By Guest Writer: Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
As a divorced parent, what lessons and behaviors are you modeling for your children?
The messages you convey will influence your children into adulthood.Here’s valuable advice on leaving a positive imprint on your innocent children.
Bad things can happen to good people. Divorce is a prime example. Good people get divorced. Responsible people who are loving parents get caught in the decision to end a loveless or deceitful marriage.
The consequences of that decision can either be life affirming or destroying, depending upon how each parent approaches this transition. Parents who are blinded by blame and anger are not likely to learn much through the experience. They see their former spouse as the total problem in their life and are convinced that getting rid of that problem through divorce will bring ultimate resolution. These parents are often self-righteous about the subject and give little thought to what part they may have played in the dissolution of the marriage.
Parents at this level of awareness are not looking to grow through the divorce process. They are more likely to ultimately find another partner with whom they have similar challenges or battles and once again find themselves caught in the pain of an unhappy relationship.
There are others, however, for whom divorce can be a threshold into greater self-understanding and reflection. These parents don’t want to repeat the same mistake and want to be fully aware of any part they played in the failure of the marriage. Self-reflective people ask themselves questions and search within – often with the assistance of a professional counselor or coach – to understand what they did or did not do and how it affected the connection with their spouse.
These introspective parents consider how they might have behaved differently in certain circumstances. They question their motives and actions to make sure they came from a place of clarity and good intentions. They replay difficult periods within the marriage to see what they can learn, improve, let go of or accept. They take responsibility for their behaviors and apologize for those that were counter-productive. They also forgive themselves for errors made in the past – and look toward being able to forgive their spouse in the same light.
These parents are honest with their children when discussing the divorce – to the age-appropriate degree that their children can understand.They remind their children that both Mom and Dad still, and always will, love them. And they remember their former spouse will always be a parent to their children and therefore speak about them with respect around the kids.
By applying what they learned from the dissolved marriage to their future relationships, these mature adults start the momentum to recreate new lives in a better, more fulfilling way. From this perspective, they see their former marriage as not a mistake, but rather a stepping-stone to a brighter future – both for themselves and for their children. When you choose to learn from your life lessons, they were never experienced in vain. Isn’t this a lesson you want to teach your children?
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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a relationship seminar facilitator and author of the new e-book, How Do I Tell the Kids … about the Divorce?A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! The book provides fill-in-the-blank templates for customizing a personal family storybook that guides children through this difficult transition with optimum results. For free articles on child-centered divorce or to subscribe to her free ezine, go to: http://www.childcentereddivorce.com
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(Note: whether you’re a separated parent or not, you may find this article useful for yourself, and possibly to pass on to someone you know it could help)
Although it is becoming more and more common for families with separated parents to have their children living between two homes, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily easy for all involved. The child(ren) may have difficulties following different routines, sleep patterns are inconsistent, sometimes their performance in school is affected, etc.
However, the fact that it isn’t necessarily easy for all involved also doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to live in such a scenario and have it truly work!
I have clients in various stages of separation – from the beginning stages of figuring out an arrangement to already separate and living for some time in two homes. This plus the fact that I too have my children living between two separate homes, gives me a lot of perspective on ways to manage this living arrangement in a healthy way for all.
I thought I would share a particular personal story and the results of the situation.
My daughter (at 6 years old) started to wake up several times during the night, calling “Mommy!” I would go to her, provide comfort till she fell back to sleep, until the next call out, “Mommy!” Finally, she would ask me to stay with her in her bed, which I would do till the morning.
I didn’t realize the impact of this, until my beloved fiancé (now husband) pointed out to me how ‘unworkable’ this is: for me and my sleep-health, for her, and….for him!
We decided to find out if this was happening in her other home, with her father. NOPE!
We set up a time to conference and exchange information on what each of us are doing in our respective homes in terms of routines. We went through the whole thing: morning routine, after-school routine, bed time routine, etc.
It was illuminating!
I was able to try their approaches, where mine seemed not to be working. And, likewise, they were able to try some of ours, where theirs weren’t working.
