Navigating the emotional side of custody can be incredibly challenging and stressful. Whether you are just at the beginning stages of trying to work out a custody arrangement with your ex, in the throes of custody litigation, or you have already settled on an arrangement and you’re now putting it into practice, it's important to acknowledge and address your emotions in a healthy way. Besides having competent legal counsel to guide you through the legalities of custody, here are some suggestions to help you navigate the emotional aspects:
Allow yourself to grieve: This might sound a little surprising to you – or, you may know exactly what we mean by this. Having to share custody of your child with your ex often comes with a significant feeling of loss – loss of time you could be spending with your child, loss of the feeling of an intact family unit, or just a general sadness you can’t quite put your finger on. These times may also come with a change in your relationship with your child. It's important to give yourself permission to grieve and acknowledge your feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration. Signing on with a good therapist right now is invaluable as you learn how to live and cope in your new reality.
Seek emotional support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or a support group who can provide a listening ear and emotional support. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - consider finding a therapist or counselor who specializes in family law or custody issues to help you process your emotions. There is no such thing as having too big of a support system.
Take care of yourself: Prioritize self-care to help manage stress and maintain your emotional well-being. This is a time in your life where it’s more important than ever to try to see the silver lining. When your child is spending time with your ex, try to engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as exercise, hobbies, meditation, or spending time in nature – make time to do those little things you’ve been meaning to do for you and remember that there’s no reason to feel guilty for making the most out of your time without your child. Make sure you're getting enough rest, eating well, and staying hydrated.
Practice effective communication: We cannot stress this enough – communication is key to any sustainable relationship. When it comes to co-parenting, you should learn to develop healthy communication skills when interacting with the other parent – this is best for everyone involved, especially your child. Try to keep discussions focused on the best interests of your child, avoid personal comments about your co-parent and avoid escalating conflicts. If necessary, consider using a neutral third party, such as a parenting coach, coordinator, mediator or a lawyer, to facilitate discussions.
Focus on what you can control: Custody disputes can often leave you feeling powerless. Instead of fixating on what you can't control, focus on what you can influence. This may include making thoughtful parenting decisions, creating a stable and nurturing environment for your child, and staying involved in their life to the best of your ability.
Educate yourself: Familiarize yourself with the custody laws, regulations and customs in your jurisdiction to better understand your rights and responsibilities. This knowledge can provide you with a sense of empowerment and help you make informed decisions. When you have a good understanding of where you stand, this will help you to avoid spinning your wheels and you’ll be in a much better position to move forward confidently.
Maintain a positive outlook: While custody issues can be emotionally challenging, try to maintain a positive outlook for the well-being of you and your child. Show your child love, support, and stability, emphasizing that both parents care for them deeply. It’s important to never discuss custody matters with your child (that’s what your support network should be used for!) and reassuring your child that their parents both still love them and support them – this will ease the transition and make it easier for you to stay positive as well.
Consider professional guidance: In complex custody situations, it may be helpful to seek the assistance of a family law attorney who specializes in custody matters. They can provide guidance and advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
Remember, every custody case is unique, and it's important to consult with legal professionals and mental health experts who can provide guidance specific to your situation.