Sometimes the greatest advice you can get comes from someone who has already walked the road ahead of you. That’s why we’re grateful to include this insightful guest blog post from a divorced parent.
Elephants never forget – and neither does your family… And other wise thoughts I wish someone had told me during my separation.
May 5, 2013. The day I asked my husband and the father of my two children to move out of our home. The youngest were four and not even two years old. It was one of the most painful decisions I had to make and it wasn’t from a lack of love or from wanting to do this parenting and family thing alone. For reasons that aren’t important here, our marriage was broken beyond repair. However, we were – and will forever be – family. Four years later, I am sure there are other moms (and dads) out there that love their kiddos so much it hurts and while they aren’t excited about the separation journey ahead, they just want to do it right. And do it well.
For what it is worth, here are a few lessons learned from one parent to another.
- Pick your battles. – Going through a separation or divorce is one of the most stressful times in your life and it seems that everything, and I mean everything, feels like WWIII. Decide what matters – really matters – in the long run and focus on that. I will never forget the first time their dad wanted to switch a scheduled weekend, showed up 15 minutes late to take the children to dinner or forgot to send home their soccer gear for practice. You would have thought I was in the middle of Armageddon. The truth is we are all human. Take a deep breath and remember that it just might be you that makes a mistake next time. Grace is a beautiful thing.
- Edit. Save. – Crafting or responding to emails in the heat of the moment is never a smart move. Trust me. I know. Write the email or your response. Hit save. Take a walk. Take a bath. Take a sip of wine (but not the whole bottle). Sleep on it. Reread the email again and remember that once something is in writing, it is really hard to take it back. Words matter. Use them wisely.
- Elephants never forget. And neither does your family. – My poor mother. I can only imagine the dread she used to feel when she saw my number pop up on her phone. I was certain to be calling with another dramatic “How Dare He” story about my soon-to-be ex. The problem was that it is easier for me to eventually forgive and (almost) forget than for my friends and family who loved me through the darkest of days to be as forgiving with him. The next time you call mom, share something really amazing that your co-parent did for your kids. Small moments can make a big impact.
- Invest in family therapy. – My gut is this advice probably sounds ridiculous to you. I get it. At this point in my marriage, I was so over marriage counseling that the thought of sitting on another couch with a bigger box of Kleenex made me want to poke my eyeballs out with hot needles. However, the best thing their dad and I ever did (besides raising these incredible kids) was to sit with a child therapist in the midst of our separation to talk about our vision for how we wanted to co-parent, which was based on the unique needs of each of our children. We also made sure the kids knew they had a ‘feelings doctor’ to talk to. Four years later, we still gather in their ‘feeling doctor’s’ office whenever we all need a little tune up. It doesn’t happen often, but it is comforting to know that couch is still there.
- Remember Thumper. Some say Alice Roosevelt Longworth first coined this phrase, but I prefer to remember Thumper’s line in the movie, Bambi. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Hear me out. I am not a saint and I said enough about my ex during our separation to fill a trashy Danielle Steel novel. However, I never, ever said a bad word about him to our children. To this day, if one of them ever utters a cross word about their dad (which is not often), I remind them that he is their father and as much as we all might get irritated with one another from time to time, we are family and we will all get through this together.
One day at a time.