Consistency across two houses, leading to greater confidence and sense of safety and security for our daughter and ease in her routines. Not to mention PEACE OF MIND for all adults involved!
But not only was she (and we) sleeping through the night, another important result arose.
For those same few months we were getting regular reports from school that, while academically she is incredibly astute, behaviourally she was being disruptive in class during group time and not cooperating when asked to stop. Never a fun thing for the ego as a parent! Not to mention, we were concerned that this behaviour would overshadow her academic capabilities.
As we worked to maintain this semblance of consistency across the two houses for the benefit of our daughter, I found that I was transforming as a parent. I was actually starting to really practice more of what I and many other parenting practitioners preach: being consistent in my parenting, rules setting and keeping, and following through on consequences. I called it “Being a Firm-Wall while being loving and compassionate”
Interesting – this way of behaving on my part became a natural outcome when my focus was on creating and maintaining an environment that truly works for my daughter’s (and our family’s) success.
And the calls from school?
What calls? We stopped getting them.
So what are the key points you can take away from this story and bring to yours?
- Create consistent routines between 2-households. Of course, each parent may have very different lifestyles and work schedules so it’s not about being “exactly the same.” But, where possible, such as similar or same bedtime, and similar routine leading to bedtime, and ways of handling homework, discipline matters, etc.
- Keep a collaborative and communicative relationship with your ex-spouse – if not for you, for your children, which ultimately WILL benefit you.
- Focus on creating and maintaining an environment for your children that is conducive to their (and your) health and success. Try different approaches when the ones you’re using aren’t working.
- Be open to transforming yourself and your ways of acting. Why not? You are a growing and developing human being. Learning through this process keeps it dynamic and even fun for you.
- View and treat others as your partners for your children’s health and success. That includes your ex, potentially their new partner/spouse and yours, as well as school(s) teachers/principals, etc.
I wish you the very best with your parenting.
If you would like guidance on this, or any other parenting, separation/divorce, or relationship matter, please schedule a complimentary strategy session.
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- How do you know when is the right time?
- How do you know what to say?
- How do you know how to deal with their response?
For example, you might start with “Mommy and Daddy have done a lot of thinking,” then explain, for example, that Daddy is going to get a new apartment/home. Aim to know what the visitation days and times will be before the conversation so you can share those details. It will comfort your child to know she’ll continue to see both of you and that there’s a plan.
Tell her flat out that the divorce is an adult decision and has nothing to do with her.
Sometimes one parent may feel so upset that they want to tell the child about the other spouse’s egregious or erroneous behavior. Refrain from this. Children will take this as a betrayal — or worse, criticism of them. For example, if one calls the other a “liar” or “cheat,” they begin to see themselves, half the product of that parent, as half a liar, half a cheat.
“Will I still see Grandma and Grandpa? (or other family or friends) Let her know what to expect regarding seeing relatives. Ideally you can say with authenticity that she will continue to see relatives as has been in the past and even that on holidays like Christmas, Passover, Eid, Kwanza or the like, there may be times when you spend it all together.
“Where will I sleep?” At this age, your child will have a lot of questions about how her daily life will be affected: “Will I still go to my same school? Who’s going to take me to dance/skiing/soccer?” These are very real concerns for a child, so go over the details. For example, “You’ll still live with Mommy here in our house. You’ll have a home at Daddy’s new house; you’ll have your own special bedroom.” Depending on what you agree on, you can tell her she can be part of searching for the new place and/or picking decorative items, etc.
“Who will take care of Daddy (or Mommy, depending on which parent is moving out)?” Your child might have a sense of empathy that’s developed enough for her to actually worry about the parent who is moving out.
Reassure her that the other parent will be just fine. You might say, “Daddy might miss you when he’s not with you, but he won’t be sad because he would see you again very soon.”
Pour on the love. Divorce is difficult for children to understand and accept. While your child adjusts, she’ll need a lot of your affection and attention. Resist the urge to talk constantly on the phone or let TV become the sitter. Give her more snuggle time or extra time during bedtime routine. Just as you benefit from your support network of relatives and friends now more than ever, your child needs extra hugs and kisses from you.
