My oldest daughter, a medical ICU nurse, was recently ill. “Miss Independent” waited 36 hours before calling me for help. Unbeknownst to me, she had also called her dad, my ex-husband. We simultaneously arrived at her home and began kicking into gear. I brought food and began cleaning up mountains of dirty dishes and used Kleenex®, while he titrated the proper amount of NyQuil™ she could down and still coherently write a paper for grad school. In that moment, it hit me how far we have come in successfully sharing the lives of our daughters. We were working as a team, putting her needs first, and giving her support.
It’s easier to dish out advice than to take it. I have many “Alice in Wonderland” moments when I don’t listen to my own words of wisdom but I have learned a few things along the way that are worth sharing.
Find your person
Have one trusted person that you can vent to about your situation. No matter how many teeth marks you obtain from biting your tongue, do not speak negatively about their other parent. They share the same DNA. When you criticize your ex-spouse you are criticizing them. Instead of trying to prove your “side,” work on improving yourself. Imagine what you look like through your children’s eyes. Do you want them to see a bitter, seething, negative person or do you want them to see a strong parent who is continually striving to hang on the high road?
It’s all about love
Give your kids permission to love the other parent and their family. There is enough love to go around for both you and your former spouse. It is not a competition. Ribbons will not be awarded for “Most Loved Parent” but the rewards that come from allowing your children to openly love whom they choose without judgement are immeasurable.
Let go of what others think
I find it surprising that, post divorce, many people don’t know how to act regarding the respectful relationship I have with the father of my children. When they were younger, we would meet at church to worship together, we attended funerals of each other’s family members, and for the past few years, their dad has been included in our holiday gatherings. I think people like to have a “bad guy”. Perhaps not having a clearly defined, public reason why the marriage failed makes others feel vulnerable about their own unions. Regardless, I try to remember the words of my grandfather who would say, “What others think of you is really none of your business.”
If your spouse wants the kids an extra hour, I guarantee that in the grand scheme of things, your children will remember how awesome you handled the situation than the hour they lost being with you.
Communicate like a pro
Make requests not demands. “How about we try…” or “Would you be open to…” are incredible ways to begin a sentence. If things get dicey take a deep breath before releasing words that can never be recovered.
Go to their strengths
I like to refer to the father of my children as “detail oriented”. Yes, there was a time when the words “anal retentive” came to mind. See how much growth has occurred? I’m certain he refers to me as “creative” instead of a slew of less positive adjectives. Math, science, paperwork and color-coding anything that doesn’t move now fall under his jurisdiction.
Change your thinking
It is very easy when your ex makes a positive change to be involved to think, “Great, you’re here for them now?” Change your mindset and rejoice that they are here NOW.
The bottom line is to remember that your children did not sign up for divorce. What they desire more than anything and at any age, is to have two parents that love them and will come together in their time of need, especially with NyQuil™ and chicken noodle soup.
Mary Helen Darah is an award-winning columnist who has appeared in numerous publications in the Toledo area and beyond. Her column, The Mother of Mayhem, publishes on ProMedica HealthConnect each month.