My ex just recently moved out of our home. The night before he moved out, I was sleeping on the couch and was overcome with grief. Though I knew the breakup was best, I was just so sad. I can be an ugly crier. My 11-year-old son heard me. He jumped out of bed, came out to me on the couch, hugged me and asked me if I was okay. I was so ashamed that he felt the need to comfort me. I let him know that of course I was sad about what was happening and just needed a good cry before I went to sleep. I also said I was okay and quickly dried my tears. I walked him back to bed and told him how much his father and I loved him and that it would all be okay. Once he was asleep, I went for a drive to work out my feelings a little better. I feel I should have asked him how he felt – but I felt unable to help him in that moment.
How can I take care of my kids when I’m struggling emotionally?
Thank you for writing in. Give yourself a big hug. Please don’t feel guilty. You managed this the best you could in a difficult situation. Good job reigning in your emotions, reassuring your son, and reminding him that he was loved by both of his parents. You also let him know that it would be okay. I am so glad you gave yourself the space to see what you were feeling. The most we can ask of ourselves is to do our best in the moment and then investigate to see if there are other solutions that might help us even more. This is exactly what you’ve done.
How do we take care of our kids when we are emotionally struggling? Start with understanding and using the oxygen mask principle that every flight attendant demonstrates before the plane takes off. To better take care of your kids, first take care of you. Our children take so many signals from us. Even babies’ sense and react to the strong emotions, tension, or stress of their caregivers. Your children’s anxiety may decrease as your anxiety decreases. Be kind to yourself. People who have recently separated from a partner are likely to be emotional for the first few months or longer after a break-up. If you are dealing with anxiety, sadness, guilt, grief or other strong emotions or stressors, focus on you first. Take time to allow yourself to feel any negative emotions that are often part of big changes. I’ve heard it said that it takes more energy to hold back intense emotions than to simply allow yourself to feel them. That has certainly been true for me. We all try to avoid negative emotions, crossing our fingers and hoping we will just get over it. Typically, we are healthier when we look at them and address them. Many people have found an answer in mindful self-compassion. Click here to read more about self-compassion.
It’s easy to understand our kids are living with strong and possible negative emotions as well. Emotions seem to be fully grown at birth, whereas the ability to deal with them positively comes much later. Children may be more vulnerable to anxiety after their parents split. Observe your child’s behavior for signs of anxiety. This can include an increase in intense emotions, sensitivity, and fear. It could show up physically, in aches, pains or an upset stomach. If anxiety is high and your child is extremely agitated, the first step is to calm them and help them feel safe. Once they are calmer help them to identify what they are feeling. Click here for more about helping your child to deal with negative emotions.
Kindness and compassion are great healers for you and your children. Teach your kids it’s not only okay, but essential to treat yourself with love, compassion, and patience. You deserve it!
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