by Shannon Streger
I will be the first to tell you, I HATE divorce! I never thought I would find myself divorced, single at 35, whilst raising 3 kids under 8; but life is unpredictable. There is a LOT of judgement out there when it comes to divorce. I know I’ve dealt with my fair share of critics, especially having walked through this as not only a Christian, but also, a pastor’s wife.
People told me I was “ruining my life”, that I was likely, now “damned to hell”, and the real zinger, “I had selfishly ruined my kids FOREVER”. And, all this to scare me into staying in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship I had worked hard to keep together for over 17 years. I realized that with hard work and openness, my kids didn’t have to be “ruined” and infact, they could very well thrive in a two-home, co-parenting arrangement.
One of the first steps was coming to an agreement with their father about how that would look. He was in agreeance we needed to work on having positive exchange and open dialog about our children, especially in front of them. They needed to see we were on the “same team” when it came to parenting. I would like to share with you some steps I have learned towards having a healthy co-parent relationship that gives your children space to feel connected to their father, while still allowing you to “move on.”
*It is important to note: these steps may not be possible in every situation. If your ex is unwilling to work with you, the fact is you will only be able to do so much and if your ex is not a safe person for your children to be around at all then your path will look completely different.
Provide a means for them to communicate with him directly..and often.
In this day in age of smartphones and FaceTime, connecting face to face with someone is easier than ever. While at times I find it tempting to discourage phone calls for the sake of busyness and staying on routine, this is a lifeline that could be crucial to showing your child you will not stand in the way of them building a strong relationship with their other parent. It’s not always convenient but it’s important none the less. We often will do facetime calls from the car on the way home from school or they take turns on the couch talking to Dad while I make dinner.
TIP: Avoid calls when they are emotionally vulnerable such as bedtime. Sometimes you may feel that an exception is appropriate but be aware that this could potentially be upsetting.
You may opt for a regular phone call vs. facetime, particularly in the beginning. I was given this advice early in my separation. Seeing their other parent but not physically being with them can be confusing for young children. At times too, when emotions are high, it can be a manipulative exchange and in turn will create an unhealthy relationship for the parent and child.
Share stories and point out commonalities.
As you find yourself healing from a separation and/or divorce, it is tempting to rid yourself of all things that include or remind you of your former partner. You may even catch yourself becoming irritated at the very mention of their name. To help my children feel connected to their Dad, I began making a point of sharing stories or pointing out common interests. My kids favorite story about their Dad is “the roach story”. I’m pretty sure my re-account gets longer and more dramatic with every telling. They also love when we talk about where they got some of their distinctives such as hair and eye color.
TIP: You never want your child to feel that because they may remind you of your ex that you are rejecting them. Encourage them that the traits that they share with their other parent are ones you love, even if you don’t love it in your ex.
Encourage them to celebrate special days and help provide a means for them to do so (birthdays, religious holidays, Father’s day, etc..).
Kids love giving gifts as much as they enjoy receiving them. Perhaps with little ones, give them each a certain amount to spend on an individual gift and give suggestions on things you know your ex-husband will enjoy. If they are older, this is a great opportunity to teach savings and budgeting, allowing them to plan their own giving. But, better yet, a homemade gift goes just as far, if not further. Remember, this is their father, and gifts are a great way to express love and build a deeper connection. Allow them to brainstorm what their father enjoys, his interests, hobbies, etc.
TIP: Let them own the gift as being just from them, not from you, no matter how much you did to make it happen. And then let it go, don’t expect your ex to make the same effort and don’t stew on that because this is about your child and their relationship with their other parent. You’re doing this for your child, not your ex.
He isn’t JUST their father; he is ALSO their parent.
Make a point to keep the other parent informed, whether that be phone, email, counselor, or direct communication from their school of successes and difficulties your children may be experiencing. You may now be leading your household alone, but it doesn’t remove their other parent from helping to guide and teach. For instance If your child is having a tough time making good choices, or is struggling with their friend connections at school, give their parent an opportunity to speak into that situation as well and address disciplinary problems. This will further cement the fact that as a two-home family, Mom and Dad are still “on the same playing field” when it comes to their parenting roles.
Tip: Do not take this as an opportunity to blame-shift or use the other parent as “the bad guy”. This will jeopardize the co-parenting relationship and create a toxic environment for everyone! Also, do not make disciplinary decisions for the other parent. For instance, do not set restrictions that apply to their time with the other parent. Allow Dad to set his own consequences for his home.
We all worry about our kids and want them to thrive as they develop into the amazing people they have the potential to become. Even through divorce, your children can and will flourish and develop normally emotionally, and having a strong plan in place will help make that possible. This isn’t realistic in every situation, and that’s ok! Your children still have a strong future ahead of them, with your help. You’ve got this!
Shannon Streger, a work at home mom, is the project manager for The Leaky Boob. She is a (not so proud) native Houstonian. Truly the most un-Texan Texan you’ll meet. She has 3 amazing children who keep her days full! She has a degree in Kinesiology and Psychology from Houston Baptist University. Recently, she began the certification process to become a birth doula and IBCLC. In her free time, Shannon enjoys road trips, anything outdoors with her kids, and 90’s movies.