As a child, I went through my parent’s divorce. I can speak from experience about how difficult it was to watch my home break apart. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun. And my brothers and sisters and I definitely did not want it. Saying all that, however, doesn’t mean that going forward, my life was terrible or that my parent’s divorce wasn’t a good thing for me and my brothers and sisters. It means, as a single dad, you can learn how to be a good parent to your wounded kids by helping their hearts to heal. You learn how to help your kids heal by making sure you lead the way by healing your own heart first. You help your kids heal from divorce by doing your healing process on your own.
A single dad has plenty he can do to help his kids heal and deal with the changes the family unit is going through during a divorce.
There are a pacing and a processing that has to happen as everyone catches up with the facts. Emotional resilience and stamina have to be built as a way to teach your kids not to shrink in the face of struggle. Even though they don’t want it, there are the discipline and daily rhythm needed by every teen and child. And there’s the hope and optimism that will allow your kids to believe in the institution should they want to invest their time and energy into marrying one day.
A good dad is a perfect person to help wounded kids learn these skills.
Who else is going to prove to a teenager or a child that they can learn to cope well too? However, as the single parent, you first have to figure out how to cope well yourself before you can expect your kids to believe they can as well. Which requires owning up to your own wounds.
Now, as a man, I get it… you’re asking me what wounds? What broken heart, misplaced loyalties or lack of self-respect? I understand none of those things happened to you during your marriage or divorce. I know. But your kids see all of these insults even when or if you don’t. They’re the boys modeling after you how to be men (to women like their moms) and the girls who will marry a man just like you. Since chances are very good that they’re going to repeat the same patterns that got you and their mother into trouble, perhaps, you’d like to help your kids heal by taking a look at what happened first? And change the course of the future?
By learning how to help your kids heal, you’re actually releasing your wounded kids from having to help you.
It’s not your kids’ job to figure out how to navigate your emotional wounds. When you set aside time and energy each week to process the experience, you can then return home and parent with greater clarity. You learn what patterns and behaviors didn’t serve the marriage. You let the emotions go while at home with the kids being a single dad because you’ve got a time and place to delve into them. When you hire a mentor, you become confident you’ll get through the process faster and easier than being left on your own to figure out. No one wants to deal with this stuff for the rest of their lives!
Your children’s wounds are hidden behind their teenage hormones, childish tantrums, and lack of discipline or drive.
As their world has fallen apart – something they never asked for – their safety and security also disappeared. They’re re-learning whom to trust. As their father, your role is to provide safety and security first and foremost. Not be their best friend, indulgent shopper or frightened adult unsure of where to go next. It’s best that as children, they don’t spend a lot of time with that part of you. Even when they know intuitively it’s there. That healing work is yours to do on your own with a mentor, a therapist, a coach. Not with your kids. Your kids need you to be their rock. To maintain discipline, safe boundaries, some structure to their day and of course, to love and nurture them.
A single dad who’s doing his healing models emotional resilience.
As you trust that you can handle the swirl of emotions – mostly anger or guilt – and deal with the things you can control moving forward, you build greater emotional resilience. Your children need someone in their lives to model this and it might as well be you. Your kids need to understand that life isn’t fair. That shit happens. And that we all need to pick ourselves up again over and over again. More often than any of us wish.
As you put your breakup into perspective willing and able to gain some wisdom in the process, you’ll be better able to share with your child how to grow stronger in the face of adversity and loss. What an incredible gift to give to a young person!
A good dad holds himself accountable for being the single parent who helps his children heal.
The more you hold yourself accountable and manage your feelings, the better you’ll be able to maintain discipline and schedules when you’re the single parent. You’ll help your child accept safe boundaries, keep time for homework or attend sports practices. And participate in the inevitable chores most kids of divorced parents have to take on.
No one likes to participate in new rules or chores especially when they didn’t want to go to a second home in the first place. A single dad, willing and able to maintain discipline earns greater respect from his kids. It’s tough to do so when overcome with guilt or shame for the changes the breakup brought upon the family.
A dad, able to process and heal, on his own without leaning on his children, gives his kids the time and space to do their own healing as well.
This can get confusing for adults going through a divorce. They don’t understand how hard it is for their kids. Most single parents are so caught up with their own pain, they forget their children come from two of you – the two of you who are fighting. So single dads bad-mouth the mothers or the kids are told way too much about the divorce case. Each parent tries to play the kids off one another and the kids, your kids, won’t and don’t want anything to do with you.
WhenI talk about this to parents, they naturally become defensive. But listen, we all make mistakes, especially when a separation first occurs. Emotions run high and a lot of stuff is said and done. Without the kind of help to put your own feelings in order, you can’t expect to be able to single parent your kids well. It’ll take way too long and you’ll do too much damage to your kids without professional help. This is how single parenting went for divorced parents way back when I was a kid. None of us got the kind of help we all needed.
Don’t make your kids do the healing that’s yours to do.
Then your kids will end up doing lots of work on themselves as they grow older and start to think about getting married themselves. Without doing your process, you set your kids up to do the healing for the entire family. That includes your work and their other parent’s as well as healing their own pain. That’s neither fair or appropriate. It calls into question who the adult is…
Since your kids are wounded… even when they hide it… helping their hearts heal is part of your role as a good dad. Or a good single mom. How to help your kids heal? Your children will need time and space to process what’s happened away from you. They will need a mentor, a coach, a teacher, a social worker, someone they can speak with each week for a period of time so they too can make sense of what happened.
You can change the way your children view love and marriage.
Kids who are given a chance to process are better able to get on with their own lives. Their schoolwork stays stable or perhaps even improves. They’re not so prone to risky behavior. Instead of confusing the role of relationships, they don’t try to use sex to get the kind of attention they actually need from their parents. The negative statistics for kids whose parents divorce are not good. (And I don’t recommend you go seek them out.) Instead, I suggest you shore up your homefront by controlling the things you can control: your healing and time and space for your kids’ healing. And you get to work learning how to be a good single dad.
What wounded kids want from their dads:
All I ever wanted from my dad (whom I rarely saw per the way things went back then) was a warm connection, support, and to know he loved me. Not seeing him meant he wasn’t my disciplinarian. But because I heard so many bad things about him, it was really tough to connect. Today, things are very different. We look down upon parental alienation. We encourage co-parenting and equal parenting time. Kids are more comfortable going back and forth between homes and many more families are separated.
But what hasn’t changed over the course of modern-day breakups is the wounding kids have because of the loss of their primary family structure. They are afraid of the institution of marriage. Young adults are cynical about the romance of true love. They mature with the idea that sex is the be-all and end-all of intimacy. And all too often, they re-create the very patterns and behaviors of their parents’ marriages that ended in divorce. Those negative statistics are there as well – I call divorce a generational disease. And as such, we, as those going through the experience, need to do our healing process first so as to help our children. That’s what I call being a good dad to your wounded kids and helping their hearts to heal.
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach at laurabonarrigo.com. Laura’s a writer, public speaker and the founder of doingDivorce™ School an online coaching program for those ready to shed the pain of divorce. For empowering and practical ways to lose the identity of your past, visit www.doingDivorceSchool.com.