By Guest Blogger Becky Law
Before I became a mom, one of the ways I learned how not to parent was by learning from other people’s mistakes, and by watching movies like the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Think about it: Is there a brat on your street who acts like Veruca Salt? Does your nephew gorge himself like Augustus Gloop whenever he thinks no one is looking? How did they even turn out like this??
I always hoped to be a mom, and I promised myself that my kids would know how to act right, basically like Charlie: kind, well-behaved and considerate. I ended up marrying someone who felt just as strongly about boundaries and consistency. In hindsight, I let my ex-husband’s potential as an amazing father overshadow issues that would later prove we weren’t actually well-suited as a couple…but I digress.
Over the course of our 13-year marriage, we moved to three different cities and remodeled three different homes. (If you haven’t done this, I don’t recommend it.) After our second child, was born, my ex and I became increasingly annoyed with one another. As he traveled more frequently for work, we realized being apart decreased our stress, made us happier, and as a result, made our home a lot less tense for the kids. We separated when our son was 8 and our daughter was 5. (Perhaps my first new Wi-Fi password after he moved out sheds some light on how I felt – “Freedom1”.)
Now, after 10+ years of being happily divorced, I’m eternally grateful for the unique co-parenting relationship we created. Regardless of who is “right” (usually, it’s me) we are both committed to keeping drama out of our family. Divorced or not, he will always be family. Did we still disagree? You bet. I like to joke that I’ve maintained my shapely calves from years of taking the “high road”. (Actually, I’m not kidding…I can find my way on that road in the dark, with both hands tied behind my back.)
From the beginning, we made a pact, not to let them play us against each other in hopes of getting a pony (or a golden goose). They knew we communicated daily, so lying would have been entirely pointless. Truth be told, that was way more than I wanted to. (I guarantee he would say the same.)
When we started to collaborate on our separation agreement, we realized neither one of us wanted to go an entire week without seeing our kids. We decided to take control of the narrative and create a fluid schedule. Some weeks it was four days with dad, and three days with me. Other weeks, it was a whole week with me when he had to travel for work. We took all of our needs and commitments into consideration, and made it work. We set up a Google calendar, included extra-curricular activities, birthday parties and work commitments. We were able to see what the week ahead had in store for each of us and adjusted accordingly. It wasn’t perfect, but setting reminders helped us keep all the balls in the air while reducing the need to nag.
We learned that it’s OK to split up and “tag team”. We each allowed for one-on-one time with both of our children. Sometimes it was organic, and sometimes it was planned. You often see a different side of your child when their siblings are not around. Sometimes they just need to know that we really hear them. (Keep in mind, you don’t have to be divorced to do this.)
At our cores, both my ex-husband and I shared an authoritative parenting philosophy. Writer Paul Martin explains,
“Authoritative parents are loving but not over-indulgent, involved but not overly controlling, clear about limits but not excessively risk-averse, and permissive within those limits but not neglectful.”
For divorced parents, it hurts to be away from your kids so much. It’s often a struggle for them as well. We made sure our kids always knew, it was OK to call the other parent just to check in or to share what was troubling them. Kids don’t choose to split their lives between two homes, and their emotional well-being shouldn’t hinge on where they happen to be spending the night. Asking to talk things through with the other parent was never about keeping secrets or playing favorites. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the relationships we each developed with our children away from each other helped lay the groundwork for their teen years. Sometimes you just need to talk to your mom, or your dad. Our (now) teens likely talk to us about different things, depending on what they need in return. Sometimes kids don’t want a solution, they just want validation. (clearing throat …stop mansplaining… cough cough)
Here’s the thing: If it matters to them, no matter how insignificant it may seem, it should matter to you. The safer kids feel, sharing their disappointments at a young age, the more likely it is they will share what’s troubling them in the years to come, when the stakes are much higher. Ten years ago, we didn’t realize giving them the space to ask for what they needed would help heal us all.
“Time is a precious thing. Never waste it.” – Willy Wonka
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