Everyday I learn something new as a parent. Just when you thought you’ve figured it all out, something happens that reminds you that you are still somewhat of a novice. I have tremendous faith that at some point I will have that moment when I could sit back and say “I’ve learned it all.” Sadly, I don’t think that moment is at all in my near future. #motherhood
A few weeks ago, my daughter had a moment where tears and emotions had taken over her as she thought about the divorce. She wanted to know why me and her dad decided to part ways. I thought to myself, “8 years later and we are still having this discussion.” But I believe that every time something triggers a memory from the past when we were a whole unit, these emotions creep up and it feels like we are having the conversation for the very first time. I can't blame her! This was a huge change for her to adjust to.
Parenting after a divorce can be challenging. You’re not just dealing with the growing pains of children, you're also dealing with additional feelings and emotions that have now taken root as a result of the divorce.
Here are 5 tips on parenting after a divorce:
- Remember you’re a parent, not a friend. There can be an enormous amount of guilt that you experience when you are a divorced parent. Guilt that their life will be different (and in your head, not in a good way), or guilt that they blame you for the split. So with those perceptions, you find yourself giving in to your child in an unconventional way to ensure they are happy. Doing this not only confuses a child but it also creates a false perception of your role in their life. Continue to be a parent consistently. Their happiness will not come from you being their friend.
- Season your words with truth and wisdom. I have been faced with some tough questions from my daughter as it relates to the divorce. My first instinct was to tell her what she only needed to know, which wouldn't be the truth. But as I wrote in my blog “Dear Single Parent,” I was trying to protect her but forgot that she was human too and could see right from wrong. When you are speaking with your child about the divorce, remember to be respectfully honest. If necessary, apologize for how the divorce is affecting them, but be careful not to apologize for the decision to get a divorce. I always tell my daughter that her dad and I were two friends who grew apart and decided that we couldn't be friends anymore. Because she’s had her share of make-up’s and break-up’s with friends, it was easy for her to understand. But I never told her that I wish I wasn’t divorce from her dad; I didn’t want her holding on to any hope of that situation being reconciled. We took time to really think about if the divorce was necessary. So once the decision was made, it was made after much thought and consideration. I wanted her to know that.
- Prepare yourself for the emotional rollercoaster. One day your child is ok and the next day they're not. You find yourself having to comfort them about the same thing over and over. Thankfully, I was ready for this one because I saw early on that my daughter was very compassionate and was very in touch with her emotions. The part I wasn’t prepared for was having to comfort her through her breakdowns while I was having a separate breakdown. Because again, you tend to feel guilty when you're child is going through a tough moment that was essentially caused by a decision you made. So be prepared for it. Don’t discount that their breakdowns can come at any given time and your feelings will have to be placed to the side to help them get through it.
- Don't play defense with the other parent. Your goal in this co-parenting situation is to ensure that your child wins in the end; it’s not about either one of you winning. So by all means necessary, don’t allow your feelings of disappointment towards the other person allow you to make poor decisions. You are in a glass bowl, on display, with an audience of 1—your child. Let your child see the example of navigating through tough situations with a level of grace and maturity. That will ultimately speak volumes in how they develop and mature.
- Work on you—the new you. Don't turn your new single parent role into an “until they leave for college” project. As I wrote in my blog titled “The Divorce Was My Happily Ever After,” no situation is one-sided. Many people hate the idea of sharing the responsibility in a divorce. But the reality is, I shared 50% of why that marriage didn’t work out. So there were areas in me that needed to be worked on. In addition to being a single parent, I also needed to take this new time in my life to work on being a better person all around. I refused to focus all of my energy on this new role. I wanted to collaboratively work on being a great mother and also being a new and better person. And trust me, it is possible to do.
Even with these 5 tips there will still be challenges with this new role. Don't run from it, run towards it. And remember you set the tone of how the future will look, not the divorce!