How to help kids thrive despite the divorce.
A summer romance on the island of Santorini, Greece in our 20’s, an international move that saw a Greek boy in +35C, one day, and -35C, the next, two struggling students trying to make ends meet, could have provided the backdrop for an interesting romance novel or foreshadow the many struggles that lye ahead.
The next 20 years saw us married, divorced, dating and with an incredible son.
In that order.
It was at that point the cracks in our relationship began to turn into fissures. We tried to make it work, but eventually came to the realization that we were better off apart.
It’s been 5 years since we split households. Five years and a lifetime of lessons.
Here are my 5 biggest lessons in co-parenting:
1. My way is not the only way. Although I still believe it’s sometimes the right way ;). Having to let go of control and give him the space to create different rituals and ways of doing things with our son, has been difficult for me. Especially when it comes certain things, like nutrition and health. While we aim for consistency with the basic expectations in each home, the day to day can (and does) sometimes fluctuate quite a bit.
I’ve learned that different perspectives are good for our son. Not only has it helped him become more adaptable and flexible, but more importantly he’s learning to connect with himself, observe how he feels and decide what works best for him.
With that in mind, it is important to be true to who I am. This has meant being open, honest and consistent with my truth. There have been times when I felt my words landed on deaf ears, but as our son gets older, I’ve start to see a shift. He knows who his mom is, what she stand for and believes in, and while he may not always agree, he respects my decisions. The same can be said for his dad.
2. Show compassion. It can be hard to be a parent. I mean, no one gives you a manual with instructions on how to raise a child. And then one day it all changes and suddenly you have this tiny being who relyies on you for pretty much everything.
Scary? Hell yes! Challenging? For sure. And as divorced parents it can add a whole new layer of struggles.
As parents, we each have our own previous relationships and experiences that shape who we are and the decisions we make. When I disagree with a decision made by my son’s dad (and truthfully sometimes want to scream and pull his hair out) I try to ask myself, “What else could this mean?” I’ve learned that sometimes it has nothing to do with me and is just his own sh*#!
Sometimes this helps me find space and compassion before reacting during difficult times. I try to remind myself that we both want the best for our son and how much our son will benefit from seeing his mom and dad have a healthy, respectful relationship. Sometimes this has given me just enough space to take a few deep breathes and bite my tongue. I celebrate those tiny wins.
3. Kids don’t have any business in “Adult business”
I’ve heard many stories of parents who only speak to each other through their kids. Or a child that’s become one parent’s confidant and told offensive stories about the other parent or asked to keep secrets from them. In fact, I experienced this growing up. Perhaps this is why I feel so strongly about this point.
Kids have no business in adults’ business. This is not a burden I want our son or any child to take on.
Conversations around sensitive topics related to parenting, personal issues or disagreements are held privately, between parents. Sometimes these things come up when our son is present and we have learned to bench it for when we can speak privately. We have also set clear expectations with our son who understands that some discussions are “grown up business” and he does not need to concern himself or worry about them.
4. Communicate often and honestly. This has been an evolution. I believe it’s important for kids to see their parents as a united front and able to speak openly and honestly with each other. This means communicating about things in our son’s life, issues that arise or pertinent things that may impact our role as parents.
In theory. it’s a great idea. In practice, it’s been a process.
Celebrate each other. A little kindness can go a long way. Not only with the other parent, but also for the child. Sometimes this has meant celebrating special occassions together or inviting his dad over for an important event. Other times this has meant reminding my son it’s his dads birthday on Friday or Fathers Day this Sunday and getting the art supplies for him to make a card.
Sometimes this means saying thanks to his dad and appreciating what he does for our son. These may seem like little things, but my experience is they go a long way to building a healthy and happy atmosphere for everyone.
It can be tough co-parenting, but I’ve found that that if we lead with what’s best for our son, it’s helps to keep things in perspective. And although our son does not have his mom and dad living together we can have a good relationship that is rooted in honesty, kindness and respect, and well, that is a relationship I can feel good about my child emulating.
Photo credits: Pixabay; mohamed_hassan, MoteOo, ddimitrova, blankita_ua