Preparing for divorce
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Preparing for divorce -- child's stress?

Q: I am currently going through a divorce and custody suit. My daughter who has liveed with me and my family for her whole life (she is now 3 1/4)will be most likely be weened into her mother's life and home over the next year to the point where she will be spending nights and every other weekend with her mother. The differences in the two societies anr like day and night. What are the possibilities of this being a trauma that could cause bi-polar in that my daughter would develop two personalities to cope with the two enviornments.

Dear Mr. Y' --
This must be a very frightening prospect, to see this kind of stress coming.  I'll try to answer your question, then offer some general thoughts.

Trauma and severe stresses have indeed been associated with bipolar disorder onset, as well as with the appearance of repeat episodes of manic or depressive symptoms.  It would be hard not to conclude from the evidence that stress is a bad thing.

However, the way in which this stress is handled can make a huge difference, and you already seem to recognize the need to work to identify just the way in which she might find this experience stressful.  Even a recognized stress can be dramatically reduced by how it is handled.

I would not presume to know how you would have to do this, but I do believe you can work out ways to help your daughter with whatever kinds of changes she must face.  Children can be incredibly flexible and handle some things that we adults would find very difficult.

In general, providing a strong sense of being loved and cared for, at least on your part, will probably be a central part of the process.  You might look around for a therapist who works with divorcing parents, who could help you brainstorm what your daughter needs and how you can try to provide it given what you're facing.

Finally, I have found a few useful sites about divorce (scroll down to "divorce").  Write me if you find others, if you would please.  Good luck.

Dr. Phelps

Published November, 2000

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