In the rush to put your life back together, there’s this moment when parents need to act-out… there’s unexpressed anger to vent, missed intimacy to be made up for, and hurt that has to come out. But, in the midst of all this is the very real role of parenting through divorce. And a lot of mistakes. The phrase, “Do as I say, not as I’ve done” brings up those choices from our past but also the present mistakes we make in separation and divorce. Other, preventable life lessons after divorce may make you feel like a hypocrite to your kids without the right context. Given that you’re their primary role model, it’s important to understand, accept and expect a lot of mistakes up ahead.
Parenting through divorce.
Parenting through divorce is really difficult. Parents typically worry about the effects of their divorce on their children. They worry that it’ll mess them up. Just to set the record straight – divorces don’t mess up children, the constant fighting, venting, prolonged court cases, and numerous lovers coming in and out of their lives does that dirty work.
You cannot mess up your child’s life by improving your own. You cannot mess up a child’s life by getting them out of dangerous or toxic environments. You mess up when you stop being their parent.
It’s also really tough to know how to take care of yourself while needing to care for your kids. It’s not easy to compartmentalize your anger or fear, to take on a lover and enjoy yourself or move and return to work without worrying about the effects on your family. But families are resilient when parenting is solid. During a divorce, most parents aren’t really very solid.
The post-divorce, post-trauma side of separation is a fragile time.
You will make a lot of mistakes post-divorce, post-trauma as you pull away from unhealthy or even toxic relationships. But like most life-lessons, separation and divorce give you the chance to start over. To do things differently and to model healthy lifestyle choices. “Do as I say, not as I’ve done” becomes a theme and parenting through divorce, you will want to scream your life lessons from the rooftops as you become aware of what happened, your part in the breakup, and the choices you made.
But children, especially young ones, model in silence. They won’t grasp the words, the venting, the anger. They’ll watch you. Kids feel the tension at home. They will mirror your stress levels. (And you really need to expect them to do so.) When you prepare for it and know how to calm yourself and your kids down, life will become easier. (And your children will stop avoiding spending time with you.)
Being a parent post-divorce, post-trauma.
I admire parents who leave unhealthy, toxic or difficult relationships. I commend them for showing their children that life doesn’t have to be so difficult or cruel. But saying that, I also know there’s a lot of backlash and being a parent in divorce brings with it, guilt, regrets, fears, and worries. Of course, it does!
Children will push and punish any parent breaking up the family home. Kids can be mean and most parents struggle with balancing their love with being defensive. Teenagers are great at playing games but so are young kids who quickly learn to test which parent will buy them the things they want in exchange for their seemingly finite amount of love.
None of this is true of course, kids usually stick around even after possibly taking a break from a parent. But the cycle of co-dependence and fear is difficult to grasp in the midst of the backlash.
Instead of succumbing to your child’s nonstop demands, it’s best to model tolerance and compassion…
“Do as I say, not as I’ve done” reflects everything you’ve ever done as a parent, not just your parenting through divorce.
Not just a separated or divorced parent. Not just the parent who needs to go on a date, fall in love, have some sex. Your parenting is going to come into focus as you learn more about your own actions and behavior before, during, and after your separation. Everything will be looked at – either by you, individually or by the courts and your children’s other parent.
This is where compassion comes in. You’ve made some mistakes – even a lot of mistakes! While you recreate your life post-divorce, you get to evaluate and own your life lessons.
Life lessons after divorce.
Snore. You’re not interested in learning anything more. You want sex, love, physical touch. It’s easier to blame than to look in the mirror. And way easier to vent, commiserate, and complain. I know. No one said this was going to be easy. You just thought a separate life would be easier than what you’ve been living through during an unhappy marriage.
The exciting thing is that once you grasp the context… that your life is, can, really change for the better… it all gets easier to handle. You can cut yourself some slack. Have some compassion for your own fears, your children’s behavior, the situation at hand. Change is never easy for the human animal. Separation and divorce bring loads of change.
“Do as I say, not as I’ve done.”
When you begin to model this sort of resilience, take it on and own it, your children witness a strong role model. By teaching them that tough times can be dealt with, they learn they too can handle what life lessons will come their way. Instead of being the out of control, angry, horny parent they don’t recognize, you get to show them how to rise above difficulties.
Your mistakes will come up. Expect your kids to challenge what you’re doing now and how they recall the past. This isn’t to say you’re completely at fault, it also doesn’t give you permission to become defensive. Your children have had a front row seat to your parenting before, during, and after divorce. They’ve been watching. They’ve also been at the effects of your choices and mistakes.
I find these moments humbling (and upsetting). These are the times when I wish I had had a manual, a role model or a mentor for how to do this more gracefully. Generously. I now know that if we don’t do our healing work, we leave that pain to our children to handle. Which isn’t just unfair, it sets up the next generation to mirror, repeat, and go through what we’ve gone through in relationship. Not doing our work means, we’ve become the biggest hypocrite to our kids.
Parenting through divorce means owning all of it.
To get through a divorce well – to find new love, healthy relationships, fun sex, meaningful work or a lifestyle you can thrive in, means doing the healing work. Divorce doesn’t happen between two healthy people. The biggest life lesson after divorce is that you were part of that dynamic. It wasn’t always their fault. Owning that, understanding and having compassion for the person you once were helps your kids see that they too will make mistakes. The hypocrisy goes away when you heal. And grow. Shift, change, own it all. It becomes rather freeing.
Separation and divorce sets you up for a better life. Whether you wanted the divorce or not. It’s always up to you but rising above the anger, the hurt, the need to punish, helps your kids adjust to the changes in their life. It helps them learn to trust you again. And it gives them a chance to come back when you were the one who made the mistakes. (No longer the hypocrite you once feared being.)
If you’re stuck doing this sort of growth on your own, it’s time to look into doingDivorce™ School. My online, group class was created to help those going through breakups do so with perspective, understanding, and compassion for the experience and what they’re going through. Joining a community, a new tribe of like-minded people, helps students overcome the shame, fear, and to create a better future in a supportive community.
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach. 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 laurabonarrigo.com.