Grieving Voices

Part II | Supporting Children Through Divorce and The Holidays

November 21, 2023 Victoria V Season 4 Episode 169
Grieving Voices
Part II | Supporting Children Through Divorce and The Holidays
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Show Notes Transcript

This episode is a follow-up to the last one to bring awareness to Children's Grief Awareness Day on November 16th, 2023.  

In this episode, I dive into supporting children through divorce and their challenges during the holidays. We must recognize that children experience various forms of grief and that parents play a crucial role in helping them cope with loss. Parents who receive early education on loss are better prepared to support their children effectively.

The impact of divorce on children is explored, highlighting the multiple losses they experience and the difficulties they face in understanding love and commitment. It can't be stated enough that parents face many challenges in being present and acknowledging their children's feelings during a challenging time, such as navigating all of the changes that occur as a result of a divorce (or separation), particularly when the parents are grieving themselves.

This episode implores all adults to empathize with children struggling, particularly during holidays and challenging family situations. As a society, we must break the cycle of inadequate support by providing better guidance to the next generation.

I encourage all listeners to engage with the episode and provide feedback to help shape future discussions on supporting children through divorce and the holidays. We adults must raise awareness about children's grief, advocate for improved support systems, and empower all parents to navigate challenging situations with sensitivity and understanding. Future generations depend on what we adults choose to do or not do in response to children's grief.

RESOURCES:

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NEED HELP?

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
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If you are struggling with grief due to any of the 40+ losses, free resources are available HERE.

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Would you like to join the mission of Grieving Voices in normalizing grief and supporting hurting hearts everywhere? Become a supporter of the show HERE.


Victoria Volk: Hello friend. Thank you for tuning in to this episode. And it is a follow-up episode to the one before last week, Children's Grief Awareness. And I said in that episode that I would bring in part two where I'd be talking more about supporting children through divorce and through the holidays as it relates to grief and divorce in general. 

Victoria Volk: And I wanna share that, the first episode, Children's Grief Awareness part one, has not been a very popular episode, and I just want to share how sad that kind of makes me not kind of, it does make me sad. And I suppose, I'm not sure exactly who you are listening to this. Do you not have children? Do most people who listen to this podcast not have children? Are you older? And maybe your children are older? And don't have young children anymore, that could be. I would love to know why that episode isn't resonating or if it did, please share that too. 

Victoria Volk: And I would just love to know like who's really on the other side listening to my voice. Are you listening in the car? Are you listening while you wash dishes? Are you listening on your commute? Or when you're walking, I would love to know. So please share your feedback on the podcast directly please email me. Consider this like you supporting me in research. Because I'm really am curious. Please email me at victoria@theunleashedheart.com or find me on social media, Instagram is usually where I like to is my go to @theunleashedheart, and on Facebook, you can message me, Victoria The Unleashed Heart. 

Victoria Volk: Anyway, I'm sure you can find me. Links are in the show notes too. If you are interested in helping me do that research. I would love to know who you are listening because I really am curious why that episode isn't so popular, but regardless because I'm so passionate about children's grief and the child grievers out there because I was one and I grew up as one. I'm still going to record a part two even though that last episode may not have been as popular because I feel like it is such an important topic because even if your children are older, they're teenagers this still applies to you if your children are adults, who may be are starting their own families. Please share this with them too. I guarantee you that you probably know or have a child in your life, and this is just great information to have in your back pocket or to share with someone you know. 

Victoria Volk: So, piggybacking on what I shared last week. There are some points I want to drill home. Point one is that children learn how to deal with loss at a very early age. That's something I didn't talk about in the last episode, but the vast majority of parents don't realize that children, by the age of three, have learned or developed seventy-five percent of the skills that they will use for the rest of their lives to deal with issues that face them. Most parents rarely know or think about this when they are dealing with the daily issues related to their children. I've been there so many times, I can't even tell you. Parents are very much in the moment when they're talking to their children and likely they don't even take into consideration how their children store things in their personal belief system. 

