by Sarah Michaelis Thursday September 27, 2007

Divorce is bad. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s bad for self-esteem, it’s bad for finances, it’s bad for emotional health and it’s bad for kids.

No one would know that more than me.

I was recently speaking to a child psychiatrist about childhood depression and he rhymed off all the reasons why divorce is bad for children—reduced family happiness, increased incidence of depression, low feelings of self-worth, confusion, guilt… the list goes on.

My guilt metre was already seriously in the red but now it’s off the scale because I got divorced. We were young; we tried; it didn’t work; end of story. But the epilogue is still writing itself.

Helping a kid get over the pain of divorce when you yourself are hurting is a monumental feat, especially when you are the main caregiver. It’s sad, it’s exhausting and you shoulder all the blame because you’re the one there to blame.

So here’s some advice if you’re going through this right now.

  • Don’t blame your ex in front of the kids even if they are more worthy of the blame than you.
  • Don’t badmouth your ex in front of the kids. It will come back to bite you.
  • Try to get lots of exercise. It releases natural endorphins in the brain and you will feel better. Trust me, it works.
  • The kids will cry and they will ask why and they will blame themselves. You have to make sure they know it’s not their fault. Tell them that every day. Even though watching them cry might make you angry at the ex or at them, remember they’re just kids and they need to cry it out.
  • It will take a long time (years) for kids to get through this.
  • Go to the school and inform them of the situation. Make sure you get regular updates from the teacher on how the kids are doing. If grades start to drop, it could be a sign of depression.
  • Go to your family doctor and explain the situation. The doctor will be able to recommend therapy if it is needed for you or your children. (Although I would strongly recommend therapy for the whole family).
  • If you don’t have a doctor you can talk to, contact The Hinks-Dellcrest Centre to see about having your child assessed for depression. They are located in Toronto but they have a rural treatment centre near Collingwood. Even if you are too far away, call and ask if they can recommend a centre near you.
  • Or, you can contact the Ontario Association of Marriage and Family Therapy to ask about a therapist in your area. If you can’t afford to pay a therapist, ask for one who is also a doctor so your sessions will be paid by OHIP.
  • The Family Service Association of Toronto has a great service called Families in Transition that offers seminars on separation and divorce and single parenting. If you live anywhere near the city, I recommend attending their seminars.
  • Wait a long time (at least one year if not two) before introducing anyone new to the mix. It’s fine if you want to date but the kids don’t need to know about it right now.
  • The kids WILL NOT LIKE the new man or woman in your life at first. They’re a threat to the kids. Don’t force it—give it time.

I know I’m not an expert but sometimes all you need is advice from someone who has been through the same thing. There is light at the end of the tunnel but it will be the longest tunnel of your life.