Dear Dr. Jann: My husband and I have been separated for six months and our divorce is almost final. I’m actually starting to get used to the changes, but I’m having real trouble getting used to saying good-bye to my kids when they go to their dad’s house. Got any tips for my separation anxiety?
Dr. Jann says: After divorce it’s common for parents to experience some degree of separation anxiety, although it may not be a full-blow diagnosis. Good for you for recognizing you may be experiencing a degree of separation anxiety yourself.
Signs to watch for:
• Feeling needy and looking to your children for comfort.
• Feeling sick when you are completely healthy.
• Not being able to sleep in anticipation of your children leaving—and not being able to sleep while they are gone.
• Thoughts or fears about what might happen if they are not in your care even though you know they are perfectly safe with their other parent.
• Creating an environment where your kids need only you—and feeling as if only you can sooth their fears.
• Feeling as if you have no life unless your kids are with you.
Tips to Cope:
• Establish a regular routine that you can look forward to when the kids are gone. Set that time aside to pamper yourself.
• Identify what specifically triggers your anxiety and make a special effort to curb the thoughts and behaviors associated with it. “Change your thinking to something positive” is a common phrase and an effective way to deal with anxiety.
• Keep calm during goodbyes and refrain from dwelling on and telling your child how much you will miss them. If you are anxious, your child will be also. A quick, “Have a great time, buddy!” is all that is needed. Goodbye rituals, like a secret handshake or even a phrase you both say to one another are a great way to reinforce the parent/child bond and are a signal to both of you to release the anxiety associated with leaving.
• If the anxiety is extreme, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) which has proven to be an effective way to combat the feelings of panic.
• Check in with your regular doctor if medication is needed temporarily.
Be proactive. Don’t put off getting help if you need it.