The Fear GapWhen your parents get divorced, there are plenty of things that can make you feel anxious or afraid.  Here are some of things that children of divorce have told us they were afraid of or anxious about:

  • Moving to a new house or neighborhood
  • Changing schools
  • No longer getting to see one parent
  • Being left all alone
  • Losing grandparents, aunts & uncles or other family members
  • That the remaining parent may also leave
  • Having enough money
  • Loss of family rituals and traditions
  • Not knowing where they will live
  • That their parents will stop loving them too
  • Parents dating and getting remarried
  • Loss of family
  • Being blamed for the divorce
  • Having to take sides between parents
  • Disappointing one or both parents
  • Losing friends
  • People talking about them or their family
  • Being put in the middle between parents
  • Not getting to be a kid anymore
  • Losing stuff as they move from one place to another
  • Having to take on additional responsibilities like taking care of younger siblings
  • Whether or not their own relationships and marriages are doomed to fail

These are just some things that children of divorce may fear or be anxious about.  These fears and anxiety can come and go as time passes.  Which items from the list apply to you and your situation?

Anxiety and fear are often caused by a lack of information or a plan. In other words, fear often results from gaps – gaps in information, gaps in understanding and gaps in ability.  Closing those gaps can help to alleviate some of those fears.  One easy to remember method for dealing with your fears and anxieties is known as the “GAP Method.”

The letters in “Gap” spell out the basic steps in the GAP Method which are:

    Gather Information,

    Assess the Odds; and

    Play to Your Strengths.

By using this method, you can help yourself to get over those fears and anxieties and focus your efforts and emotions on more positive things.  Let’s look at each step a little bit closer.

GATHER INFORMATION

The biggest thing that feeds many of our fears is the unknown.  When we don’t know what is going on or what is going to happen, we don’t feel like we have any control over the situation, and this leads to increased feelings of fear and anxiety.  So, the first step in overcoming fears is to gather information.  Do some research about the things that scare you.  If your biggest fear is having to move to a new neighborhood or school, find out all the information you can about that neighborhood.  Where is it?  What it is like?  Do you have any friends who live in that neighborhood already?  What is the new school like?  Does it have the same extracurricular activities that you’re currently in?  If your biggest fear has to do with not getting to see one of your parents, gather information on that.  What visitation schedule has the judge decided on?  What is your parents’ plan for making sure that you can see both of them?  What other options are available to stay in contact?  Talk to your parents about these question.  There is an old saying that, “knowledge is power,” and in this case knowledge holds the power to squash your fears.

ASSESS THE ODDS

Assessing the odds simply means stepping outside of your fears and asking yourself, “how likely is this to actually happen?”  Sometimes when we are afraid, we start to let our brains run wild with possibilities and outcomes that, frankly, aren’t likely to ever happen.  Try to be realistic in your assessment.  Share your fear with a trusted friend or adult, and ask them what they think the possibility is that it will actually happen.  For example, if you fear losing contact with your grandparents following a divorce, but they only live a couple of streets away and you ride your bike over there all the time, you might assess that it is unlikely that this fear will actually come true.

Once you’ve figured out how likely your fears actually are to happen, figure out what you can do to take control of the situation.  What can you do, or would you do, if the thing you fear actually happens?  What could you do if your fears come true to make the situation better?  If your greatest fear is that your parents will put you in the middle of their conflict following the divorce, talk to them about it now to let them know that this is a major concern for you.  Or, decide now what you will say to your parents if they do start to put you in the middle.  Whether or not your fears do eventually come true, having a plan to deal with them in place can help to alleviate the anxiety you are feeling.

PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS

One of the things that feeds our fears and anxieties is the idea that we will not be able to handle things when they actually happen.  The fact is that you are probably capable of dealing with a whole lot more than even you realize.  No matter who you are, there are things that you are good at.  Think about how you can use your strengths and abilities if the things you are afraid of actually happen.  Suppose one of things that makes you anxious is trying to keep track of all of your stuff as you travel back and forth between your parents’ two houses.  Think about something special to you and the things you do to keep track of it.  Do you have a special place for it?  Do you check on it frequently?  Try to figure out how you can translate those strengths to making sure that you don’t forget or lose important things as you travel between houses.

Now that you understand the GAP Method, think about one of your fears and how you can apply it directly to that fear so that it will no longer control your life. And, next time your fears and anxieties begin to take over your life, try the GAP Method to take control over those fears and do something about them!

We would like to thank Lisa M. Schab whose book titled The Divorce Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Move Beyond the Break Up inspired the GAP Method.