Recently I spoke with a woman whose coaching practice revolves around the issue of children and divorce. She had many useful strategies for dealing with this challenge but what it all seemed to come down to is this: if you love your children more than you might hate, resent or simply dislike your ex, then you are called upon to act with their well-being first and foremost instead of any hard feelings you may harbor against your former spouse. You must be a bigger person that the issues surrounding your divorce.
This brought to mind a line from a song by the artist Sting from the 80ís when we were still immersed in the cold war. Sting brings the song to an end with the following stanza:
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too
We are our childrenís role models. How we handle this divorce will have the greatest impact on their future. When your children are grown, how will they look back on how you and your ex chose to handle this situation? Will they be proud of you? Will they thank you for placing their welfare above all else? Will they learn the all important life lessons of compassion, mutual respect, acceptance and letting go of grudges and hurt? You truly need to consider these questions now.
If your ex loves your children then work from that premise. We cannot control our former partnerís every action or their thought processes. Perhaps the support check doesnít come on time. Perhaps your ex doesnít show up to pickup the kids on a timely basis. If we can acknowledge the fact that our ex does indeed love the children and treats them accordingly, we will be able to let go of all the little stuff.
If we are divorced with children, we will be in some sort of a relationship with our exís forever. To that end, we must do whatever we can to create a relationship that will nurture and support our children. We must learn to let go of grudges that get in the way of co-parenting. A toxic relationship leaks all over the place. Our children are incredibly perceptive. They know what is going on between the two of you even if you do your best to hide it.
What happens if your ex doesnít see it that way? What if he or she cannot let go of blame and resentment and anger? What do you do if you have done everything you know how to create a mutually respectful relationship and your ex still is extremely difficult and confrontational? In the end you cannot control someone else but you can control yourself. Be the bigger person. Show your children how to do the right thing. Accept the fact that your ex is who they are and figure out the most effective ways to deal with that fact.
Let me give you an example. For years I railed against my ex because he could never be on time to pick up the kids on his one weekday night with them. Our agreement said he should pick them up by 7pm at the latest so I made plans for myself based on that agreement. Never happened and I now understand that it probably never will. Sometimes he is on time but usually not. I tried to control the situation but all it did was make me angry and frustrated. Worse still, my daughter revealed that she felt like a burden because I was always complaining about not being able to adhere to my night outís schedule.
So I accepted reality and instead always made certain that I had coverage should he be late. I also attempted to have my plans start as late as possible just in case. It was so much easier than fighting a lost cause and it protected my daughterís feelings and self-esteem. In the end, it was not such a big deal. I gave up being right because the price to pay was far too high.
Hereís another challenge for you when dealing with your ex: thank them when they do whatís right. Apologize if you make say something hurtful or donít honor an agreement. Everyone wants to feel respected. It goes against how we may be feeling but this has to do with creating an environment that will gift your children with peace.
There are indeed strategies that you can adopt in dealing with your children. Always ensure that your kids know that the divorce has nothing to do with them and isnít their fault. To do so you must be honest to a certain degree in an age appropriate manner. Confide in them but stay away from any adult themed moral issues. Remind them that Mom and Dad are still Mom and Dad and that will never change. Always ensure that they feel loved and safe and secure. Donít criticize your ex in front of the kids because then they will feel guilt about loving their parent. Donít force them to make choices and decisions that will put them in a position of choosing between one or the other parent.
Did I do all this? I am sorry to say I did not. I was very angry and resentful and all too often I let those emotions run the show. I have lived and learned. It is a never- ending process. Just recently I called my ex to see if we could repair a misunderstanding for the sake of our wonderful kids. What I have learned is that our emotions hijack us and we say and do things that we know are wrong, albeit after the explosion. If I could do anything differently, it would be to use the skills I now impart to my clients on controlling emotional reactive behavior.
Start becoming more aware of your bodyís cues as to when you are heading into your danger zone of emotional reactivity. Catch yourself before you react and walk away. Take a few minutes to do some deep breathing and get your body and mind back into a rational mode. Perhaps you need to go take a ten-minute walk. Walk away when you become emotional because you are only heading for trouble. When you have returned to a state of equilibrium then and only then decide on the best way to handle the situation.
Parenting is life long process. You may not see the rewards of your sacrifices today or even in the next few years but they will come sooner or later. Usually later. If you think that you have made some mistakes, clean up the mess. Let your kids know that you have learned a great deal and are the wiser for it today. They will come to know in their own time that life does not always go as planned and our experiences hold hidden treasures.
Shelley Stile is an ACC certified Divorce Recovery Life Coach and author. Shelley guides her clients to let go and move on after divorce. Read her new book 95 Tips to Transform Your Life After Divorce at www.divorcesupportbook.com. For more information and the new tele-seminar series, go to www.lifeafteryourdivorce.com.