Category Archives: children

The One Trait Divorcing Parents Need to Have

DIVORCING PARENTSPrint

Divorce brings new realities flooding in from all sides. Some of them we won’t want to look at.

We are often urged to accept reality. Sounds obvious and reasonable, doesn’t it! Too bad it’s so hard to do.

When I struggle to accept something, it’s because I want my world to be one way, and it’s a different way. I’ll do anything not to see that piece of reality right then, because if I look at it and accept it into my world view, I’ll have to feel whatever sadness or anger or hurt comes with it. And it won’t be fun.

Accepting that the marriage is really over is hard for many divorcing parents. In my case, although I initiated the split, I could only look sideways at myself as a soon-to-be-divorced woman. The pain surrounding that was too overpowering to take in all at once — I felt it would have squashed me if I tried. So I got to know it gradually, with support, until I could stare it right in the eye.

The Unwelcome Guest

Why bother with that hard internal stuff like accepting reality? Why not keep on keeping on, and just make sure we get the groceries bought and the kids to school in clean clothes?

That’s what’s important, right?

Partly. Getting those things done is important. But we won’t be able to move forward with rebuilding our lives until we let in our new realities. Open the door to that grubby unwelcome guest who keeps rattling the kitchen doorknob. Find a spot for it to sleep, sit near it and get to know it. Hear what it has to say, and weep. When it is finally known and its messages absorbed, it will slink out the door. Then we are free to ask how we will live our tomorrows.

Attending to the inner work allows us to accomplish our tasks in the outer world.

How to begin?

If you are in a difficult transition such as learning to co-parent children from two homes, start by assessing your overall level of stress. Do you need to get help and support? If so, get it. I used both a group and, intermittently, a counselor, and they made all the difference.

If you are okay to proceed on your own, here are some steps to try:

1. List the main outside changes you are making or facing, such as moving to a new place, starting a new schedule of being with your children, or making different financial arrangements.

2. Jot down the internal shifts you need to make which go with those changes. Mine included seeing myself as no longer married and part of my previous family – shifting to the identity of a separated and part-time mom.

3. Read through your list of outside changes and internal shifts. Which is the hardest for you?

4. Choose one tough aspect of reality and say it aloud. “I’m single and 45.” “My kids won’t have the stable family that I had growing up.” “My ex has lied to me.”

5. Have a conversation with yourself about that tough thing. As well as, “How do I feel about this?” ask, “What’s the hardest about this? What does it mean to me, or represent? If I accept that this is happening, what does that mean?” Write down your answers without worrying about grammar or anything else. (This is for your eyes only. No electronic sharing at this point!)

6. Once you have explored your tough thing, ask, “Is there any part of this that I canaccept, for now?” If the answer is, “No” you may want to reassess whether you need support. Or, it may be too soon. If you identify something you can begin to accept, write it down. Read it and breathe in and out. Repeat. Let whatever feelings arise come in. If you are overwhelmed, stop and go for a walk.

7. Be kind to yourself. When you’ve had time to digest what you have written down, it’s time for an action plan: identify anything concrete you can do to help yourself accept that tough reality. Make sure it is legal and won’t stir up family drama– your kids don’t need that. Focus on nurturing yourself and exploring something new. An action I took to help me accept being separated was joining a nearby church for social support. A friend of mine signed up for salsa lessons.

Does this sound like too big a deal, too much to tackle? I get it. This takes effort and courage.

Yes, accepting reality is a lot of work, but so is ignoring that unwelcome guest camped in your mind. Where do you want to spend your energy?

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What Hindsight Says

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I wasn’t always sure that I wanted kids. My feminist self feared that motherhood would shuffle me off to the sidelines of life.  Early in my career, professional success gleamed like a silver bauble on the Christmas tree, and I had no way to comprehend how it might tarnish.

Nor had I any idea, really, what being a mother meant.  So when my then-husband and I took the plunge and I gave birth to two sons in my early thirties, I learned.  I learned that parenting is unrelenting, giving back only slivers of reward in the first blur of little sleep. That you don’t know if you’re doing it right. That there often isn’t enough of you to go around.

Yes, there were sweet cuddles, flashes of joy, and feeling like a hero when I stepped inside the door to my toddlers’ welcome. For me, the greatest rewards emerged when my children started to become themselves, and I could be in a relationship with those precious and unique boys.

Now I get it. I know why my parents would light up in the presence of my sister, brother, and me. Those years of intensity and challenge forged a bond that is tethered in my core.

My sons’ father was part of the same journey. We divorced when the boys were five and eight.  Right then, through hurt, I might have sought to care for them full-time myself.  I didn’t, because I knew their dad was important to them— they would suffer without his presence in their lives.  And I would be a better mother with time to breathe.

Looking back, I am deeply thankful that we co-parented them to adulthood. The biggest reasons are, of course, the men they have become. Having two loving parents seems to have outweighed the hassles of navigating two homes.

Another reason is their father.  Knowing the meaning they bring to my life, I cannot fail to recognize that they do the same for him.