Victoria Volk: While the vast majority of the information that parents pass on is of value. Like, we all, we are the teachers. Right? Mixed in with all of that good information can be also misinformation on how to deal with loss. And I've talked about this before on the podcast, but when your back is up against the wall and you have a grief experience, you're gonna resort to what you know. And even when your children are faced with a grieving experience, you as a parent are gonna resort to what you know and likely what you were taught as a child is what you will pass on to your child. Unconsciously or consciously, some things, we don't even really think about it. We just respond. Right? We just react. And that's what we tend to do is respond in a knee-jerk reaction. 

Victoria Volk: Point two I wanna make is that grief is more than an emotional response to death. I've talked about this so many times, but again, it bears repeating when it comes to childhood grief too. Because it's not just about death, and children don't need to be dealing with a death to experience grief. Comes in a lot of forms. Many losses that impact a child may seem insignificant to you as the adult for like example, let's say, their favorite toy, and they can't find it. They lost it. Where another child broke it. It seems insignificant to use the adult or the parent. But to us, it's like, I can just buy go buy another one. I mean, there's a million in one soccer balls or whatever it is. But to the young child that lost that toy or that whatever it is, it can be overwhelming. Especially if maybe it was a gift or something like that. Likewise, as adults, we become accustomed to friends saying things to us that we might find upsetting. And we might take offense. And in the moment, but we often are able to look at that comment if we take a step back, look at it from a broader perspective, and based on our relationship, not let that statement have a long-lasting emotional impact on us. 

Victoria Volk: However, adolescents and teens do not have an adult's perspective. And can find one negative comment or a breach of confidentiality emotionally devastating. In both situations, children are dealing with a very real grief grieving experience. And without realizing it, the way parents respond to these early grieving experience can establish a pattern for how the child learns to deal with loss for the rest of their lives. Even though as parents, we don't see these early issues as being related to grief. They have nonetheless set a reactive response to loss in the child's belief system. And it's not like we're trying to pass on bad information to our children. It's just something that happens. A child is the most complex thing we ever bring home and they do not have detailed cautionary information stamped on the bottom of them. Right? They don't come with a manual. 

Victoria Volk: Point three, early education on loss for parents helps prepare children. The children in their life Grief Education is prevention. This is prevention. Most parents never think about helping their children deal with personal emotional loss until there is a crisis of some kind. It may be the death of a family member, a friend, or a pet that forces them to act. And it might be a divorce or some other major life event. Rarely do parents realize that they have already inadvertently given children in ineffective tools to deal with loss, even with previous minor issues their children may have experienced. And when parents face a crisis, they equally find themselves lost, like, as anyone would. Right? Like grief devastating loss just flips your entire world upside down. So your first thought might be to send your child to a professional for assistance. But the problem with that is that the children may see the professionals as advice as being in conflict with what they have already learned. A complicating factor, no matter the value of what this professional tries to teach them, can be conflicting information if the parents are not on the same page as that professional. And so mixed information or interactions with the child can just all it does is create more confusion. Taking all of that into account alone, should have you running to the bookstore or going on to Amazon and ordering the book when children grieve just based on what I just said. Or finding a support group program, like someone like me who facilitates the Helping Children with Loss program. Rather than waiting to for you to recognize that your child is struggling, you can help though with an overwhelming loss in advance, why wait for there to be a devastating loss or an issue to surface before we decide to help our children. Doesn't it make more sense to teach parents the things they need to know to help their child feel safe to express their sadness during those first three years of life? And again, this is when these children aren't just starting to develop the belief system that they will use for the rest of their lives. That is why Helping Children with Loss, When Children Grieve The Handbook is prevention. This information is prevention. 

Victoria Volk: Now that I've gotten these three points out, I wanna start talking about divorce in the holidays as it relates to children in their grief experience. And it might surprise you that we actually divide divorce into two different categories, long-term or sudden. And the difference with divorce is that there is often one partner who has been struggling for a long time. While the other partner has been unaware, that things are not right. And so when the later gets served with divorce papers, it can have the impact of a sudden death, and some children are very aware of a problem in their household. I would say most are aware because children are sponges. They take in information in all kinds of ways and their eyes and ears are always listening and hearing and seeing and watching. So they have often seen and been subjected to arguments between their parents over an extended period of time. And for those children, the announcement of a divorce will fall under the heading of a long-term condition. And on the other hand, some parents manage to conceal from their children, their personal difficulties with each other. And when children who were not aware of any major problems are informed of an impending divorce, their reaction is also as if a sudden death has happened. The impact can be overwhelming to a child. And there's a high probability that a child may begin to participate in a variety of short-term energy-relieving behaviors in response to the sudden news of their parents' divorce. It could be said that a divorce is a family matter. And even though there is truth in that comment, the bottom line is that the couple is getting the divorce and the children are in the line of fire. The collateral damage to the children can be monumental. 

