Divorce & New Beginnings, A Complete Guide to Recovery, Solo Parenting, Co-Parenting, and Stepfamilies by Genevieve Clapp
This is an ambitious book. Author Genevieve Clapp, Ph.D., tackles the divorce process from the practical to the emotional. She guides you through the initial breakup, the intense emotional aftermath, the return to single life and the challenges facing stepfamilies. Dr. Clapp also gives solid, actionable advice about co-parenting and helping your children handle the rupture in their lives. Although the book is hampered by endless repetition, and the constant citation of studies and research, this same weakness enables you to use it as a reference. You can read only the chapters that pertain to your situation and still get all the necessary information. getAbstract recommends Clapp’s all-inclusive guide to anyone contemplating a breakup, in the midst of a divorce, or newly single.
- Divorce mangles the lives of everyone involved.
- Divorce occurs in three stages: “Preseparation, transition and recovery-rebuilding.”
- Several strategies can help you manage the destructive emotions that are often related to divorce, such as stress, anxiety, anger and depression.
- Going through an “emotional divorce” enables you to accept the end of your marriage and begin a new chapter in your life.
- Divorce ends the life that children have always known and trusted.
- Practicing consistent, positive parenting can prevent your children from developing ongoing problems that stem from a divorce.
- Prolonged parental conflict is the main cause of a child’s poor long-term adjustment.
- Learn to communicate with your former partner as a co-parent rather than a spouse.
- You can follow the “Parenting Plan” as your blueprint for co-parenting after a divorce.
- Stepfamilies can use multiple strategies to facilitate the “blending” process.
Divorce & New Beginnings Book Summary
Divorce – It’s Never Easy
Most divorces are tremendously difficult for everyone involved. In fact, research shows that most people need at least two years after a separation to regain their equilibrium. Divorce wreaks havoc with your life and, at times, the losses seem unbearable. Everything changes. Your lifestyle, plans, identity and even financial security may never be the same again. Emotions such as anger, resentment, sadness and depression bombard you, yet at times you might feel elated or filled with a new sense of freedom.
The Three Stages of Divorce
A divorce is not a single event. It sets many things in motion, each with its own changes and challenges. The process consists of three stages: “preseparation, transition and recovery-rebuilding.” Preseparation, or the time leading up to a divorce, can take place over months or even years. Some people try counseling and periods of negotiation, while the end of a marriage takes others completely by surprise. Many people experience feelings of alienation, hopelessness and anger.
“Divorce requires more readjustment and reorganization than any other stressful life event…except for the death of a spouse.”
The transition stage begins upon separation and is marked by emotion and trauma. It is the leave-taking of one life and the emergence into an unknown future. This phase can be a “waking nightmare.” Feelings of inadequacy, failure or loneliness assault the newly divorced. Some are overwhelmed by anger and bitterness. Even those who wanted out of the marriage cannot escape feelings of guilt and stress. At some point though, the emotions even out. Hope re-enters the picture. People often begin to try unfamiliar things and seek new experiences, looking to take their lives in a fresh direction. Usually around two years after a separation, a divorced person enters the recovery-rebuilding stage. He or she accepts the end of the marriage and begins a new life, no longer wrapped up in the former spouse. Now independent, the man or woman adopts new priorities, and changes his or her lifestyle. This process often takes place in fits and starts, but eventually a new life emerges.
Weathering the Storm
Stress, anxiety, sadness, depression and anger are common emotions among the newly divorced, who should try to avoid any other life-altering changes. Certain relaxation techniques can help decrease the tension in your body. For example, try autogenic breathing, a process of inhaling slowly for four seconds, holding your breath for two and then exhaling for four seconds. Repeat this process for 20 minutes to experience its full benefits. Regular aerobic exercise increases your energy, decreases depression and improves your self-esteem.
“Whether one leaves or is left may not affect how rapidly he or she recovers from divorce.”
