The difference between those divorced parents with great relationships with their kids and those that continually struggle to find their way is understanding that this modern day rite of passage applies to the entire family. This is your child’s first divorce. They didn’t ask for it. They usually don’t understand it either. The hard part is allowing your ex and your children their own opinions separate from your point of view. There’s a new dynamic to create with your kids that doesn’t involve their other parent yet way too often, the new relationship with your kids is up against wondering what the other parent thinks and how they’ll view what you’re doing. When you do that, you avoid separating and instead, continue the fight.
If you don’t figure out how this rite of passage applies to you and your children, you’ll find yourself set up for unwanted parenting advice from your ex through holding on. Usually, this comes in the form of a defensive fight. It happens all the time and wrecks havoc on your parenting confidence never mind your time with your kids. Knowing how to stop unwanted parenting advice means you opt in for learning how to parent on your own. The sooner you learn this, the easier it’ll be for you and your kids to create your own partnership away from the other parent and how it used to be.
It doesn’t matter how old your child is, divorce stinks for kids. Being myopic and self-involved, younger kids simply want to do things their peers are doing, they don’t want to be going to the other parent’s home during the week or every other weekend. They don’t want to listen to your fighting, they can’t help you feel better, and they don’t want to share their parents with other people. Because of being so concerned about their kids, solo parents already enter this new stage with less confidence than they had when married. Bad habits develop out of fear and the stress of separation and divorce.
Older kids (and I do mean at any age) usually know more details of their parent’s relationship and what’s caused the divorce, but they typically don’t want to choose sides no matter what the details and justifications. Your adult child wants you to be happy, they also want to stay out of your fight and usually don’t know how to lend an impartial ear or open heart when they hear about the conflict between you and their other parent. Instead of opting into the fight, they’ll pull away unsure of how to respond and what to say. They can’t afford to lose either parent and they’re often quite stuck in the middle!
I find there are a few habits that divorced parents indulge during the transition from being married to being single again that sets them up for unwanted parenting advice from others:
1) Continuing to seek appreciation and approval from the other parent (aka. the ex-spouse.)
2) Lacking confidence they can create a new dynamic with their children on their own (things are truly different and the past is in the past.)
3) Not knowing how to show their love for fear of doing something wrong and getting blow back from the ex. (It’s time to grow a thicker skin.)
Own it - how often are you with your kids wondering what your ex will think? How often are you wondering what the other parent is going to ask when they call your kids? Or when they hear what you did that day? Is that competitive - protective part - of you running how you behave? I know. It happens all the time!
Trusting that you have a right to be with your kids is complicated by the legal process and child custody rules when they’re young. Forensic therapists are brought in and every move is put under a microscope that can shake the confidence of the most stable parent. The worst part is when, in the heat of frustration and anger, you’ve “gone against the rules” and said something you wish you hadn’t, poked the other parent by saying No to one of their requests, and reacted to something your kids ate or did out of your sight with long winded texts and email rants.
In the moment, you know you’re in for an earful of unwanted parenting advice from your attorney, your ex or even a Judge. And you won’t be able to stop yourself from indulging the anger and fear. You’ll vent in front of your children and wake up embarrassed a few days later. When this happens, please make your amends and chalk it up to being human under very difficult circumstances! The repercussions will only worsen when you let the fear continue to shake your ability to create a relationship with your children on your own. Pick yourself up and start over. Eventually, you’ll remain even keeled.
Part of the problem is that beneath all the anger and fear is the need for approval and appreciation from your ex, your attorney… your Judge, other parents, school teachers, therapists (and just about everyone else you meet).
Seeking approval is our way or being reassured that even though the family is broken and your kids are going through a really tough time, that you’re still a good parent and a good solo parent, and you’re doing a good job despite being afraid, not sure of yourself, and trying to figure it all out.
On top of that is the need to be right. To win. You’re indulging your competitiveness instead of parenting your kids. You’re using your parenting as another area to compete and fight with your ex. By fighting over your parenting chops, you’re continuing the fight. When you continue the fight, you lose out on precious time with your kids. The need to prove you’re the better parent corrupts your ability to be present and focused on the children in front of you. The brain will not be able to recall the time you spent with them because of the amount of stress it was dealing with.
I lost lots of memories with my children because of this. I was more wrapped up in trying to prove I was a great mom (to some fictional, imaginative person in my mind) then enjoying hearing about my kids’ day (even when they weren’t with me!) This was a hard lesson to learn, but upon learning it, my stress levels dropped and my confidence went up. Consider this a little solo-parenting, divorce hacking and take the time to ground yourself in believing there’s nothing to prove! As a parent, you do not need the approval of your ex (or anyone else for that matter!) including your attorney or other parents at your children’s school. By seeking it out and competing with your ex, you’re setting yourself up for unwanted parenting advice!
