I work for the Federal Government, so all of this shutdown nonsense is always right on the forefront of my mind. Thankfully, my office is considered “essential,” so it is business as usual for us right now, but that could change depending on how long this shutdown continues.
All of this talk has got me thinking a lot about what it means to be “essential.” The definition of essential on Dictionary.com is “absolutely necessary; indispensable.”
Since it is Hot Topic Tuesday, I thought a good topic would be to talk about what is essential in being a smart parent during a divorce. So many parents THINK they are doing everything right, but it’s hard to see the true extent of the damage you are doing when you are too caught up in your own anger and pain to realize what is really happening.
In the words of Eminem in one of my new favorite songs, “Question is are you… smart enough to feel stupid.” I LOVE THAT LINE… because I have said many times that I believe the most dangerous kinds of people are those who THINK they are smart, but who are NOT. If you aren’t smart enough to feel stupid, then you are obviously oblivious to everything.
That obliviousness is clear in a lot of parenting techniques that are common right in the throes of divorce. However, below I have listed five tips that are the essentials you must do to be a smart parent in a divorce:
1) Put the children first. That means take your nose out of your iPhone and actually focus on listening to your kids. It’s hard to reassure the children of your love when you are constantly texting your friends or checking your Facebook. And THEY NOTICE. It’s very obvious to them when a parent is not a good listener.
Putting the children first also means not using the children as pawns. Yes, YOU. STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING!! This is probably the biggest mistake parents make when divorcing. Sadly, most of the time they may not even realize they are doing it. If you notice that most of your emails are complaining about things that your ex is doing during “YOUR time,” then you have already fallen into the trap. Whose time is it, really? It is THEIR time (the kids’) and they should be able to enjoy both parents without having to have a divisive line drawn based on what day of the week it is.
2) Communicate with your ex. I talk about this A LOT, but that is because communication is so important in every relationship – especially in a co-parenting relationship. Being willing and able to communicate with your ex is also an extension of putting your children first. You may not WANT to communicate, but you know that it is about the kids and NOT about your desires.
Do not ignore emails and/or pick and choose what you feel deserves a response. Refusal to discuss issues does not help anyone and is merely a trick used by intellectually feeble people who are attempting to look smart or better than someone else. Just respond and move on. It feels much better than to have something hanging over your head.
3) Try to be consistent and give the kids the structure and routine they need. A lot of times when a couple is newly divorced/separated, the parents do whatever they can to be the “fun parent.” They may allow the kids to stay up ridiculously late, eat out all the time, or let them skip their commitments and/or homework. While this kind of behavior can be temporarily fun (and communal living can give a parent a nice therapy session with friends while the kids play until all hours) it is only doing your children a disservice if you are not teaching them responsibility and modeling good habits.
Structure and routine is very important at this crucial time anyway to help get the kids through any anxiety they may feel due to the divorce. I know when we were newly separated, I made a calendar for the children to look at so they could see just how many days it would be before they would see dad again, etc. That structure was just what they needed to feel secure in an otherwise chaotic time.
4) Encourage the kids’ relationship with the other parent and foster love and respect for that parent. What happens so often is a mom or dad will be having a few drinks with friends and they fail to realize that the kids can hear them as they lament on how awful the other parent is. You have to be very aware of avoiding those kinds of situations.
I remember my young children going to their dad’s house for the weekend and they would always say something about leaving me and I rather than go on and on about how much I would miss them or how sad I would be, I would just say something like, “You are going to have SO MUCH FUN with daddy this weekend!! You are such lucky kids to have SO MANY PEOPLE who love you! What do you think your favorite thing you will do this weekend will be???” Crisis averted and the kids would feel encouraged and not scared to discuss what they do with their dad.
If you do everything you can to encourage a loving, engaging and healthy relationship with the other parent, then they will always remember that. They learn about forgiveness and love through seeing our interactions with the other person they love more than anything in the world.
5) Finally, and this may be the most important essential considering it makes a difference in how you react and handle the rest of these on the list… TAKE CARE OF YOU. If you are not in a good place since your divorce, then seek help. You cannot possibly be the best parent you can be if you have nothing left to give your kids. If you think you are too angry or you are depressed, seek help. Even if it is just seeking out a friend or two who you can bounce things off of. Just find something.
Just like happiness begets happiness, misery begets misery. If you are incurably unhappy, then you are going to share that unhappiness with your kids. This in no way gives you the right to be selfish. There is no place for selfishness in parenthood. Sure you sometimes feel like a taxi cab driver and a line cook and a housekeeper and a dry cleaner… all with NO gratefulness from the kids… but that is called BEING A PARENT. You may have to miss the big ball game for a dance recital or you may have to miss a fun concert because your child has a fever. But that’s just life. So you have to learn to deal with the hand you have been dealt and take care of YOU.
All five of the tips above are essential to being a smart parent. Don’t suffer from the double curse – performing horribly as a parent, while being completely unaware of your incompetence. You must be smarter than that and admit when things aren’t working. Take a hard look at how you are currently handling things and you may realize that there are some things you need to change. You may take a hard look at your life and realize that you are inept at giving routine and structure. You may feel like an idiot, but that just means you need to work harder. At least you are smart enough to recognize it.
Eminem would be proud of you for being smart enough to feel stupid.