4 Ways to Help Families Going Through a Divorce

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I Got By with a Little Help from my Friends

Watching a loved one’s marriage implode, we often feel helpless and distressed. Everyone is struggling with pain and disruption.

Take heart. Those close to that evolving family can do things which will make a difference, both to the parents and the children.

When co-parenting my sons at ages seven and ten, their dad and I lived only about one hundred yards apart.


However, using the streets, it took the boys about eight minutes on foot to go back and forth between our homes. Especially on cold winter days, this was no fun. Fortunately, the backyard behind my house had no fence, and for two years my sons could slip out the back, across my yard and the neighbor’s, to the street near their dad’s house. Easy-peasy. Imagine our dismay when we saw a seven-foot cedar fence under construction in the back neighbor’s lot! We watched unhappily as the fence was constructed, knowing it was that neighbor’s right to build.

Then, as the fence was completed, we could hardly believe our eyes. A tiny opening, hinged with a door, had been made so that small children could pass through it. The boys’ quick access to both houses remained. We were so grateful. These neighbors weren’t close friends with either my ex-husband or myself, yet they observed the boys’ actions and took their needs into account when building their fence—a perfect example of what those around families can do.

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Yes, you can help.

You may not feel particularly qualified to help, but you likely are. The first reason is that you are probably in a more calm and detached frame of mind than either parent. My experience was of swimming in an ocean of upheaval and painful feelings. As well, I felt a weight of responsibility for my sons. I couldn’t make mistakes because they needed me to figure things out and take care of them.

Chances are, too, that you have access to different resources than the parent. You don’t have to be wealthy, as your time and energy can be invaluable.

There were people around who cared about me and us. One friend, for example, offered a room in her house for me to stay for a week. My father helped me with money to replace my rickety car. Both offers were like small life preservers—they made a huge difference. Mainly, I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t think to ask for specific help. These offers signaled to me that others were thinking about me and had my back.

What Can You Do?


1. A bit of thought and observation will provide possibilities for you.

Look at what is happening in the family restructuring. Where are people living or planning to live? What is their stage of separation or divorce?

2. Think about possible gaps or obstacles to success.

The first days, weeks, and months will be particularly stressful, so mentally walk through how they likely will play out. This will give you hints about what is needed.

3. Consider where and how you can be helpful.

Your resources can include the use of physical objects like a vehicle, or access to space, like a room in your home; money; time with the parent, the children, or both; or contacts. If the parent needs a new living space, a new job, or advisors such as counselors or lawyers, you may be able to offer alternatives.

4. Check with the parent. How would they feel about the assistance you have in mind? Are there other things you can do?

My friend Janice has a vivid memory of precious support. Leaving nine-year-old Anna with her dad for the first time was the hardest thing Janice had ever done. She felt wearily satisfied that the separation with husband Brad was unfolding okay. No ghastly scenes or threats of financial carnage. And Brad was basically a loving father. Janice knew all that, yet driving home from Brad’s place with the empty seat beside her in the car, Janice felt a raw hole in her heart. She dreaded arriving home, going up to the front door and stepping inside to silence.

With a sigh, she pulled up to the curb outside her small house. Who was that? Her best friend, Alison, sat waiting on the step. Janice leaped out of the car and grabbed Alison in a tear-filled hug. “You’re here! Oh, thank-you!”

So if you are anxiously watching someone go through separation and divorce, don’t wonder if there is anything you can do—there likely is! Follow the four steps and know that you can make a difference.

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Karen L. Kristjanson, MSc, MA is a professional life coach, writer, and member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. A co-parent herself, she has over thirty years’ experience supporting adults tackling change, to help them both survive and grow.


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