In just a few weeks, I will be turning the corner on a full decade of being divorced from my first marriage, from the father of my children. They were 2 and 5 when the divorce was final. Now they are embarking upon middle and high school.
In these 10 years, I have gone from working in massage therapy and cosmetics (fields I still love and have fond memories of) to becoming a biblical counselor. No doubt the life experience of divorce and parenting after divorce has been one the main driving forces in this career aspiration. Also I have recently become approved by the Tennessee Courts to be a family mediator. This means that among other things, I can help those who are divorcing to work through matters like child support, custody and divorce. I also lead DivorceCare, a Christian ministry focusing on healing after divorce at a local church.
There are so many things I wish I could personally tell each parent going through divorce. It doesn’t matter if you are the mom or the dad, the leaver or the left, the grieving or the celebrating; there are some truths that may not be so clear to you now. And I would rather you learn them much more quickly than I did, for your sake, and for your child’s sake.
- Think long term not short term–Things that seem important now will seem silly later. You might feel compelled to fight tooth and nail over small issues like splitting cell phone plans and who will have the kids on Halloween 2042. Try to imagine yourself and your children 2, 5 and 10 years down the road. Are you considering what your children might need, or even desire as they become more independent? While you and your ex are arguing over the details, your kids are growing up. One day they will be more concerned about lacrosse, soccer, choir or their girlfriend than their parents. Plan for growth and for conversations that don’t always revolve around what you want.
- You don’t have to hate your ex–Anger, grief and sadness are completely normal for a time. But that does not mean that you have to hate her forever. It’s not required by law, and a lot of the stuff that is really chapping your behind right now may be very trivial. If you could tape record the things you say now, and play them in a year, you might be shocked. Even if you begin dating or get married (please don’t rush into either!), you do not have to loathe your ex to prove to yourself or your new girlfriend that you are “over it.”
- You don’t have to prove that you’re the good guy–Those who love you will keep loving you. Strangers or Facebook audiences don’t have to know the truth about your ex. Truth is, they probably already know. And if they refuse to see the truth, they will, I promise. It is not your job to put a warning label on your ex, although some of these folks might really need one! Take the high road; you will not regret it!
“Wisdom is doing today what you can live with tomorrow.” Joyce Meyer
- You don’t have to answer his phone calls or texts when he is cursing, yelling or disrespecting you–He’s not your husband anymore. Every time I tell a woman this she looks at me like I am an alien made of Jell-O. It’s like you have left the building but your brain is still acting married. Time to retrain your brain by setting boundaries and then reclaiming your long lost self-respect. Take advantage of the “do not disturb” feature on your phone and if necessary, resort to emails or a third party communicator (attorney) until the seas are calm enough to sail again.
- You don’t have to fight over money all day every day–It’s okay to mediate or compromise or even realize, sometimes the money ain’t coming. While you probably deserve MORE, this can consume you. I am not saying not to fight to take care of your children; I am saying that there are times when it might actually be beyond your control. Some people never get caught up on child support. While it makes life really hard (like water getting shut off and eating ramen seven days a week hard) focus on what you CAN do about it. Learn your rights, do your due diligence, and then take care of business.
- You can’t control how your ex parents the kids–And they can’t control you. STOP TRYING. Have civil conversations. Pray for your ex and her household and the kids’ happiness at her house, but you don’t get to choose her values as a parent. You wouldn’t even get to do that if you were still married. And when she listens to your point of view and agrees to concessions, thank her. It will go a long way to her listening and being agreeable next time.
- The kids can hear you–Even when you whisper and gesture and mouth words and talk on the phone in your room, they can hear you. When you say daddy is bad or a jerk or an ass, they think they are bad too because they are his child. They still find identity in each of you; so for the sake of their self-esteem, and for their relationships with each of you, find a healthy outlet to vent that doesn’t wound your children.
- Stop serial dating–When you show up with guy number five for the last two months, the kids think you are crazy. Like seriously crazy. Don’t move in your boyfriend, and especially not his kids. Next thing you know, your child is attached to your boyfriend’s child and you have already moved on to the next Mr. Right, who in three weeks will be Mr. What Was I Thinking. No, you do not need to see if he is good with the kids. Not yet. Date for 3-4 months at least, and then gradually introduce him in a safe way. Most of the people you date won’t make it to the 90 day probation period, so why bother your kiddos with all your failed attempts at love. Haven’t they lost enough?
In no way do I intend to come off as judgmental. I can honestly say I have made ALL of these mistakes and then some. But you should know that your kids are watching you. They need you to be more solid and sane than ever, which is ironic, because you probably feel that you are losing your mind right now. You need love and guidance more than ever now! For tips on how to get through this trying time, check out Surviving the Loneliness of Separation and Divorce. And please, feel free to comment or reach out if you have questions or need help getting connected with resources. Even this, shall pass.
This list is by no means exhaustive. In fact, check out Part 2: Tips for Parents Going Through a Divorce which focuses on the psychology and financial issues of divorce and its effects on children.