The loss and change of separation and divorce can splinter even the best parent’s attention. The emotional turmoil strikes at the heart of everything “home” – and most importantly how you parent your children. Your unsettled emotions pull you away from them into a morass of adult complexity they could never understand. Net result, honestly, they get scared even if they don’t show it.
Most of us don’t have children to be separated from them on a regular schedule, to lose the opportunity to be a part of their every day-to-day, or worse to have them influenced by or parented by an unrelated adult. If you find yourself wrestling with an upset inner momma-bear or papa-bear after divorce, you are not alone. It is quite the norm.
The key is recognizing how to work with those protective feelings for your child and use them for good by strengthening your two-home parenting skills, managing your own feelings – particularly anger and fear, and establishing a few ground rules for your co-parenting relationship. Three ways to use your energy for your children’s good:
- Avoid Post Divorce Parenting Traps: Stress and worry impact how we parent. For a brief time, we may be too overwhelmed to care about the details. If that’s true for you, now’s the time to choose the top two details to focus on that will help your children feel your structuring love and attention. Consider re-establishing homework table so that academics don’t fall through the cracks. Let’s be sure the basic chore list is back on the refrigerator and you’re working together to care for your home and belongings. Guilt and worry can lead us to feeling sorry for our children with permissive parenting following. Pretty soon we stop confronting or make excuses for misbehavior because we believe they’re too stressed to do better or we indulge screen time because we want them to like being in our home. Job one: Find your way back to healthy parenting which includes structure and warmth, follow-through and empathic attention.
- Emotional Self-Management Strategies: When you feel those unsettled feelings roaring forward, take a breath, take a break. Nothing is more important as a coParent than to find your way back to calm and clear thinking. You won’t be able to stop the storms in life, but you can certainly develop the emotional muscle to hold your center through the storm. Practice what works for you: exercise, eat just a bit healthier, decrease any alcohol or caffeine consumption, push away from the computer (email, social media and so forth). Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself. Notice your beautiful child right in front of you and let that moment of heart-to-heart help bring perspective back – this too shall pass.
- Co-Parenting Ground Rules that Strengthen Relationship: Making the commitment to stay on the high road is never easy when the person you’re dealing with insists on trying to take you down. That being said, you are in charge of your own destiny, your ability to model for your children the values and behaviors that you’re proud of. Take to heart that fighting fire with fire will only result in a whole lot of ashes. No one wins a battle or a war between parents: The scars are carried by your children. Be radical!
- B-I-F-F [Be Brief, Informative, Firm and (Business) Friendly]. Make sure every email you write is short, concise, business-friendly and clear. Never (never!) bad mouth your children’s other parent – each of you hold a special place in their hearts … damaging words about parent are felt deep in a child’s chest. Big do not.
- Be there. Participate in planning, scheduling, and payment for kid-related expenses like a grownup: Be timely, follow-through, and make payments without fuss.
- Be kind, be patient. Lastly, do all you can to maintain some degree of ease around your co-parent for your children’s sake. Your stress and tension telegraph directly to their little bellies and become their stress and tension. Let’s be “no tummy-ache” co-parents!
Please know this may be asking for the moon for some of you. Yes, we’re pushing you to be the best you can be … not for your “ex” but for your children. Everything you do is for your own sense of integrity and for their well-being. If your co-parent benefits (and they will), that’s the icing on the cake.