Creating a new life with your children will be very different from the life they had with you and their other parent. This is really tough for newly separated parents to wrap their head around. There really is a big change - everything from the possibility of less money to fewer extracurricular activities, to a new school, a new home, new siblings, new routines. Everything is changing for all of you.
Change is hard because it’s unfamiliar, but trying to continue the lifestyle that you all shared on your own is setting yourself up for disappointment and resentments.
No, your life isn’t going to be as it was - whatever, “as it was” was, for you and your kids. How can it be? You’re not with that partner anymore! And usually, the change is hard because of the struggle to gain confidence that you can create a new dynamic with your children on your own. And believing that it’ll be good.
That first holiday I hosted on my own without my assistant (or my children’s father) to help me prepare the 5-course traditional meal brought me to tears on my kitchen floor. I hadn’t asked for this enormous shift in my life and preparing this meal, cooking, setting up the table and arranging serving dishes was incredibly stressful for me. I was trying to keep up with the old traditions on my own! When my kids came home and my company arrived, I had to put on my cheery face and entertain by myself. (Actually, the woman I called while sitting on the floor gave me some really tough love: she said, “Get up, pull up your big girl pants. you can do this. Now do it!) It wasn’t fun but she was right. The sympathy I thought I wanted wasn’t what I really needed.
Letting go of the past way of doing things does not mean how you did it was wrong or that what you’re doing now “isn’t as good.” When I used to hear about my children’s experiences with their father, I used to have that competitive feeling of “how it used to be” but it doesn’t affect me anymore. I’m excited they get to do some of our favorite things! I think they’re lucky kids. The sooner you accept that your life has changed and stop fighting it, the easier it’ll be for you to move on and return to your kind-hearted self.
Being afraid to love your kids the way you want to haunts divorcing parents. They’re so afraid that what they’re doing with their kids will be thrown back in their face. Short of the big no-no’s: using drugs, physical abuse, and other unlawful behavior, what you do with your kids is up to you! So many parents worry that if they do this or if they do that, the other parent will use it against them. They will. And they will try to. But, as I like to say… so what!?!
Here’s where a lot of faith has to come in - not knowing how to show love for fear of doing something wrong and getting blow back from the ex will ruin your relationship with your children.
Your ex is going to try to use whatever you do against you - (News Flash: it’s so boring to the professionals because they know objectively that it’s just two adults continuing the fight and trying to prove who’s the better parent.) But in the moment, it’s also incredibly frightening and frustrating. This is where owning your parenting comes in - knowing that what you’re doing is right for you and your kids! I get really passionate about this because there’s a learning curve for everyone and you need to offer some grace (which is almost impossible to do during a fight!).
As you figure out how to parent on your own, as you’re working through new traditions and new behavior, new schedules and new stuff, there are going to be mistakes. Some routines are going to be forgotten. Food choices aren’t going to be perfect. Clothing will be misplaced. Socks not returned, extracurricular stuff forgotten. And none of it will really and truly matter. In the moment it will feel monumental but that’s only because you’ve forgotten to grant a little grace to you and your family. Everyone’s doing their best - they’re not maliciously out to drive you crazy (even though it will feel like that!)
Consider that fighting over these things is the same as two teenagers fighting for their parents’ attention. Only this time, it’s some fictional character in your divorce story (usually the Judge you imagine) who’s the parent and who’s approval you’re looking for. What you don’t realize is that instead of being proved a better parent by the Judge or your attorney, you’ll get an earful of unwanted parenting advice! (I strongly advise that you pick your battles wisely and offer a great deal of grace for all of you despite how you’re feeling - yes, truly tough but doable!)
Loving your children means just that. There’s this enormous opportunity going forward for you to have your own, unique, happiness and trust with your children on your own - Being there for them when they’re scared. Creating new traditions and routines. Enjoying hearing about their lives. Exploring what they’re learning, remembering, and doing. Showing up free from your competitive nature or overriding fear.
That’s the measure to know you’re doing the right thing. NOT waiting for your ex or your attorney or the neighbor down the street to tell you that you’re doing a great job. If you’re expecting that, wanting it, be prepared for unwanted parenting advice. Approval from your ex is rarely to never going to come your way!
You have to generate approval and confidence, courage and faith on your own. It comes from within. You have to give yourself the parenting advice you want to hear. You are doing a great job! You have to experiment with your kids and figure out what helps them feel safe. That’s the proof of your success!
As you move from being married to being a single parent, sign up for my Scarlet D ™Letters and learn about the concerns and thoughts you’ll have as you move through your modern day rite of passage. I believe in you!