To tackle anxiety, write down concerns as they occur to you. Prioritize your problems and deal with only a few at a time. Record your feelings and thoughts in a journal. Distract yourself with fun activities like crossword puzzles. If needed, seek professional help, such as counseling.
Depression and Anger
Realize that grieving and a brief period of depression are normal. Experience and acknowledge your feelings of loss and sadness. Activity is the best cure. Make a list of activities that you find enjoyable and get started. Exercise, socialize, complete tasks one at a time, and take care of yourself and your appearance.
“Sadness is a normal, expected and healthy emotion in divorce.”
Sometimes divorced people are overwhelmed by the amount of anger they feel toward their exes. This rage wells from a spring of disappointment, frustration, helplessness and humiliation. It also stems from feelings of betrayal or unrequited love, as well as a new uncertainty about the future. Some of this anger is normal and healthy. But too much anger, or anger that continues well after the divorce, is self-defeating. Use these techniques to diffuse it:
- Write a letter telling off your former spouse, but do not mail it.
- Expend your anger via exercise.
- Find constructive outlets for your negative energy.
- Talk about your feelings rather than allowing them to grow and fester.
- Write about what you are experiencing in a diary.
- Cry, scream, yell or hit your pillow.
In addition to your legal divorce, you need to undergo an “emotional divorce.” This process allows you to accept the dissolution of your marriage and let go of your emotional baggage. Begin by announcing your divorce to your family, friends and associates. Put away “painful memorabilia” such as photos and gifts. Disengage emotionally from your ex-spouse, limiting conversations to necessary subjects, such as caring for your children or dividing belongings. Set aside your hopes of reconciliation. Allow yourself time to mourn the end of your marriage. Finally, try to let go of your anger and experience the healing power of forgiveness.
What About the Children?
To children, divorce means that the life they have always known is about to end. With divorce, children lose their families, their support systems and their stability. Children grow up believing that their families are permanent. When this belief is shattered, children experience rejection, sadness, stress, loneliness, powerlessness and guilt. Many children also witness the evidence of their parents’ anger, such as volatile conflict and argument. Their relationships with their individual parents change; often, contact with one parent becomes limited. The disruption of a child’s daily routine, rules and discipline, causes increased anxiety and insecurity. Statistics show that, eventually, most children adjust to divorce. Yet the majority encounters short-term problems and a “significant minority” develops long-term issues.
“As you come to accept that your marriage is truly over, a dam may seem to break inside you, spilling out a torrent of anger – or perhaps even rage.”
To avoid long-range problems, both parents must maintain a close connection with the children. A stable home environment and strong, positive parenting are also important. Good parenting in a divorced household requires the following from the parents: “warmth, nurturance and respect”; “open communication”; “support and responsiveness”; “clear expectations, limits and rules”; “monitoring of the children’s behavior”; “positive discipline” and “predictable routines.”
Telling Your Children
Tell your children about the divorce only when the decision is final. Both parents should tell all of their children together. Provide the kids with a few basic reasons for the divorce without assigning blame. Let them know how their lives will change. Lastly, reassure them that both parents love each one of them and that they are in no way responsible for the divorce.
“Research findings are so damning that prolonged parental conflict is now considered by most experts to be the number one predictor of children’s poor adjustment after divorce.”
Encourage your children to ask questions. Then, answer them patiently. Help them understand their feelings. Do everything you can to provide a stable home environment with predictable routines. Practice the rules of strong parenting. Finally, don’t expect your children to act like adults. Resist using them as confidants or companions, or asking them to assume parental responsibilities.
Divorce research shows that prolonged parental conflict is the main cause of children’s poor adjustment to a divorce. Children of any age suffer when their parents engage in angry, emotional conflict. They feel caught between the two people they love most in the world. They experience painful “loyalty conflicts,” feeling forced to choose between one parent and the other. When parents use kids as messengers, pump their children for information about the former spouse or disparage each other, their children feel torn apart.
