The Secret to Post-Divorce Parenting: Don't "Over" Do It

There's nothing like a divorce -- and the inevitable introduction of new romantic interests -- to reveal how wishy-washy an ex's parenting principles actually are.
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The list of things that a divorce has the potential to change about your life is as long as it is obvious. It can change where you live, whom you live with, how much time you have with your children and how much money you have at your disposal. But there's one potential change caused by divorce that you might not see coming: the change in you and your ex's parenting.

There's nothing like a divorce -- and the inevitable introduction of new romantic interests -- to reveal how wishy-washy an ex's parenting principles actually are. Tenets you assumed were both shared and rock solid can turn to dust before your very eyes. The sudden feeling that you are going it alone when it comes to following through on a very important work in progress -- raising your kids -- can lead to some pretty big parenting mistakes.

Here are the three most common ones:

The Over-corrector. The Over-corrector thinks her ex isn't on the ball when it comes to his parenting, so she feels the need to double down when the kids are with her. If she's twice as strict, that will make up for the lack of parenting that's happening at her ex's house. Right?


What the Over-corrector doesn't understand is that rather than "fixing" the problems at her ex's house, she's compromising the situation at her own. Trying to make up for another parent's inability or refusal to parent by turning yours up to eleven only makes your house feel like a penitentiary. Your kids will soon dread the time they have to serve with you, which will lead them to constantly angle for early release.

If you're an Over-corrector, what you need to focus on is the "you" part of that equation -- as in, what kind of parent you want to be, and what's going on at your house -- and stop worrying about what your ex is or isn't doing at his. Also, you can take some comfort in this: Eventually, the contrasting parenting styles may well provide your children with some valuable life lessons of their own.

The Over-indulger. The Over-indulger still feels really guilty about everything the kids had to go through as a result of the divorce. So, the Over-indulger coddles the kids, indulging their every whim, hoping to shield them from having to experience sadness or disappointment ever again. That's the best way to make it all up to them, right?

Wrong again.

If you're an Over-indulger, what's more likely to happen is that your kids will not be equipped to navigate life's ups and downs when they are grown. The cocoon you're surrounding them in -- the one spun of your own regret and anxiety -- will stunt their emotional growth and prevent them from developing the very skills they'll need roll with life's punches. Your divorce probably scratched and dented their childhood at least a little. Over-nursing those wounds doesn't make them heal more quickly; it risks making minor injuries into permanent disabilities.

The Over-compensator. Ugh. Their dad! He is SUCH an over-promiser and under-deliverer. But that's okay! The Over-compensator can keep both his word and hers! That kitten he promised them but failed to deliver when he got a new girlfriend who was allergic to cats? No worries! The Over-compensator will take them to the animal shelter the very next weekend and adopt not one but TWO kittens! The Over-compensator's actions will keep the kids happy and show them which parent they can really count on, right?


If you are an Over-compensator, you need to remember that promises are the obligation of the person who made them. When you make good on someone else's promise, you skew the data your kids receive and deny them an opportunity to learn how certain people specifically, and the world generally, operates. As a result, your kids could end up with the impression that the world owes them, and you can end up living a life you never wanted.

Now let's see how well you've been paying attention: What do all three of these parenting mistakes have in common? If you answered that they all have "over" in the name, you are correct. The "over" part reveals a very important truth: Parents who employ one of these three approaches generally aren't yet over their divorce.

I don't mean they're still pining away for their ex or that they secretly wish that they were still married; I mean they are still trapped in the "divortex" -- the gravitational pull that forces them to endlessly orbit around their divorce. They may be divorced, but they're definitely not living life for themselves yet -- and that's a shame, because that's one of the very best parts of not being married.

If you see yourself in one of these three categories, here's what you need to do: Relax. Take note of what you do well and stop keeping track of what your ex screws up. Celebrate the good times with your kids, appreciate the ordinary days, and soldier through the more challenging ones. Enjoy the time you have together -- and also the time you have apart.

Following the above pointers will help you to break free from the divortex, and that will enable you to engage in conscious and present post-divorce parenting, without "over" doing it.

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