It can be hard to feel thankful about your life after divorce when you are divorced or a child of divorce, especially during the holidays. For the parents, it's a matter of financial stress and sharing time or not seeing your kids on a holiday; it's also about difficult feelings such as loneliness, grief, and maybe even anger. For a child of divorce, he or she may not be dealing directly with the financial stress, but a child can sense and absorb the adult's pain and tension. A child can feel all of those emotions listed above too, such as grief over seeing one side of the family and not the other. A child can miss what it was like to be with his or her parents all in one house.
And the exhaustion of coparenting isn't just during the holidays; it's all year-round. The bouncing back and forth between homes. New stepparents and/or stepsiblings. Moving out of a familiar home. Seeing loved ones less. Sometimes a huge change of lifestyle. During my time writing about divorce, I have spent time interviewing 12 adults who were children of divorce and one subject said it rather well when discussing what it is like to go back and forth with two distinct families: "It can be humbling to live two different lives." How a child learns to negotiate these two different worlds can be an extremely beneficial life lesson and skill, but still, it can be hard.
As my divorce gets closer to being officially over and legal, I have found myself feeling a myriad of emotions about my divorce and life after divorce, from joy to sadness. However, if you and your children are going through a divorce, I think it's crucial to not get buried in a pit of negative emotions and instead find all the silver linings in life. And hands down, one of the best ways to pass along a sense of gratitude for life and life after divorce to your children is to volunteer. There are very few ways to help your children gain perspective of and appreciation for their unique situation in a way that volunteering can.
It Could Always Be Worse
Volunteering shows your kids that as difficult as they think their lives are, it could always be worse. Is it fun to bounce between homes or learn to adapt to stepsiblings or new people being involved in your and your parents' lives? Maybe or maybe not, but these problems seem smaller compared to someone who doesn't have food to eat or warm clothes to wear. Volunteering puts your child right in the heart of another situation — a more difficult one — and shows them on the scale of life that their problems are not as big as they seem.
Change of Lifestyle? Still Not as Bad as It Could Be
If your divorce significantly impacted your lifestyle, it can be just as hard for the kids to deal with this, but volunteering can show your kids how much worse it could be financially for them. Losing our home about six months ago was sad, but not having anywhere to go would have been worse. I feel gratitude for our new place and pride in being the income earner for the household, and the two of us (my daughter and me) like our new place. Of course my daughter (and sometimes myself) occasionally misses her old home, but when you view it in the context that there are people with nowhere to go, those feelings "disappear."
Quality Time Together Like No Other
Volunteering is a great experience for you as well, and doing something with your children will not only give you all great joy and good karma, but it will also bring you closer together. Putting good out into the world as a family is a great way to spend time together, especially after the stress and tension of the divorce process.
Exposure to New People and Situations
Volunteering can expose your children to different people (or animals!) in situations they may have never come across before. This is a great thing! Most of us spend time with people in the same class, racial, religious, and educational background, and volunteering can change this up for you and your kids.
Developing Generosity of Spirit
It is easy to feel negative and downtrodden during the divorce process and as you all adjust to a new life after your marriage has ended, but volunteering requires both you and your kids to be generous with others. Sharing our time and energy is a kind and generous gift, beyond paying $1 at the cashier at the grocery store toward children with cancer or another type of charity. Volunteering is active and asks us to give a part of ourselves. This kindness brings a lot of joy and can teach your kids the art of being unselfish and putting others first.
While you can donate clothes and toys, getting out in your community with your children after divorce to volunteer will bring exponential rewards for you and your children, as well as healing and a positive perspective. It will help you all to start to find the positives in your life after divorce before you begin to list all the negatives, a hard task when your life is turned upside down after divorce. How can you top that?