You’ve endured months of verbal abuse from your partner, you’ve been degraded, lied to, blamed for things that aren’t your fault and the two of you are constantly arguing. You just can’t take it anymore, but moving out with your child on your own seems so scary. You’re not sure if you’re strong enough to take that final step, but you know you have to for your child’s sake.
What do you do?
When you decided to leave your partner, it’s important to remember that how you deal with the situation will have a major influence on how your child handles the move and new changes.
If you’re overwhelmed, scared and on the verge of panic, your child will also struggle to cope with his own anxiety and fears. Your confidence and sense of calm in moving out will make the situation more bearable and manageable.
Focus on the possibilities you could create for your own future, as well as the possibilities you could create for your child’s future by leaving this negative situation. Often, we only focus on what’s negative in our lives and this makes us feel overwhelmed. When we turn this around and start to focus on the positives our choice could lead to, it makes us feel optimistic and creates hope. This is an incredibly simple, but a powerful mind shift to make during this time.
Tips to cope with your fear and anxiety
Remember that you’ll need to manage both your and your child’s anxiety. Chances are that your little one will be able to feel and experience your anxiety as well.
- Acknowledge feelings of fear and anxiety, and that it’s ok to feel these emotions during a time of major changes, especially in an environment where verbal abuse, lies, and constant arguments are rife. This will help to immediately lower the levels of anxiety.
- Ask for help when you need it. It will lessen your burden. Before you leave your partner (or child’s father), talk to a close friend or special family member and ask them to be your emotional and spiritual support system during this time. There will be days when you feel overwhelmed, exhausted and alone. In these moments you can rely on your support network to encourage you, support you and tell you how amazing and brave you are. A good social support system helps you to rethink your negative situation. By sharing your life, including negative, scary, overwhelming and difficult situations with a trusted person/people, you are allowing yourself the space and support to find healing.
- Break household and child rearing-tasks into manageable portions and finish them one at a time – especially in the beginning, when you’re finding your feet on your own. This will help you to not feel overwhelmed all the time and give you a small sense of accomplishment in your day-to-day life. This will help build your confidence too.
- Teach yourself a positive mantra. For example: “I am able, I am calm, I am strong and I am safe.” Repeat it over and over in your mind. Your mind believes what you tell it. And if you’re focusing your thoughts positively this will decrease your anxiety and contribute to your own and your child’s ability to adjust to your new life as well as your feeling of being in control and safe.
- Live a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you eat healthy, do some exercise, get enough sleep and find ways to replenish your mind and soul. Your child will depend on you even more as a single parent. You also deserve to feel good, healthy and energised.
- If your anxiety levels become unbearable, please get professional help.
How do I explain the move to my child?
From the age of about three it’s very important to tell your child about the move.
- Without causing panic, acknowledge your own and your child’s levels of stress and feelings of uncertainty. This validation is very important for children.
- Normalize your child’s concerns, don’t overemphasize or disregard it.
- Make sure you child feels heard.
- Be empathetic and don’t make unrealistic and false promises.
- It is important to explain the move in an age-appropriate and concrete way. Use simple terms and words and explanations they’re familiar with. An age-appropriate story could be helpful.
- Tell the truth, without becoming overly emotional (try to stay as calm as possible). Explain that the move makes things better for you and dad because you’re having some problems. Try to keep the decision an “us” thing, without assigning blame.
- It’s very important to explain to your child how the new situation will work. For example, when will he see his dad? This will ease a lot of anxiety for your child.
- Let your child know that the move doesn’t mean you or his dad will love him any less. As long as it’s safe, makes sure to protect each parent’s individual relationship with the child.
- It’s also important to protect your child’s relationship with his father’s extended family, especially if they are close and part of each other’s day-to-day life.
- Give your child hope for the future. Continuously encourage your child by letting him know that things will be okay and that as a family, you’ll get through this.
- Give your children compliments when they handle a situation well.
- Ask your child how he’s coping with the changes and try to find solutions together for the times when he feels overwhelmed.
Normal behaviour to expect from your child after the move
- Your child might feel panicked, unsafe and he might even regress in his behaviour. He might cry a bit more than usual or become a bit naughtier. One moment he’ll feel sad and the next he’ll continue to play as if nothing happened.
- Don’t be alarmed if your child loses interest in the explanation of what’s going on. Be patient, these are normal reactions.
Ilse is a Christian psychologist, specialising in health psychology. As a motivational speaker, she focuses on equipping people to function better emotionally in their day-to-day life. She achieves this by teaching practical ways to improve life skills. Ilse’s practice specialises in subject choice and career counselling.