“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”
I like to enjoy my breakfast on my outdoor balcony. While enjoying glimpses of the sun on the sea and a dark roast morning coffee, I hear cheerful voices of children ringing out pleasantly and smile. A young woman with 3 adorable, curly-blonde daughters makes her way to the beach. I know her. She lives in the neighborhood and is recently divorced. A few moments pass, and I see her ex-husband. He is holding hands with his new girlfriend, and were most likely returning from the same cafe on the beach that the mother and children are heading towards. The meeting is unexpected and the children run jubilantly toward their father’s arms in greeting. He ignores them, maintaining a poker face while he and his new woman hurry off pretending not to see his children. My heart breaks as a wave of emotions play across the children’s faces. Clear as day I can see the joyful smiles turn into surprise, the raised eyebrows, frowns and drooping shoulders as she, a mother, scurries to brighten their mood, distracting them with the sailing yachts in the horizon. All four are dejected, but they continue on their way. This scene is seared into my brain.
All things being equal, an ideal family has both parents, and their children at the core- feeling loved and supported. Children from such families are most likely to build and preserve their own families, after all they learn from what we as parents do, and not what we say. Unfortunately, with dire statistics showing that the top ten divorce nations rate from 53% (U.S.A) to a whopping 71% (Belgium), this traditional family has become a rarity. Amicable divorce demands both parents to be mature and responsible, and protect their kids’ emotional wellbeing during what is likely the hardest transition in their young lives. I admire and deeply respect people who can separate their personal lives and remain functional co-parents, supporting their kids, reassuring them through the process and reminding them that though their parents are splitting, they are still loved. However, divorce becomes a nasty tug- of- war where the children are victims of their parents’ ego trips.
Now, listen to me. If you are in this situation-rise above it!!! You are not the primary issue now, leave all your envy, revenge, hatred and whatever else you might feel towards each other aside. These are your children. During a messy divorce it is hard to put aside the bitter feelings, but stop for a moment and try to feel their grief, sorrow, confusion, guilt and insecurity. The two most important people in their lives, the people who's legacy is to provide them support and protection are now destroying each other- often using kids to manipulate the situation or retaliate towards each other.
I want to give you a few healthy ways to become the best divorce parent you can be.
1. Spend as much as one-on-one time with your kids as possible. If you have nannies or any other help -create some period of time where it is just you and your children. Engage in arts and crafts, sports, travel, read, watch movies (with popcorn), shop and cook TOGETHER.
2. Be dignified - never show your kids your frustration, anger or unhappiness. They depend on your strength and look to you as the example on how to manage this transition; you must become an anchor and a shelter for them. You can and need to cry, pray, even scream - it's human nature, but never in front of them! When you are with them sincerely smile and be engaged in all activities wholeheartedly.
3. This may be the hardest task - but no matter how hurt your feelings are, never speak negatively about the other parent. Stay neutral. Control it. Don't make your children victims of your personal injuries. As adults they will respect you for not damaging them; they will love and protect you, once they can fully realize how challenging this process is for you.
4.When it comes to co- parenting keep matters focused on schedules and the logistics of your kids. Do not discuss personal matters, until you have healed all wounds and choose to have a friendship. Otherwise keep and maintain some distance.
5. When the storm of divorce calms down - move on with your life. Set personal goals- become a better parent, businessperson, a more sophisticated person. Find your happiness. There is nothing more healing for children in a divorce than to see that both parents are strong, confident and happy.
6. When a new relationship happens, take it slow. Don’t bring your new partner into the kids’ life immediately. Give it time. Check yourself and your partner.
I wish I could tell you that divorce is easy, but it is in fact, hard. Bob Keeshan puts it best, “ Parents are the ultimate role models for children. Every word, movement and action has an effect. No others person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than the parent.” Follow this advice and you will come out the other side in a healthy and honorable way. Slowly but surely you will feel that you and your children will get back to a normal life. You are much stronger than you think you are. Trust me on this.