My sister shared with me this little bit of advice when I was first going through my divorce: “There are two sides of every divorce – yours and sh**heads.” On that, there are two kinds of divorces out there. The really ugly ones, and the ones that are just pretty bad. Ok, there are ones that are completely friendly and even resemble something like a friendship. It’s rare, but it does happen (i.e. Mr. W and his ex. Yes, he’s perfect. Yes, it’s sickening). But for the most part, divorces are not what you would call pretty. And I think it’s safe to say no divorce feels good. Let’s put it this way: the person you once loved more than anyone in the whole world, who knows every single thing about you – from what makes you tick, to what your biggest pet peeves are, to what pushed buttons will set you off – has now become your biggest nemesis. And they hold all those gifts you once trusted to them as their own personal weapons to bring you down. And it’s not like you’re the innocent here, either. You have all the same weapons at your disposal to hurl at them with full force. Fueling the fire are a whirlwind of hurts and broken promises, as well as the knowledge that all hopes and dreams made together are suffering a painful death alongside a marriage that was supposed to be forever. Add in the reasons for the divorce in the first place, and you have a tiny World War 3 unfolding in a courtroom.
And I haven’t even mentioned the kids yet.
I have seen countless marriages crumble to the ground, the former husband and wife battling it out against each other, forgetting there are innocent bystanders standing in the crossfire. And every single insult or retort they put in the holster of their broken hearted gun and fire, they are nicking the very beings they claim they’re doing their best to protect, and who the battle is supposedly for in the first place.
It’s not like I’m free from guilt here. In the beginning of my divorce, I admit my anger was so huge I had a really hard time remembering the very person I felt betrayed by was also my kids’ father. The way I viewed him was completely different from the way they saw him through their eyes. And I had to teach myself ways to keep my own personal opinions about him to myself. The best way I could do this was to separate the person that was my ex from the person that was my kids’ father. And it also meant that when it came to speaking about him in front of my kids, I could only speak FACT. If any sentence wasn’t something that could be printed in an Encyclopedia, it was better kept for times when they were out of earshot, or never spoken aloud at all.
And no, “Your father is a jerk” is not what can be considered a biographical fact.
Let me clue you in on several secrets.
First secret – your child has two parents. And they love both of them. Their father may have cheated on you. He may have lied to you up and down. Your wife may have spent every penny you had, or never gave you any sign of appreciation. That is not your children’s concern. That is YOURS.
Second secret – your child does not share the same kind of relationship with your ex as you do. Even if he was the worst husband in the world, or she was the worst wife in the world, that person is still your child’s other parent. And even if your marriage is ending, the fact that they have another parent does not change.
Third secret – the relationship they have with each parent will affect the adult they will one day become. If they have a bad relationship with their father, the kind of man your daughter chooses or man your son will grow up to be will be affected negatively. If they have a good relationship with their father, it affects their adult choices positively. It’s actually best to encourage a healthy relationship between your children and their other parent.
Fourth secret – if you keep your child away from their other parent, they will resent YOU. Let me state that this does not apply to dangerous situations with another parent. But in normal divorces, a child MUST have access to each parent whenever possible. After all, it was YOUR divorce, not theirs.
Fifth secret – if there is some sort of character flaw in your ex-spouse, your child will figure it out on their own. They do not need your help finding it. First of all, if you are telling them what is wrong with their mother, they will defend her to the death. Second, you will have taken away their ability to form their own conclusion. Not only that, disparaging your child’s other parent will actually have the opposite effect – they won’t hate them, they’ll hate YOU. Kids are smart. And they see through a lot of the bull we tend to be blind to.
Sixth secret – your child is wonderful. Every single part of them. After all, they’re made up of parts of you. But they are also made up of parts of their other parent. When you disregard their other parent, you are disregarding a part of them. And it will make them question if you really love them, or only the parts that remind you of yourself. How fair is that?
Seventh secret – the majority of your opinion of your ex-spouse is influenced by the anger you feel towards them. After all, they were once wonderful enough to make children with. Remember this if you ever need to speak about your children’s other parent in front of your kids.
Eight secret – your ex will move on. And your children may love this new person. And they may hate her. That is not for you to decide. Your marriage to their father is over. If your ex chooses to have a new partner in their life, your child should be allowed to develop a relationship with her without you interfering. Again, this is only in regards to the most normal of situations, and not one that is dangerous.
Ninth secret – your child is not your spouse. I know that sounds weird, so let me explain. They are not the keeper of your secrets. They are not to be confided in over worries or fears regarding the other parent, being single, or any other adult feelings that they are too young to absorb. Your child is a CHILD. And it’s not fair to burden them with anything that will keep them up at night.
Tenth secret – YOU WILL BE FINE. So will your kids. Divorce is not the end of the world. Your kids will survive. You will survive. Sure, it’s not the path you chose when you first started out. But it does mean that a new path has been realized. Rather than standing in one spot, looking back at what was just given up, start looking forward to how to make things good. This is the BEST way for your child to grow up healthy – by seeing their parent pick themselves up in times of adversity and keep on going.