Parenting after divorce.
This week’s Top 5 is very personal and not something I talk about often but it is just something that has been on my mind and I feel really led to share. For those of you that do not know, I am divorced. Yep, I am a divorced mom with three lovely teenagers. Seriously, it is still so hard, even after 6 years, for me to actually say or write those words, every time I have to circle the word or check a box on a medical form or any type of personal paperwork, I have to remind myself that yep, I am divorced. When I got married, I never in a million years imagined I would be divorced, it just doesn’t happen in our family. I am pretty sure no one ever does, it is never in ‘the plans’, it is never a life goal…but it happens, yes it happens to happy couples, troubled couples, good people and bad people…it happens…and it happens for so many different reasons.
Over the past six years, things have been very up and down, lots of highs and lows, lots of laughter and tears, but through it all, my ex and I have somehow been able to put any personal issues aside and make sure our kids know that they are very much loved by us both. We have been able to set rules and consequences that apply at both houses, we have reassured them time and time again that they had nothing to do with the fallout of our marriage and we try to make sure that they know that they are our priority. Have we been perfect….nope! (really, really far from it!!!) Have we totally screwed up…..Yep! (more than once!!) But I think that goes for all parents, divorced or not, when you’re raising kids, you screw up sometimes and it is totally ok! We just try to learn from our screw ups and move forward because the absolute reality is you CANNOT change the past, what has happened has happened, but what you can change is how you handle the same or similar situations in the future.
In talking with my kids on different occasions, they have shared stories of several different friends who are from broken families who live in constant chaos. It really breaks my heart, I know my kids hurt and I am honest with them in that I do not know what it feels like to grow up in a house with divorced parents and we talk openly about it. My kids, all in their own ways, have thanked us for ‘keeping the peace’ (for lack of a better term). But they have said things such as ‘thanks for talking to dad to get our schedules worked out’ ‘I am so glad you don’t fight with dad like that’ ‘thank you for never worrying about what we bring to/from dad’s house’ (followed with an example of some crazy experience a friend had)…but it is so very apparent, that if kids are living through a divorce, the only way for them to feel somewhat normal, is for their parents to act like adults. Yes I said it, it is our responsibility to parent the children we made together, as adults. No pettiness, no bitterness, no anger….all of that has to go out the window, and for real, we are divorced…so really what is there to fight about at this point.. and the reality…we both were wrong, we both screwed up, we both gave up, we let things fall apart. So now, the kids have to deal with it and it is our job as parents to help them.
**Disclaimer -I do not consider myself to be any type of expert** but for this week’s Top Five, I am sharing the top five things that I have learned in co-parenting children of divorce. Maybe this will help some of you or maybe this completely doesn’t apply to you at all, but I felt led to share. Some of these I have learned the hard way, some I have learned through trial and error, and some, now that they are teenagers and are pretty good at communicating their thoughts and feelings, I have learned from listening to my kids and really understanding what is important to them:
1) Never, under any circumstance talk bad about the other parent in front of the children
This is one that I think really has to be the #1 priority. It is just not ok. Your kids love you both, they desperately want to make you both happy, you once loved each other, you made these children together and it is just not at all worth it to break their hearts even more than they are already broken by talking bad about a person that they love. IT IS NOT OK. To them, you are both their heroes. It is horrible as an adult when someone is talking badly about someone you love dearly, so why would we do that to our kids? If you have something you have to say, find a good friend or family member or counselor to vent to, get out what you have to say and then drop it! Venting too much, it gets old, really it does get old. Sometimes it is necessary, but just don’t dwell on it! What has happened in the past has happened, all you can do is learn from your mistakes, pray about it and move forward. Dwelling on the he said/she said bull@$*# (insert song lyric J)…it is just not healthy….especially in front of those darling children that you made…together. So just be adults and talk it out when and where it is appropriate.
2) Let the kids have ‘their stuff’
My kids all have their favorite ‘stuff’. It used to be blankets, pillows, toys, certain underwear (I kid you not…), bikes, etc that they loved to take with them back and forth, now it is more teenager ‘stuff’ electronics and clothes but you know what, we have always let them take whatever they want, every single time. Now sometimes, my car or their dad’s car was packed full (it was somewhat comical because our girls are both ‘bag ladies’ so it looked like someone was moving…there was lots of stuff!!) but it was never a fight. We could see that this ‘stuff’ was what comforted them. This ‘stuff’ was really not ‘stuff’ at all; it was so much more to them. I am not even entirely sure what it reminded them of, sometimes it would be the most random things, but I do know that there were several nights when I drove a blanket over to their dad’s house or he drove a favorite pair of pants to my house…because we knew that it was so much more than that. We know that it really really sucks for them to have to live between two houses so we do what we can to make it the ‘least sucky’ as possible.