Keep talking. Even after the news has sunk in, be prepared to go over the same explanations and answer questions again and again, for weeks or even months. Make sure she knows that you’re open to questions about the divorce any time, even if what you really want is to stop talking about it. One way to keep the lines of communication open is to read kids’ books like Ricci’s Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids, or Lallouz’s The Case of the Clown Who Lives in Two Tents.
Keep routines consistent. Sometimes divorce can make it difficult to maintain routines or even keep the house tidy. But continuing a child’s regular schedule, in Mom’s house and Dad’s house, makes children feel safe. As much as possible, make basic mealtimes and other rituals the same between the two households. Make sure the kids keep going to school and any classes or practices — the more things remain the same for your child, the more stable she’ll feel.
Be aware of signs of trouble. Your child may have difficulties adjusting to visitation and custody arrangements. Look for signs like misbehavior or withdrawal, particularly after a visit with the other parent. To open up a dialogue without putting words in your child’s mouth, say something like, “I’m wondering if you’re missing your Mom right now.” Your child might just need time to transition from one household to the next or a safe way to vent.
Consider seeing a family coach or counselor to guide you and your child through this transition. Other parents have said it is the best thing they could have done as it gives a safe place for each parent, personally, to have support, and for children to ask questions or talk about things, without worrying about upsetting their parents.
Make a point of remaining positive. If your divorce means, as it often does, that you’re taking a financial hit and they can no longer have every toy they want or take expensive vacations, let them know you’ll still do lots of fun things together.
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The day before yesterday I received a phone call from my step-Mother. “Sweetheart, Dad has gone into the hospital. After the medical test he had yesterday, he developed a fever…I didn’t want to take any chances so I took him to Emergency.”
Immediately I catch my mind racing; thoughts were racing so fast my mind was already in a future that was not even in existence in reality, as I imagine my father suddenly aged well beyond his years and beyond his actual health. I felt scared, worried, and even defensive and accusatory – “who’s fault is this!?” I pull myself back to the present reality as quickly as I catch the thoughts.
He ended up being admitted as there were further complications to deal with.
This was now a Saturday. On this particular Saturday, although it was my weekend to have my 2 sons with me, my son’s father and I agreed that they’d go over there for his wife’s mother’s 70th birthday party.
Now I’m trying to sort out getting myself over to the hospital to be with my Father, as I had my 4 and a half year old daughter with me. It doesn’t seem appropriate to take her with me to the hospital when I could end up being there several hours.
What could I do?
As a single parent these types of organizational dilemmas are fairly common. For those who can relate, you know that many times plans get foregone in order to heroically manage being the one to take care of the child(ren). And, of course, asking for help seems like the logical thing to do, but, again, for those who can relate, often it seems like such a burden to ask….yet again.
There I was thinking this through, there are several places she could easily go, and then “light bulb”…..I thought to myself, “the place Sarah would most rather be is with her brothers….who are going to their Dad and step-Mum’s….”
I picked up the phone. I got my boys’ step-Mum on the line. “Hey, Tal, how’s it going?” I explain, “Actually, Dad’s been admitted to the hospital….(I explain the situation)… I want to ask a favour, and it is completely ok to say ‘no’ as I know it’s your Mother’s 70th birthday party at your house….” Before I could even finish my sentence, “Tal, no problem. Sarah can come here. Thomas (their 3 year old) would be so happy to have her over.”
My eyes welled up with tears and I had a lump in my throat. I was moved at how gracious and caring she was. The truth is, we have this type of relationship. But, I realized in that moment, I really don’t take it for granted. I was moved by the openness and the love. This is family.
I count my blessings today for the life I have. And, even more, I count my blessings for the life I have created. The Family-Life I have is not one that would just have emerged this way automatically. This is one that, through difficult transitions, I and my family members as a team, have intentionally created. In moments like these, I am eternally grateful.
I also count our blessings that my Father is doing well.
If you have blessings to count today, please…do so. If you have loved ones or special people in your life to acknowledge and appreciate today…..please do so.
Please drop a line below with your comments and even your blessings.