By Jyotsna Ahuja Kapoor
We’ve all heard of The Great Indian Wedding. It’s the Disneyland where any Indian aunty worth her salt would get a chance to live her ultimate moment of glory – bagging a suitable rishta for her beta, beti, bhanja, bhanji, and other such bakras or rishtedaars.
But for all the tom-tomming we do about nuptials and their festivities, equally hushed and frowned upon even in today’s times is the Not-So-Great Indian Divorce. The deadliest nuke bomb of them all is of course “Arrey apne baccho ka toh sochte (You should have thought of the kids)!”
Any couple who does manage to survive all that and still separate, especially when kids are involved, must be given kudos if they manage to remain cordial with each other for the purpose of co-parenting.
Dealing with co-parenting, especially in the initial phases of a breakup, can be extremely daunting. The parents themselves are figuring out a new normal of what they want from life, how things are going to be and how to redefine their identity. There is an emotional scattering if not shattering, and in the midst of it all, you need to be strong for the kids’ sake. Challenging is perhaps not a strong enough word to describe this. It takes a lot out of a person to go through what is a traumatic experience, and still remain strong for the children.
Nevertheless, the show must go on. And kids will be kids. While it’s never easy, here are a few pointers that may help you deal with this minefield:
1) Acknowledge your decision to cut your losses works in the best interest of all.
When you walk out of a situation that no longer works or may even be toxic, you’re doing yourself and everyone else a favour. A fresh start, distance and emotional healing are the best environment for children, even if they have to be with either parent at a time. Living in a space where the parents are nasty, or manipulative or depressed or constantly bickering with each other on a daily basis becomes the unconscious background noise of a child’s psyche later on in adult life and can cause significant psychological damage. That’s not the emotional air you want them to breathe.
If nothing else, whenever you experience lets say pangs of guilt, or in those sneaky moments when you find yourself second guessing your decision to separate, this should be enough to replenish and/or fortify your resolve.
2) Recognise that kids are like psychic sponges.
Everything you feel, everything that you’re going through, they know and they too feel. They just don’t know how to express it coherently. So when they act out by say for example being more demanding or unreasonable, or withdrawing their approval and affection from you and raising the bar to unreasonable standards, know that actually they are seeking extreme validation from you that you will not abandon them. The more children feel daunted by the environment and/or adult’s actions, the more unreasonably they behave. While you’re at it, hugging and holding children is a wonderful and extremely effective way to convey to them that everything is going to be alright. That’s all they need actually.
3) Maintain normalcy in terms of children’s schedules and activities.
For them, life must go in and be stable and predictable in every other way as much as possible. Keep them engaged in activities and with friends, and ensure you physically and emotionally bond with them. Also, activities that involve constructing something, like blocks, art and craft, or anything creative is a wonderful thing in these times. The simple act of simulating construction goes a long way in reversing any psychological correlations of a family unit breakdown.
4) Don’t go polling for your child’s vote.
Not to mention that it is in extremely poor taste to badmouth your spouse and or their family, it reeks of insecurity. Your child loves both its parents unequivocally and unconditionally already. There’s no need to give him or her a reason to choose you over the other. Also, you are exemplifying this insecurity as a way of being to your child. This would be a grave disservice to them and yourself, especially as sooner or later as adults they will understand what you did, and somehow resent you for it.
5) Don’t separate the child from the other parent.
Never deny the other parent visitation and time together. Unless the other parent is abusive or violent, there is no need to do this. Keep your prejudices aside, and let the child experience both sides of their family origins. They have as much right to having their father as they do their mother. Children thrive on having both parents as role models, and not to provide them with this creates an imbalance in their future relationships.
5) Maintain grace and dignity at all times.
Keep the interaction between the two parents during and post break up civilized, if not cordial. How the child sees you handle conflict while growing up is exactly how he or she will handle conflict as they grow up. Dignity and grace are absorbed by osmosis and not artificially acquired.
6) Integrate a supportive ecosystem.
When you’re ready, it’s important to let the schoolteachers and school counselors know what is happening, so that they can be a wonderful, nurturing and neutral support system for the child, in what will otherwise appear an extremely nightmarish world to him or her. Teachers very often take on the role of a surrogate parent knowingly or unknowingly. For the child, they are larger than life and remain so for a long, long time. For younger children especially, play therapy if available, is highly recommended. It very naturally and organically draws out of the child any residual trauma that may later on turn into behavioral mis-patterns.
7) See if you can consult a therapist as well.
Releasing traumatic emotional and mental imprints is always a wonderful way to invest in yourself and a better future.
(The writer is Founder, The White Space, a personal counsellor and Transformation Coach.)