Victoria Volk: The children caught in a divorce are experiencing multiple losses. What loss or losses are they experiencing? Well, look at the conflicting feelings caused by a change or an end in a familiar pattern of behavior. So some examples of losses that children may experience while their parents are going through divorce is a loss of patient that this family would be together. The loss of trust, loss of familiarity and routines, loss of safety, loss of childhood, loss of residence, and or the change to dual residences. Any one of these losses is enough to break a child's heart. Not to mention, feel overwhelming. 

Victoria Volk: So let's look at each of these in a little bit more detail. Looking at the loss of expectation that the family would be together, children are taught about love and honor and trust and loyalty by their parents. They learn how to be loving and considerate how to resolve conflicts and how to get along with others. And from literature and films and religious institutions, children also learn that the vows exchanged in the marriage ceremony pledge a commitment to those virtues. And whether or not you've experienced this, think about how can fusing and disturbing it must be to children when their parents cannot maintain that pledge to each other. Also, take loss of trust. Imagine the conflicting feelings children must experience as a divorce scenario unfolds, or explodes before their eyes. What reference point do they have to deal with those feelings? It is very difficult teach your children about love and simultaneously teach them about divorce. Given that implicit promise that the family will always be together, the divorce itself represents a major breach of trust. 

Victoria Volk: Moving on to loss of familiarity and routines, this is difficult all by itself, and it's often greatly intensified by the fact that children may be undergoing other major transitions as they move from childhood to adulthood. We know all too well that the stresses and strains of those transitions can have powerful consequences. And those transitions can be happening in every age bracket. 

Victoria Volk: Next, loss of safety. Familiarity in routines build safety in a sense of well-being. The patterns established within a family are usually dismantled by divorce. Children flailing around and the emotional aftermath of a divorce often do not feel very safe. Safety and familiarity go hand in hand, so it is a good idea to limit the amount of additional changes. 

Victoria Volk: Loss of childhood. The instinct for survival can take many forms. For the most part, survival actions are beneficial. Sometimes they backfire. The scenario in which children take care of a parent is one example of such a backfire. It is understandable that children who would instinctively try to protect the very person or people who are supposed to protect them. It's the child's way of trying to guarantee their own survival. But this impulse to care take puts them in conflict with their own nature. Divorce tends to turn children into amateur psychologists. It spurs them to analyze and figure things out. It forces them to grow up before their time and to take on attitudes and actions that are not appropriate to their time of life. 

Victoria Volk: And I can say this specifically for myself that that holds a lot of truth just for my own experience of my dad passing when I was eight years old, my parents didn't divorce. He died, but like I said earlier, divorce can be this long-term experience where it can be this like a sudden death. And so that's where there's similarities that can be expressed in divorce, as well as a death of a parent. 

Victoria Volk: And talking about loss of residence or change to dual residences, everything that I've talked about has been magnified when the move is the result of a divorce. The moves or changes caused by the divorce carrying emotional weight which is added to the fact that moving in and of itself changes everything that is familiar and routine for a child. Think about it. If you change your job, you're going to a new you might move across to a different state, you're going to have new coworkers, new neighbors, new friends. You're leaving old friends and colleagues behind. The same goes for children. But it's on a scale that taking all these other things into consideration and what I've already shared you can see why this would have probably long-term effects on the well-being of a child. 