“Ideally, your children will have two parents to parent them, which means that you need to make co-parenting a priority.”
Follow these steps to reduce conflict and help your children adjust to your divorce: Stick to your parenting schedule. Do not discuss parenting issues in front of your kids. Exchange children at a neutral site, such as at school or childcare. Make transitions easier for your children by developing leaving rituals, allowing them to bring a favorite toy and maintaining consistency in each home. Try to limit the number of transitions. Never force them to choose a parent. Treat interactions with your former spouse in a businesslike manner.
New Ways to Communicate
Once you are divorced, you need to learn new ways to communicate with your ex-spouse. First, use “I” messages to express yourself. For example, instead of saying, “You never work with the children on their homework,” try saying, “I would appreciate it if you would find time to work with the children on their homework.” Concentrate on “attacking the problem, not the person.” Try stating the problem in impartial terms, avoiding using the word “you.” Do not dictate rock-solid solutions. Instead, try negotiating or offering suggestions. Learn how to listen, which is the first step in good communication. Avoid language that you know will anger your former partner. Be courteous and respectful, and practice using “disarming tools” to defuse volatile situations. For instance, agreeing with your angry spouse goes a long way toward neutralizing his or her anger. Learn how to stay calm and collected.
Evolving from Parent to Co-Parent
You and your former spouse must find the best way to raise your children together. One way to do this is to create a “Parenting Plan.” This blueprint contains guidelines for the following areas of concern: reaching decisions, setting a schedule, swapping the kids, “transportation, communication, financial, moving and ground rules.”
“The parenting role is very different from the spousal role. If you clearly compartmentalize the two, you are less likely to confuse them.”
The “decision-making” plan governs who will make major and minor decisions in such areas as, “education, religion, medical issues and childcare.” The parenting schedule carefully outlines who will be caring for the children at any given time on a week-to-week basis. It also covers holidays and vacations. Delineate how you will share the financial responsibility for your children. For instance, who will pay for health insurance or private schools? What will you do if one parent decides to relocate? Agree upon an acceptable distance to live from each other. Set ground rules, such as checking with each other before scheduling an activity for the kids.
“Assume the role of an effective parent rather than a pal or recreation director.”
Don’t focus on the issue of child custody. Instead, concentrate on sharing parenting responsibilities in a way that is best for your children. You and your ex-spouse are restructuring your relationship. You now must also restructure how you parent. As divorced parents, practice the following basic rules of co-parenting:
- “Use the on-duty/off-duty parent concept” – The parent in charge makes the day-to-day decisions.
- “Acknowledge and respect…the other parent’s relationship with the children” – Always remember how important this person is to your kids.
- “Don’t assume anything; give the benefit of the doubt” – Always double-check what your child is telling you, especially if it goes against a parenting policy.
- Communicate clearly about the children – Use a variety of communication tools, such as e-mail, businesslike phone calls or designated folders for school assignments.
- “Make containing conflict a top priority” – This will help your children recover.
Creating a New Family
Remarried couples face a plethora of challenges, especially when they both enter the marriage with children from a previous union. Each stepfamily must find its own way, but you can adopt certain strategies to facilitate the “blending” process. First, communicate openly about your expectations and feelings, and encourage the children to air their concerns. Set achievable goals based on realistic expectations. Make your marriage a priority. A family is only as strong as the couple that leads it. Allow things to evolve at their own pace. Pushing an agenda is a sure way to encounter resistance. Cultivate your own unique relationship with your stepchildren. Do not try to act as a stand-in for their out-of-home parent. Let the children’s biological parent handle discipline at first, until you build trust, and achieve a certain level of love and comfort. Lastly, create a new family identity with its own rituals, traditions and history.
About the Author
Dr. Genevieve Clapp works for the Superior Court of California. She counsels divorcing couples on child-custody disputes, and co-parenting and stepfamily issues. She also teaches at California and Arizona State Universities.
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