Every child is comforted by different things, denying them these things when they are with their other parent is really doing nothing but setting up that parent for failure and no one hurts more than the kids. If you are worried that if they take their ‘stuff’ to the other parent for fear it will get lost, ruined, etc….let it go…I am telling you it is not worth it…you will lose soooo much more than that ‘thing’ by not letting your child have the things they love with them. Imagine as an adult, if someone took one of your most cherished ‘things’ away from you every time you left the house (your favorite shoes, your favorite coffee mug, your phone, your purse…whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable and secure) just because of their own agenda….think about how it would make you feel. Not good….just let them have their ‘stuff’ 🙂
3) Let yourself be sad and happy…and let your kids be sad and happy
Divorce is emotional. It is hard on everyone. This is very personal but I tried to hide my sadness and put up a happy front to my kids because I thought, that me showing them that I was ok would help them be ok….boy was I wrong. They needed to know I was sad, so they felt comfortable sharing that they were sad. They needed to know we were all hurting, they need to see it and know it is ok for them to feel the same way. On the flip side, they need to see the happy moments too, and know it is ok for them to have happy moments! I will never forget a conversation with my youngest who was really upset and in talking to her she explained why…she was so torn because she had a fun trip with her dad and step-mom and didn’t want to talk about it for fear that she was happy with them. Holy cow…it stopped me in my tracks and I of course explained that I wanted to hear all about it and was super happy for her and that it was totally ok to be happy. She felt guilty for feeling happy…what was I doing wrong…that was my first thought. But what I realized was that I was not showing her that I was happy with some areas of my life as well and that it is totally ok to be both happy and sad with your parent and for your parents. She taught me a lot in that one conversation. If I can share anything, it is to encourage conversation and show emotion. I am naturally not someone who openly shows a lot of emotion, I am a huge internalizer (probably the biggest reason I am divorced…well that and the fact that our relationship was not God-centered) but I have gotten better and I know how important it is for the kids to be able to express their emotions. I even say things to them like, ‘I know this really sucks for you, I am not going to try to tell you I know how you feel because I did not go through what you’re going through but I want you to try to tell me why you’re frustrated’ (or angry, or quiet, or….)
4) Learn to say you are sorry…to both your ex and your kids
Have you ever had to apologize to a teenager?!?! Oh my word….it is HARD! Saying to a teenager, I truly screwed up, I should not have talked to you that way, I am so sorry…..it is hard. Back story on that, I had a day, a complete emotional melt down, I was just tired, exhausted and pretty much was done adulting for the day…and my teenager came at me with some unrealistic expectation and I honestly came unglued, I am not proud of how I reacted, it was totally out of character for me but I screwed up…and I knew I had to admit it. We sat down, we talked together, cried together, hugged then laughed at the fact we both were acting crazy. But we did it, and you know what, I know for a fact it set in because it still gets brought up on occasion even though it was a few years ago and what is remembered is the fact that I apologized and we cried together. I also have had some not so great moments with my ex and I have learned that it is way easier to apologize when I truly screw up. I read a quote ‘holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’ ….uhm yep, that hits the nail on the head! There is zero reason to hold on to anger, if you are wrong, be respectful, apologize sincerely, drop it and move forward. If you disagree, just respectfully agree to disagree and move on, it can be that easy. If the other person chooses to hold on to anger, it is their choice, not yours. Choosing happy is way more fun anyway!! 🙂
5) Don’t sweat the small stuff
You and your ex will have very different ways of parenting, different house rules, different things you feed the kids, different clothes you let the kids wear, etc… If it is not a ‘deal breaker’ in the big picture of life, as long as the kids are being cared for, they feel that they have the autonomy to make decisions and they feel loved, all of it is good. If one parent allows more technology time than another, leave it alone! If one parent lets the kids eat junk food all the time and you are set on non-GMO organics, then leave it alone. If you want the kids to always wear clothes that match and the other parent lets the kids dress themselves…perfect! Kids learn quick, they know what rules apply! All of this will help them develop into who they are supposed to be and they will eventually develop their own preferences and their own taste in clothes, food and fashion and it is our job as parents to support them and love them. There will be a day when you have no control over what they eat, what they wear, how much tv they watch, etc… and you know what, it is all good stuff! They will be way better off if they don’t have to listen to their parents bicker over silly rules and french fries! If there is something that is driving you absolutely crazy, I encourage you to give yourself 24 hours (the good ole 24-hour rule), pray about it and then address it with your ex (alone, NOT IN FRONT OF THE KIDS!!)….I will bet you that it will go WAY better than you ever imagined it could!
So that is my top 5 this week. I am hoping through my mistakes and failures, that sharing this will maybe lift up at least one person who may be struggling through their own situation! I am truly thankful that my kids have a fabulous father who makes this co-parenting thing a heck of a lot easier because after all…it does take two people! I am thankful that we are able to look past everything and be able to just be parents to our kids. Today, I challenge you as parents, especially if you are parenting children through a divorce, to be real. Be real with yourself, be real with your kids, choose your actions, pray about your reactions, be kind and try to enjoy this short time we have here on earth. Just keep in mind, you have no control over other people’s actions but you can control your own actions and reactions….
Enjoy Today ~ Choose Happy 🙂