Victoria Volk: And here's what I'll say to all of this. When as parents, we work on our own grief and work to resolve what is emotionally complete for ourselves and the losses that we've experienced in our life, whether it's loss of trust or loss of safety or loss of our spouse or parent. We learn how to simply be present with a child in our life. Regardless of their age. You can simply be and not have to do anything. You don't have to fix your child. You don't have to give advice. You don't have to jump in or change a subject. You can just listen and acknowledge. And this is what builds trust with children. And I will go on to say to starting first, going first, speaking to how you had expectations for your life with your significant other that didn't work out, but that doesn't mean that that child has loved any less. It doesn't mean that you care about that, the other parent, any less. You might, but to not use that time that you have with your child to bad mouth or talk about the other parent, but instead use the time that you have with your child to. Let them share. Let them express. Let them give voice to what they're feeling, to what they're thinking. That is what builds trust with children. 

Victoria Volk: And this is where grief recovery is the most helpful because you can simply learn how to connect with your child at an emotional level. And not take away the feelings of the child. That's not the goal. It's not the goal to fix just to be and listen. And so as we're navigating the holidays coming up and the changes of homes or sharing the holiday with a significant other or your now ex-spouse, or ex-significant other. Think about that. Think about what that child put yourself in the shoes of the child. What will they be experiencing? What would how are they feeling about especially if this is the first holiday the first Thanksgiving or the first Christmas where the child is feeling torn between two homes. Feeling torn from their mother, being feeling torn from their father, or whatever the situation is. It could even be a grandparent and a parent. Right? I mean, there are so many different scenarios to what a family looks like these days that I just my point is though is to think about the child put yourself attempt to put yourself in that child's shoes. And your child may say, well, you might ask, well, how are you doing? I'm fine. Children might appear to be fine. They might appear unscathed. But I guarantee you all of the change and disruption to their life, especially if it was I would say regardless if it was like this long-term thing that they saw issues, they knew that there were issues versus feeling like it was a sudden death. Either way, there is gonna be changes that the entire family will have to navigate and adapt to. 

Victoria Volk: And I think if the child is brought into the fold of that experience and not shut out or, I mean, if you might think that you're protecting them, but if protecting them is not letting them talk about their feelings or not letting them share or not having them have a voice that is not helping them. And so I just wanted to encourage you if you find yourself in this situation or someone who is or if it was a death, let's say it was a death of a parent, all of these things can still apply that I just talked about. There's still going to be a lot of change. There's still going to be a lot of uncertainty and by keeping those points in mind that I started out this episode with, you can be a soft space. And a place for a child to turn to not to be fixed, but to be heard. 

Victoria Volk: And I guess that's my whole point in sharing this episode. These two episodes is to bring awareness to childhood grief because it is a thing. Even though child children may appear fine, they may appear like they're not being affected. I guarantee you they are on some level. They could just be expressing what they've learned from you. They could be emulating what they've learned from you. And so take that into consideration like how have you shown up in your grief and express that to your child regardless of what their age is because you can look back in hindsight and you're always a parent. You're forever a parent. That never changes. So whether it is an adult child or whether it is a young child, this is an episode where you can reflect on the past and think about the lessons that you passed out to your children and maybe share this episode with them and have a conversation. Maybe some things that you would have liked to have done differently or that you wish would have gone differently. That's grief too. Grief is a loss of hope, dreams, and expectations. Anything that we wish would have been or could be different, better, or more. 

Victoria Volk: And that's what I gotta say about that. This is for the children out there, the grievers, the most vulnerable among us, and you grow up one day. I know you're a child. You're not as a child, you're not probably listening to this. But as an adult, if you were a child who experienced a lot of grief and you grew up with grief. I see you. I hear you. I know you because I am you. And this is why I'm so passionate about sharing this information today in this episode and the last episode. And I do hope that the downloads go up because there are a whole lot of children suffering in this world and there are a whole lot of adults who grew up as children who felt as though they were suffering. 

Victoria Volk: And if you are now a parent like me and you were a child griever, you can break the cycle. You can break those patterns and those things that you learned that were misinformation and unhelpful to you you can learn new knowledge and new tools to support your children and to break that cycle moving forward. That's all I gotta say today on this topic. I hope you found it helpful. Please share it with a parent that you know or love or use it as a tool for yourself to become a better version of yourself as a parent to children that you are raising. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.