I was also a child of divorce and had to navigate some really tough times at home between my mom and my dad. I know that divorce colored all my choices of men. And I know that the opinion of my parents really mattered to me. The problem was that if I engaged with my dad, my mom was angry and if I went against my dad, he’d become angry. I never felt as if I could make my own decisions or have my own perception of the new family arrangement. This went on for years and took a lot of energy out of me.
I’ve since learned the hard lesson of forgiveness, understanding, and patience.
Toward my parents and their relationship and their relationship to me and my brothers and sisters. But that hasn’t stopped me from making mistakes of my own with my children.
I’ve had to come to terms with my marriage to my children’s father and had to come to peace with the life I currently have. This hasn’t been easy. I’ve experienced jealousy, envy, frustration and intense fear. I worry about my kids, want to protect them and at the same time, want to tell them every little detail. But I don’t.
This is what I can share:
If you bad mouth the father or share too many inappropriate details, your child will pull away, argue with you and side with him. And if he speaks ill of you, they’ll rush out to protect you. Kids love their parents. They have to - it gives them stability. And unless a parent has seriously harmed a child, that child will love a parent even if an ex-doesn't.
If you give them room to express their fears and questions and give them space to navigate their own age-appropriate understanding of what happened, then you’ll appear non-threatening, and understanding. They’ll come toward you more.
Most kids know way more than we give them credit. Intuitively they know what’s going on and they get the circumstances. They may be too young to verbalize that understanding or choose not to but I believe, on a spiritual level, they get what’s going on. Some might even say your child's spirit chose you and their father to learn and grow in this lifetime.
When they need help, find a way to get a professional for them to talk to. I’ve had a social worker, school teachers, guidance counselors, camp counselors and psychologists talk to my kids over the years. Some things just can’t be discussed by you.
You’re also sharing your child earlier than you may have wanted…before college or a summer camp say when they go off on their own. You have to share them now. I still hate that I don’t get to be with my kids all the time. But I also know I've got a great babysitter who’ll feed them pizza and let them stay up late but won’t put them in harm’s way. I know I’m lucky and not every mom or dad is as fortunate as I am and I’m incredibly grateful my kids have been well protected over the years. And luckily today, courts are catching on more and more to the need to protect children and keep them safe. I hope and trust if there are real issues at stake, you and your attorney are doing everything you can to protect your children.
The other painful thing about not being able to weigh in on your child's perception is that you can’t. This is their divorce as much as it is yours. They have a different take on it and are navigating the transition differently but just like with learning to read and write, play sports or fall in love, you can’t do it for them.
The good news is that because of the pain you and I went through as kids, more and more adults, attorneys and courts understand the impact divorce has on the next generation. Some states like NJ mandate co-parenting classes for divorcing couples. These courses can be taken online and are a wealth of information covering things like when to tell your children when to seek out professional help and the positive aspects of shared parenting.
In many ways, the questions and concerns you have for your children are going to force you to dig really deep down inside and have compassion for the entire family. Divorce forces kids to grow up quicker than we may have originally wanted for them because they have to navigate both households and routines, they have to meet future step-parents or siblings. I want you to figure out, learn and trust in being your personal best. And figure out what kind of role model you want to be for your children.
This is where I got my strength. I focused on, as best as I possibly could, being the best parent for my kids. And though it once made me mad, I knew deep down that my kids’ father was doing the best he could despite my opinion.
When you focus on your best and figure out when you’re not at your best, you get to show how human you are to them.
That’s the hard part… being vulnerable. When you apologize for a mis-step or admit you don’t know everything and that you’re learning too, your kids will come to understand that everyone’s doing the best they can. Draw them close at such moments. Assure them you’re all safe and wanted and that they're loved. Let them be your little ones and get yourself a professional to work with if necessary.
They need you to be their parent and to love them up.
The sensitivity you have for their transition will keep them out of the pain we experienced as kids. I trust you’ll do the right thing.