Of course children have to come first: little ones need food, shelter, routines, friends, comfort and safety. They also need a really strong parent: one who has their own emotional well-being steady, calm, not “out to extract a pound of flesh,” or needing to use them against the X. Putting your children first means putting on that Halloween costume and taking them trick or treating, even when you’d rather hide at home with a glass of wine.
Don’t be afraid of the dark.
More often than not in “putting the children first” grieving and angry parents (the ones dealing with the loss of their marriage, emotional stability, financial well-being; the ones being dragged through a case or discovering their real-pretend marriage) forget that they are hurting too. They forget that their children will be in relationship with their X and love the other parent. Friends and family forget that the divorcing adult trick or treating at their front door is in incredible pain, spinning; struggling perhaps to get out of bed in the morning, stressed, frightened. It’s never just the children, and it’s never about the relationship of the children and the X.
It’s about getting help; it’s not selfish to find yourself support.
Without support, parents going through divorce tend to blame themselves or seek to blame the other parent, they lose perspective on what the future offers; they can’t sleep, have a hard time at work, become frightened of everyone and everything and start down the road of self-incriminations or anger – losing faith, hope and trust. Without support they use language like, “for the kids safety” or “I want to protect the kids” or “s/he’s blah, blah, blah” and they forget that the only person they get to protect or control is themselves. Without support, it becomes a constant struggle balancing reacting to information and being proactive with one’s life especially when anger is the predominant theme and they’re at the beginning of the process.
Here’s the truth: unless a parent has physically or sexually abused a child and the courts know it and it can be proved, and even then, a child will always be in relationship with a parent who wants to see their kids.
I think that’s what the trick is about and why those in divorce need lots of treats.
“Putting the children first” looks like not using them as pawns or reasons to be petty and play small. It means accepting they are their own human beings with their own perceptions, feelings, desires and future. We all say we know that; you’re even thinking as you read this that I don’t know your particular circumstances (News flash: I do) and you wouldn’t scare your kids; you’re protecting them from… monsters and goblins and (fill in the blank). But I was once a kid in divorce…
Really protecting them means finding child therapists, attorneys who represent them in court and taking care of yourself instead of indulging the reactions you have in the moment. (This is similar to how you give out the candy on November 1st!) It means stepping into not bad mouthing your X around your kids; it means letting your children develop their own perceptions of their other parent and to figure out for themselves the kind of people they want to hang out with; it means protecting yourself from your own feelings of anger and revenge because no matter what, your children will have their own relationship with their other parent. It’s not your relationship and you can’t stop it even if your son or daughter never see them again.
We are connected to our parents and the memories of our parents for a lifetime.
So find some help. A place to put things into a big perspective. A place for you to have time and space away from the anger and worry. A place to imagine what becoming bigger might look like and trying it on for size the way you wear a Halloween costume to please your little one. A place where you can think and look at options. A place for you to accept your role as parent. These aren’t easy days and these concepts aren’t as easy to hold onto as one might wish. They take a while to become strong, they’re really difficult to keep, but I promise you can do it. You can “put your children first” by stepping into being selfish and getting yourself support and a new perspective of what this time in your life can become.
New York, NY