Positive parenting through divorce class may feel more challenging during emotional stages accompanied by the transition. The pain of divorce moves through a process that is very much like what happens to us when someone we love dies. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross did extensive work with terminal patients and studied how their feelings changed from the process of initial discovery to eventual death. These stages are useful in understanding how children grieve about the loss of the family as they imagined it. The grieving process is a progression of feelings and emotional states that move by stages. Grief is a normal way children deal with loss. These stages may vary in order; may be experienced simultaneously, or may be revisited after having progressed into the next stage. The grief process is painful, difficult, and inevitable, but the end result is healing, which will ultimately lead to growth.
The initial reaction to any traumatic event is shock; an inability or unwillingness to believe what is happening. After the initial shock, Kubler-Ross identifies five stage of coping with loss:
1. Denial - Denial is a common first response children experience because they need to believe that their parents will change their minds and the divorce is not going to happen. "Mom or Dad will change their mind." "Dad will come home next week."
2. Anger - Children experiencing anger want to blame someone for the sadness they feel. They are often irritable, aggressive and uncooperative. "I hate Dad for leaving us." "Mom should have cooked more and kept the house cleaner."
3. Bargaining - In this stage, children may feel their parents will stay together if they make a deal. The bargaining stage allows the child to feel they have some control over the situation, and they try to please. In bargaining, the child can focus on hope and delay facing sadness. "If I do all my homework maybe Mom and Dad will call off the divorce."
4. Depression - Depression involves a great sense of loss and sadness children feel when they realize that nothing will stop the divorce. Parents need to allow their children to grieve the loss and express their sadness. When a parent rushes to encourage the child to focus only on the positive, it may be a reflection of the parent's inability to process sadness in themselves. "I can't stop the divorce and can't fix the situation."
5. Acceptance - Acceptance is not characterized by happiness; it means moving beyond the feelings of loss. It begins when there is less depression, more resolution and stability, and the child accepts the divorce. Acceptance appears gradually and may take months or years to occur. Divorce is a major transition and a journey of growth. There are no absolute rules that determine how the process of healing will occur. Your children's ability to adapt to divorce is going to depend on your ability to adapt to the divorce. The sooner you begin to heal, the sooner your children will start on their road to recovery.
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