Our family is going through a lot of change right now. The biggest and latest change is that my husband, Roger, got a new job. Not just a new job, but a new career too. It is exciting and motivating, and scary all at the same time.
I'm not against change, in fact I like to think I embrace it. I find, however, that change is a lot easier, if you know what is going to happen in the long run. What will the end result be? If we knew that, it would be easier to accept the change in the beginning. Of course, that is rarely, if ever, the case when it comes to change and so often times fear, anxiety and stress come into play.
I imagine that must be how children feel when there is a change in their family dynamics. Whether their parents are getting divorced, or whether they've been divorced and are now entering into another relationship or marriage, it seems there must be some element of excitement and a whole lot of scary. We, as the parents, don't really think about the change so much because by the time we introduce the scenario to our children, we have already accepted the change. We have already visualized and mentally experienced how that change will affect us and what the final outcome will be (or we hope it will be).
We know, by our life experiences, that it will all be OK in the end. It might not always be what we want, but its not going to kill us, and things have a way of working themselves out. In most cases, our children don't have those same life experiences to fall back on. In addition, they didn't ask for this change, but yet they are subject to it anyway. So then, how can we help minimize their anxieties and fears?
It seems that in a world of uncertainty we want to be able to have control over something. With chaos around us, helping to have somethings the same helps reassure us. As your family is going through your change (divorce, remarriage, etc.) keep some consistency with your children. Do you always eat dinner together and then watch TV? Then keep that up and maybe let them have control of the remote. Do they like to ride their bikes or go for a walk with you? Make a point of still doing this and let them choose your route. Don't compromise on your values or what needs to be done, but maybe give a little bit of flexibility on how or when so they feel like they have control over something.
Most importantly, reassure your children that regardless of the change you, and their other parent still love them. Acknowledge that this is a time of change. Things are different, but that doesn't mean they are good or bad, just different than they used to be. Think about what you would want to know if you were in there shoes. Remind them that you are always there for them and nothing will change that.
Finally, cut them some slack. Children might look like little adults, but they do not have the same emotional or mental development that adults have (I know - big surprise). In other words, don't be surprised if you see a temper tantrum, crying, anger or shut down from your children. They don't always know how to express what they are feeling. They may even regress to the behaviors of a child several years younger than them - even if they are currently a teenager. In their minds, the changes they are experiencing probably stink right now, but keep your cool, listen to them, and love them. The more you allow them to feel what they are feeling and reassure them, the sooner they will accept the change and move forward.
Face it, change isn't easy for anyone, but it is a part of life. If we can help our children navigate these difficult changes early on, in a healthy, safe, comfortable environment, think about how well adjusted they will be for big changes down the road in their lives. You can help them to change the world.