6 Golden Rules for Divorced Parents
A List of Golden Rules for Divorced Parents
A high school acquaintance of mine recently contacted me. I knew from Facebook statuses and through our small town gossip grapevine (of which 1/1000 of what you hear is truth) that he’d recently gone through a divorce. He wondered if there was a blog like mine, Muddled Mother, for fathers who were… well… muddled as well. Specifically he was looking for advice on how to parent two children who would now be products of divorce. It was an interesting phenomenon that happened at the moment he asked the question. I had this steel-bending urgency to fill this man’s very open, intelligent and kind mind with ALL that I had learned the HARD WAY raising two boys as a divorced mom. It felt utterly essential that he know the what-not-to-do’s and what-to-do’s. As we continued “chatting” I plied him with sound bites, little tid bits that came from crystal clear hindsight; the most important advice I could give him. Throughout the conversation, the dad interjected things like, “That should be the topic of your next column.” Or “A blog post should deal with that.” And of course, it got me thinking. Since this column is supposed to be about parenting using the wisdom of hindsight, and since the most indelible lessons I have learned have to do parenting as a divorcee, I decided to write a list of Hindsight’s Golden Rules to follow when raising children as a divorced parent…
6 Golden Rules for Divorced Parents
Rule # 1: If it is possible, (and believe me I understand if it isn’t) try and have a discussion with your ex about your children. See if you can find a way to agree to support each other in the decisions that you make about them and for them. Try to remember that just because you are not a couple, you are still connected by your children. If THAT connection remains intact and healthy, it will be the best thing you could ever do for your kids. Having a set of parents that can put aside their differences for the best of their children sends a strong message that their welfare will always be a priority. There is no safer feeling for children of divorce.
Rule #2: However, if rule number one is not possible, and even if it is, you must remember that your definition of family will change. The definition now will be—you, the single parent, and your children. This realization is so important because it will hopefully encourage you to think about how you are going to go about raising those kids of yours, what your values are, what will be important and what will be trivial; your own household, your own family, you are responsible for the guidance and wisdom and care when your kids are in your home. Be sure you have a clear understanding of the kind of parent that you want to be.
Rule #3: Find a good counselor for your children. One in which you can go together, you and the kids, to learn how to be a living, breathing family, not one that is merely surviving divorce, but one that is thriving. A counselor is also unambiguously necessary for your children to go to without you as well. You must understand that no matter how well you do your job, your children will have complaints about you, they will have complaints about your ex, and they will be confused by the bouts of loneliness or disappointment that they feel. Having someone to be able to confidentially complain to, or to work their problems out with without offending one or the other parent will be a wonderfully freeing feeling for them.
Rule #4: Never, ever, ever, ever think of yourself as a “balance” for the other parent. In other words, if your ex is strict, don’t be soft because “it must be hard to live with such a strict parent.” If your ex is soft, don’t be strict because “someone has to teach those children discipline!” Your ex’s parenting style should not be a consideration when deciding on how YOU are going to parent. Instead, always try to keep this phrase in mind: “What is best for ______________ (fill in child’s name here) at this moment.” If you are always focused on what the child needs and NOT how the other parents, you will find it easier to make important decisions about your children. Believe me, parenting is hard enough. You don’t need to muddy it even more by trying to do the opposite of your ex spouse!
Rule #5: At no time should you ever bad mouth your ex. If your children come home and complain about how strict mom is or about a punishment she doled out, be sure that you use rational thought no matter HOW asinine your ex may be. If what your children complain about is within the realm of parenthood, then remind them that they should always respect their mother or father. If the complaint is out of the realm of appropriateness, you may want to swear like a trucker about the stupid idiot that you procreated with, but try very hard to hold in this urge. Instead, focus on the child. Sympathize by using words like, “how did that make you feel?” Or “I am sorry that that hurt you.” And then, be sure to encourage them to talk to their counselor about the incident so that they can have some neutral guidance. Believe me, (she says hoping against all hope) if your ex is a bonehead idiot, when your children become adults, they will figure it out on their own and be grateful to you for allowing them the room to do it on their own.
Rule #6: (Otherwise known as Hindsight’s Loudest Scream)—Don’t you ever, ever, ever, ever parent out of guilt—guilt that your children are products of divorce, guilt that your children’s father or mother is a bonehead idiot, guilt that one parent drinks, smokes, neglects…whatever. Don’t do it. Don’t… don’t…don’t…DON’T! Parenting out of guilt is something that I was an EXPERT at. I did it because I thought that my kids deserved a break. I did it because I thought that down the line they’d appreciate my martyrdom and look upon my decisions as selfless and wonderful. I did it because I thought that divorce was hardship enough for my two little boys. I did it because I was sure that it was good parenting. It wasn’t. The. End. It just plain wasn’t good parenting. All that that kind of parenting does is create children who thinks the world owes them. Parenting out of guilt begets the most entitled children. Parenting out of guilt makes it so that you, the parent, are viewed by your children as someone who is put on this earth to serve them and only them. Trust me on this one. When it comes to guilt parenting, be the anti-Nike campaign and Just DON’T Do It! Life is tough. Everyone at some point, correction at many points during their lives, will experience discomfort, disappointment, hardship, and the word “NO!” If you don’t allow your CHILDREN to experience those things growing up then you are not equipping them to be productive ADULTS.
As I read over this list of golden rules, the thought occurs to me that some items on the list could be applied to ANY kind of parenting. However, I think that it is completely crucial for divorced parents to consider these rules for the sake of their children—the children—who alas can sometimes be forgotten in the throes of divorce.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed. Logan’s previous column for Hilltown Families, Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales ran bi-monthly from June 2010-Feb. 2011, sharing stories of her first time around as a parent of two teenage boys. — Check out Hindsight Parenting: Raising Kids the Second Time Around every first and third Tuesday of the month.