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Allison Pescosolido, M.A Headshot

Divorce As a Teaching Tool

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Parents are superheroes. You keep your children safe, protected and cared for every day. As parents and caregivers, you are capable of putting aside anything when it comes to the welfare of your children. Consider the mother who lifts a car to save her child trapped underneath or the father who works multiple jobs to pay for his son's private schooling. Parents are the everyday heroes of our lives and, like all people, face down adversity (and sometimes reality) for the betterment of the children. However, when confronted with the trauma of separation and divorce, many parents falter.

Divorce, in many cases, is to parenting what kryptonite is to Superman. Just as Superman time and again worked around or through the devastation of kryptonite, so to will you have to work parenting around the wreckage of divorce. Divorce doesn't have to render you powerless, you just have to consider it from another angle and turn it to your advantage.

When we step back and look at divorce from a distance, we see two people attempting to function in adversity. What many parents forget to take into account is that the ways in which you behave and present yourself directly impacts your children and will implicitly teach them how to act in the face of heartbreak and distress.

You not only need to act with integrity to teach your children how to behave through conflict, but you also have to grasp the opportunity to explicitly teach them ways to handle complex emotions, develop tools to cope with change and provide an environment that supports positive thinking. Imagine empowering your children with the tools to face change and heartbreak in the future. In this regard, divorce can become a teaching tool for life skills and emotional intelligence that will not only make your children more resilient but also better people.

There is a wonderful saying that comes from Yogi Bhajan:

"If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it."

Divorce is your time to become a master of change and emotional intelligence for your children. You may be hurt, but you are still wearing the cape of parenthood. You can continue to be the superhero by making your pain and recovery teachable moments for your children.

A SuperParent Will:

1. Set Their Intention

You can set your intention each day by focusing on your goals and how you plan to achieve them. A proactive approach to your divorce will show your children that even in conflict, one must act in order to accomplish their desires.

Teachable Moment: Open a dialogue about divorce. Share that your heart is hurt (without going into detail) but explain that you still go to work, buy groceries and make dinner -- even when you'd rather just sleep it all away. Have your children share a time when they were upset about something and did not want to go to school. Ask them to share how they worked past their hurt feelings and carried on. How did they feel after the day was over? Use this moment to show that continuing your routines and practices actually helps you feel better.

2. Act With Integrity

You can be a SuperParent through divorce by consistently acting with integrity. Keep the same rules and routines you had from before the divorce to create stability for your children. Divorce is just as hard (if not harder) on children as it is on you. Speak only with integrity about your ex; saying hurtful things about a child's parent is traumatizing. Use your coach or your journal to purge negative thoughts and speech.

Teachable Moment: Explain that during divorce, husbands and wives often get angry with each other. Sometimes, when angered, people will say cruel things or act inappropriately - neither of which helps anyone feel better. State that rather than acting in anger, you can choose to release your emotions in a constructive way. Counting to ten, writing your feelings, and vigorous exercise are all great outlets for anger and frustration. Have the children share ways they they can let out their anger without hurting another.

3. Get Help

Divorce is complicated and the process can be frustrating even for the boldest of SuperParents. When your children see you receiving help - and recovering - you teach them that it is perfectly acceptable to seek assistance from others. Hire a coach to help you understand your emotions. Then master them by sharing what you learn with your children. Be sure to rely upon the assistance of divorce financial planners and attorneys as well. Their advice will only help you to reach a satisfactory settlement.

Teachable Moment: Explain that sometimes even adults face challenges that are too difficult to work on alone. Share an experience you've had receiving help from others. Have your children share their own experiences. How did they feel after getting help? What did they learn from their helper? Finally, brainstorm ways you can all help each other.

4. Have an Open Heart

The greatest of heroes are those whose hearts are full. Reframe the context of your heart by focusing on things for which you are grateful. Listing just three gratitudes each morning will begin the process of changing your brain chemistry and make you a happier person.

Teachable Moment: Have a weekly family meeting. Share something you appreciate about each of your children. Have them share what they appreciate about each other and you. Opening the divorce dialogue is half the battle to recovery; remembering the good in life is the other. Be an instrument of good in your children's lives by empowering them with positive thinking. You are their superhero and they are looking to you for help.