mistakes.