Divorce Distress- How to manage life when things feel crazy

I am not a big fan of television. On an average normal day I give very little, if any, attention to celebrity news. For the most part I am considered by most to be totally clueless about who’s who’s in Hollywood. Amazingly, my life seems to function just fine.

However, unless you live under a rock, (as I have occasionally been accused of doing) you would be hard pressed not to know about the ongoing Britney Spears, Kevin Federline parenting saga.

When contacted for comment on the situation by OK Magazine, the question was raised what happens to parents when divorce occurs, i.e. is Brit’s bad parenting the result of normal “divorce distress”?

It’s very common, especially in the early stages of divorce and separation, for life to be very chaotic for parents and children. Research indicates that when we are in a heightened level of stress our overall level of functioning becomes significantly compromised. We are more prone to forget things, make rash decisions, act out of character, be short-tempered or irritable, emotionally distant and often logic and reason go right out the window.

In short, high levels of stress can and often leads to the very best behaving at their very worst. Consider after all, that life as you and your kids have known it is essentially over and for the vast majority of us that means significant changes on many different levels (financial, parenting roles, responsibilities, spending time with our children, establishing new households, dealing with the legal system etc.)

Just as our children are emotionally fragile during this time, so are we, as parents. It is also equally common for a parent experiencing increased stress to be both emotionally and physically less available to children during times of transition.

While it is expected that you may have a difficult time keeping it all together when it feels like things are falling apart, you still have a responsibility to your children. How can they believe life is going to be okay if you’re not?

Instead of following the celebrity model of handling “divorce distress” when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed,  here are a few tips to help you keep it together.

Take care of your basic needs first.

Make time to eat at regular intervals, get a good nights sleep and exercise. Even though it can be hard to make your self care a priority, it is absolutely necessary that you do. We all parent differently when we are stressed and sleep deprived, than when we are well rested and feeling grounded.

Seek out support for you and your children

While supporting one another is an important aspect of being a family, children and parents should never be each other’s only support system. Both you and your children will need other outlets as you go through the process of redefining your lives. Make sure you have other adults to talk to and that you are occasionally engaging in other adult activities. For kids, try to keep them connected with positive extra curricular activities, support existing friendships and help them identify other safe adults they can talk to besides Mom and Dad.

Identify your main stressors and adjust your expectations

Researchers support the idea that not all stress is bad. In actuality, managed stress can actually add to the excitement of life, while stress left unmanaged can lead to a myriad of emotional and physical problems. Make a list of your top 5 stressors and think through how you might be able to better manage them.  For things you may not be able to change, try to give yourself an attitude adjustment.  Remember stressing out leaves you less capable whereas giving yourself some emotional space to deal with things leads to better decisions.

Make time to positively connect with your children

Find at least 20 to 30 minutes a day to enjoy being with your children (quality one on one time, not multitasking time). For most of us, it is easy to get overwhelmed with keeping track of schedules, doing homework, taking care of everyday chores and lose track of enjoying time with our children. When life is stressful, it can help considerably to place your energy into meaningful activities. Balancing life in this way often makes it a little bit easier to get through the challenging times. Consider ending the evening with reading a book together, taking a walk around the block, coloring with your children or playing a short game.

Take time to enjoy life, even if it is only 5 minutes at a time.

enjoy life

As parents we all get bogged down in the idea that we just don’t have enough time especially when we are stressed. However, accessing small simple pleasures through out the day can make a big difference in your attitude.

Things you can do…

  • Listen to your favorite music in the car
  • Schedule 10 minutes in your calendar to call a friend
  • Take a walk at a local park on your lunch hour
  • Get up 15 to 30 minutes earlier than your children and enjoy some quiet time.
  • Put children to bed 30 minutes early and read a good book
  • Get a massage
  • Exercise
  • Schedule a date with yourself to do something you enjoy
  • Spend 20 minutes just thinking about something you would like to do in the future


  1. garry on March 1, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    My wife divorced me in 2010. I’m having a hard time dealing with this, as she has went and found another man after 33 years and 3 days of being married to me. We have 2 boys both over 18 and I feel so bad they have to suffer. Now that the Divorce is Finalized she has attacked me for my Pension plan, still before the courts. I’m ready to tie a brick to her leg and introduce her to our nearby lake. I’m mad.

    • Christina McGhee on March 6, 2012 at 9:17 PM

      Hi Garry, It’s been said that hanging on to resentment and anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. While you have every right to feel mad, make sure you have control of the anger instead of the anger controlling you.
      When you’re feeling wronged the temptation to rant, rage and respond in kind can be overwhelming strong. (As someone who has perfected the art of stewing- believe me I know how hard it can be not to indulge those feelings) Unfortunately when the anger takes over more often than not, our children end up paying the price. Although your kids are older, keep in mind that they still need to be shielded from personal issues between you and Mom. While you may feel strongly that you are standing on moral high ground and that your anger is completely justified, do what you can to keep your kids out of the fray. When parents are at odds often older kids get caught in the crossfire and end up becoming confidantes, negotiators or worse, drawn into taking sides.
      Although it may not feel fair or immediately satisfying — Do your best to find an appropriate outlet for sorting through how you feel about what has happened (i.e. trusted friend who won’t add fuel to the fire, life coach or counselor). To go the distance make sure you have a good support system in place and create opportunities to be around people who add value to your life. When good things are happening in your life it gives you the emotional distance needed to keep the anger in check. Plus there’s an added benefit to redirecting your energy… don’t forget a life well lived is the best revenge.