There will be times when you feel like giving up. You will be stressed, inundated with paperwork, and agitated by a seemingly endless process that feels like a big hole in which you continue to throw money, and you will have little patience left over for the children. Remember, this divorce is necessary for both you and your spouse to begin your lives anew and for you to take inventory of how you got into the position of being married to the wrong person and how you will learn from your experiences.
The divorce process will end at some point, usually within one year, unless the state in which you live requires a waiting period. However, we cannot lose sight of what will not end, and that is the impact this divorce and your behavior will ultimately have on your children. Look at children and you will often see the parents. If your children are acting out or seem anxious, they are feeling your stress. If you are behaving in a manner that seems to them to be helpless and overwhelmed, they will begin developing traits of depression or anxiety which may be temporary or become a permanent part of their personality. They may develop an obsessive-compulsive need to keep their world neat and orderly because the environment at home seems so out of order. Your children are the mirror image of what they see in you. For their sake, you are going to have to find within yourself some measure of solace, harmony, and forgiveness.
While you are buried beneath paperwork and court documents, you might also be fighting for temporary support from your spouse. These are hard times, but they will pass. In the meantime, try to exercise some logic and good judgment when it comes to your children and your household. For example, if your spouse is supposed to pay the electric bill but hasn't and you can pay it, do it. Although some attorneys may advise you not to pay it, they won't be the people sitting in the dark without air-conditioning all night or all weekend. Just because you pay a bill that is due when it has been deemed your spouse's responsibility does not mean that a judge won't order your spouse to pay you back later. Do the right thing. Your child is already afraid of the dark. You're not going to win any points by putting him in a pitch-black room and telling him he can thank his daddy for it. He expects you to fix the problem, and quite frankly, so do we. Anything that places your child in danger or creates fear that is in your control to minimize or alleviate, you should do, no questions asked.
Do not give up. That's what your spouse and his attorney want. It is what they're waiting for. They think you don't have the stamina for all this, but perhaps they have underestimated you. Perhaps this divorce has made you a stronger person and empowered you with confidence. There is nothing more sweet than not folding under pressure. Take each day by itself. You can master the task, face the challenge, achieve the goal, or at least darn well stay in the boxing ring. All you have to do is wait for the bell to ring, and you'll be able to rest in your corner. All you have to do is make it through fifteen rounds and you win, or at the very least you don't lose. Look at the faces of your children and remember what you are fighting for. It's not the money. It's not the marital residence. It's not the boat or the summer cottage. It's the safety and security of the family, because even without everything else, if you have that, you have it all.
Even with your parenting skills scrutinized, even with your spouse fighting over possessions or custody, you can still take a break, still unwind without the children, still be a great parent and not be attached to your children 24 hours every day. Get a sitter and have dinner with friends. Get a haircut and a manicure. Go to the library and lose yourself in a good book. Put the kids to bed early. Give them waffles for dinner. One night of no cooking won't hurt. In fact, they'll thank you, and you'll thank you when you wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the next day. Downtime and restful sleep are the best medicine for stress, and we are nothing if not resilient.
No one likes to be under a microscope, but if you're doing nothing wrong and your demeanor is calm and patient, we say let them look all they want. If you give them nothing to take away, they leave empty-handed.
This article has been edited and excerpted from In the Best Interest of the Child: A Manual for Divorcing Parents, by Nadir Baksh, Psy.D. and Laurie Murphy, Ph.D. Both have worked with divorce and its impact on children for more than 20 years. For more information, visit their website at www.InTheBestInterestOfTheChildren.com.