As a child, how my mom handled her divorce impacted me far more than the divorce itself. She saw it as an unrecoverable death blow that guaranteed everyone in our family a lifetime of misery. Especially her. So when my marriage ended a few years ago, I committed to a handful of ways I would show up differently for my kids.
My kids are not resilient. I’m sure people offer this advice with good intention, but it’s wildly misguided. Resilience is a skill developed by learning to recover from difficulty. Divorce is the perfect opportunity to teach kids resilience. (If you haven’t personally developed resilience, then find a therapist or coach to get started.)
My kids deserve time to catch up. I had a hunch my marriage wasn’t firing on all cylinders far before my kids. They may have noticed tension or unhappiness, but without having had their own romantic relationship they had no context. Respect their time to process everything. Respect their emotion and grief. Our conversations are always open ended and when they want to talk, I listen.
My ex isn’t my husband anymore but he is still my kid’s dad. Children want to know and love both of their parents. Unless an ex-spouse is harmful or abusive, a loving relationship with both parents benefits everyone. I bite my tongue whenever I want to bark out frustration over my ex in front of my kids. There is no reason for them to hear the faults I find in the guy who contributed half their DNA. As time goes by, they will discover our differences and form their own opinions of us both.
Emphasizing gratitude is more important than pointing out when I pay for things. When I was 10, having a warm coat to walk to school in when the temperature was -10 meant more to me than knowing which parent paid for it. I teach my kids to value money and the efforts it takes to earn. But I don’t think scorekeeping sends the right message. Instead of pointing out who should get credit for what, I emphasize gratitude for everything. My mom always seemed to keep score in the name of fairness. But I noticed she only pointed out the times she paid for something, an imbalance which demonstrated the opposite to me.
My house is “the condo”; dad’s house is “the house”. Whenever I can, I drop the mention of home ownership labels. “Mom’s House”, “Dad’s House” both sound like places my kids are merely an invited guest. When I was married my kids didn’t say, “Hey, Susie can you come over to my parent’s house?” Why should they now?
I will act like an adult or at least fake it when my kids are around. Kids only get one chance to enjoy their childhood. When things get overwhelming, I vent to a trusted friend, talk with a therapist or coach, start to journal or cry in the shower, but I never dump on my kids. My marriage ended, but their family didn’t, so why put my burdens on their innocent shoulders.
Deciding my family would thrive in its new form was a choice. Everyday isn’t easy and everyday isn’t perfect. My intention is for them to understand family comes in all forms and love has no rules. While my divorce isn’t something I celebrate, I’m thankful my childhood experience helped me see the ways it could be done better.