Woman sitting beside bed crying.

Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

As a parent, you want nothing more than to see your children happy and healthy. But if you’re going through a divorce, it’s natural to feel like you’re failing in this most important role. After all, you’re splitting up with the person you thought you would be with forever who is, more than likely, the children’s other parent, whom they love very much. How can you possibly give your children the stability they need when your own life is in such turmoil and nothing seems to be predictable anymore?

Rest assured, you are not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States get divorced. And while going through a divorce is always difficult, it can be especially hard on parents. Here are three ways divorce can wreck your confidence as a parent and what you can do to overcome these challenges.

1. Your Ex is Attacking Your Parenting Abilities as Part of Their Custody Case.

If you’re in the middle of a custody battle, chances are your soon-to-be ex is saying some pretty hurtful things about you as a parent. They may be trying to paint you as an unfit parent in order to get full custody of the children or primary custody with the most parenting time. They may even be threatening to reveal all the secrets you thought would be held sacred forever between you to prove you’re as awful as they claim you are. Some spouses may go so far as to barrage you with harassing messages to intimidate you into agreeing to things that are against your interests in the divorce and custody case. It’s perfectly natural to start doubting your abilities as a parent when you hear such horrible things about yourself over and over again.

To combat this, it’s important to remember that just because your ex is questioning your parenting abilities or threatening that if they reveal your deepest darkest secrets the court will rule against you or take your children away doesn’t mean that those things are true or will happen. You are still your children’s parent. You always will be their parent forever no matter what your ex says about you in or out of court. And your children will always love you, even if your spouse doesn’t.

In most cases, these accusations and threats are simply part of a well-planned strategy to get in your head and secure from you what they want in the divorce. Instead of letting their words get to you, focus on yourself and your children’s well-being. Focus on being the best parent you can be and let your actions speak for themselves to everyone in the family court system who will become part of your case.

2. You’re Worried About How the Divorce Will Affect Your Children.

Another common concern for parents going through a divorce is how their children will be affected by the split. Will they be emotionally scarred? Will they have behavioral problems? Will they start to act out in school? Will they resent one or both parents forever and think their childhood has been ruined?

It’s normal to worry about these things, in fact, I’d argue that if a parent doesn’t worry about these things every once in a while, what kind of parent are they? But, even when these thoughts do intrude in your mind and heart, try your best not to focus on them too much. Instead, focus on the things you can control, like making sure that you provide a stable and loving home for your children and that you keep communication lines open with them so that they feel comfortable talking to you about anything that’s on their minds. Focus on communicating with and following your attorney’s advice to keep the case moving forward in as amicable a way as possible. Focus on practicing good co-parenting habits, even if your spouse is resistant because your children need to see that you are willing to work for what’s best for them in the long run.

If you see your children struggling with adjusting to their new schedules or living arrangements, get a referral to an experienced and well-credentialed child therapist in your area who can work with your children. Be sure to include your ex in this process, if advised to do so by your attorney or required by the court. Be sure to implement and follow through with anything the therapist recommends to make this transition healthier for your children, even if your ex isn’t doing so. Your job is to protect your children where you can, but also serve as their advocate when they need help adjusting to the new reality of their family life.

3. You Worry That Your Children Will Blame You for the Divorce.

It’s common for children of divorce to blame one or both of their parents for the split. They might think that if only Mom and Dad had stayed together, everything would be OK. As a result, they might act out in school or at home, or withdraw from friends and activities they once enjoyed. If your children are behaving differently since the divorce, talk to them about how they’re feeling. Let them know that it’s OK to be sad, angry, or confused and offer your support however they need it. Divorce is hard on everyone involved, but it doesn’t have to define who they are as people and it will never define who you are as their parent.

Children don’t have the perspective they need to understand how complex a marital relationship can be or how fragile some marriages are. It’s not appropriate for you to assign blame for them, but rather to talk to them about how romantic relationships may change and evolve and sometimes dissolve over time, but what will never change is the love their parents have for them always. Be their safe place during this transition and any other periods of adjustment that may follow. You know your children better than anyone. Just being their constant will do more to resolve their feelings of blame or resentment than anything else you can do.

Final Thoughts

Divorce is never easy. This will likely be one of the hardest things you’ve ever personally faced, so it’s not hard to imagine that your self-confidence is wavering. But, you are still the same great parent you’ve always been. You just have to find a new normal for your family and that starts with taking care of yourself first. Get involved in activities outside of parenting, make time for friends and hobbies you love, and reach out for help or support when you need it. Your children will be better off if they see you happy and healthy, so do whatever it takes to get yourself to that place.

If you’re feeling lost or hopeless, remember that this is only a season in your life. It won’t last forever and things will eventually get better. Until then, take things one day at a time and be gentle with yourself as you navigate this new terrain. You’ve got this!