One Mindset Shift That Could Change How Divorce Affects Your Children
Over the past week, how many emails have you gotten so far that read something like this…“Welcome to a brand-New Year and a brand-newyou! ,” or “OMG, it’s 20xx!!! Happy Freaking New Year!!
At the start of every year, my inbox is filled with quite a few of these. My guess is yours is too. TBH, usually, I’m not feeling it.
I know, I know… A New Year is supposed to be a time when everyone thinks about fresh starts, new beginnings, and making big changes.
One particular New Year, I was stuck in reflection mode and trying to process what happened in our family on Christmas for the first time in decades and why it took a ridiculously long time to get there.
It’s something I’ve never written about before.
As a coach, I ask parents to do hard things all the time, things that feel awkward, uncomfortable, and sometimes even impossible. And even though there are parts of my story that are hard to admit, it’s important to me to walk my talk. We all have our own sh*t to deal with, and that includes me.
A little back-story.
How my parent’s divorce impacted me.
When I was 14 years old, my parents split up. And it wasn’t pretty. While there wasn’t a lot of open hostility, there was A LOT of conflict and underlying tension.
Tension that was never really acknowledged by either one of them.
I’m sure my parents never meant to put us in the middle. However, that’s exactly where we ended up. My guess is they never realized how much their issues with each other impacted us because we never talked about it.
Like most kids of divorce, my sisters and I learned pretty quickly how to navigate the friction. The message we got loud and clear was to put it behind you, keep moving forward, and don’t rock the boat.
Since I was the oldest, I usually got stuck with mediating issues, listening to the subtle jabs, and facilitating communication about child-related issues. Classic child in the middle stuff.
After I became an adult and my Dad moved to another state, the need to juggle those delicate situations only came up when significant events were on the horizon. Think graduations, weddings, the birth of children…you get the idea.
Unfortunately, instead of being excited about what was happening in my life, I usually ended up stressing over how I was going to handle the two of them. These occasions almost always involved one of my parents getting their feelings hurt, being angry, or blaming the other one for messing things up.
Sadly, over the years, I had gotten so used to focusing on them that I never stopped to think about how I felt or what I needed. While I’d like to tell you that’s rare for children with divorced parents, the truth is for most of us, it’s not.
Here’s what changed.
This particular year, however, that changed.
When my Dad’s health took a turn for the worse, we moved him back to Texas. Instead of being states away, he was living in a house 10 yards from my backdoor.
Not only were my parents both in the same town, but now they lived minutes away from each other.
As expected, a whole new level of awkwardness emerged. All the stress and tension from being stuck in the middle came flooding back for me. Sigh.
I know what you’re thinking… divorce coach, heal thy self and thy family.
While I knew I couldn’t change my family, that year, I decided to change myself and find a new way forward for our family.
In a not-so-diplomatic fashion, I declared our usual Christmas Eve family dinner would be at my house. AND there would only be one celebration. No shuffling back and forth, no juggling agendas. One dinner, one table, and everyone was expected to sit at it.
There was some apprehension and a little pushback, but I stuck to my guns and braced myself for things to go completely pear-shaped.
AND you know what?
Much to my surprise, it was all okay. In fact, it was better than okay. Everyone got along, nobody had a meltdown. Nobody got upset or got their feelings hurt.
I watched my Bonus Dad and Bio Dad engage in pleasant conversation. There were no awkward moments between my Mom and Dad to navigate. We all had a lovely evening. For the first time ever, my kids saw all of my parents in the same room together.
I should have been over the moon, right?
Even though things were better, they still weren’t okay.
Yet, the thing that keeps nagging at me was this… Why did it take decades to get there? Why couldn’t my parents have buried the hatchet years ago?
Maybe they both just needed time. While there may be some truth to that, I’m not sure that’s all of it.
I frequently tell parents I coach, “It’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame.”
When my parents went through their divorce, they simply didn’t have any support. There weren’t mandatory classes for parents who split up, no Facebook support groups, no online courses, or divorce coaches like me.
They dealt with it on their own and fell into the trap of staying inside their own frame.
And that my friends can happen to any one of us. Divorce comes with lots of challenges, parenting dilemmas, and tough calls.
Maybe you’re co-parenting with someone who is continually saying bad things about you in front of your kids. Shouldn’t you defend yourself and tell children your side of the story?
You might have kids who don’t want to go to the other parent’s house, and you can’t help but wonder what that parent is doing wrong. Should you make your children go?
Maybe you feel gutted over your EX being unfaithful and are struggling over what to say to your kids. Shouldn’t they know the truth? Don’t they deserve to know about the affair?
You might have an Ex who isn’t actively involved in your children’s lives and never keeps their promises. Should you make excuses for them or lay out the cold hard reality for your kids?
Knowing what to do in the moment is hard, but this mindset shift can help.
Moving past what feels unfair, biting your tongue, swallowing your pride, letting go of judgments, or practicing radical acceptance can be a really tall order.
AND…most of us don’t get there without help.
Without a doubt, staying inside your frame is always the easier option.
It takes courage and commitment to seek out information and connect with others. Especially when the effort you put out often goes unnoticed. So for all of those co-parents out there who are actively trying to step outside of their frame, THANK YOU!
And for those who haven’t made it there yet and might be struggling, I hope you’ll consider finding the support you need to get that extra dose of perspective.
Have coffee with a trusted friend who’ll listen and actually tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear. Find a good co-parenting book. Seek out a therapist or a coach. Join a Facebook group that supports positive co-parenting. You might consider watching a documentary about divorce for kids and their parents.
Because if not now, then when?
Here’s to a New Year and stepping outside the frame.
PS- As always some of the most meaningful stories and lessons come from you. If you have a story about stepping outside of the frame, please share it in the comments section below, I’d love to hear it.