Divorce and Parenting

Yesterday we looked at how the anima/animus, if left unconscious, can work with wounded narcissism to destroy trust and relationships.  Yet many relationships do end in break-ups, and many parents are left to be single parents, and so today we look at some tips and insights related to divorce.

This is a thorny topic laced with much pain, resentment and fear, and I wanted to be clear that nothing definitive is intended here—rather, the intention is to offer validation, compassion, recognition and support for whatever single parents might stumble across these words this holiday season, or even at some random time in the future.  While it would be great to send cash and a partner who isn’t useless, if spirit counts for anything, then that’s what Privilege of Parenting is in a position to send.  If need be, feel free to put coal in my comments stocking (it’s my nature to see it as a diamond in early stage development).

Although I have worked with many clients through the process of contemplating divorce, being left by a spouse, how to tell the children, how to make things least destructive for children, how to deal with the economic implications (as a reader recently commented, divorce is one of the three leading contributing factors in people declaring bankruptcy) and in navigating life as a single parent, since I am not divorced myself, I thought I would turn to a first-hand expert for some thoughts in the subject.

I asked Cathy Meyer, publisher of Divorced Women Magazine (www.divorcedwomenonline.com) and writer/editor/divorce consultant (www.divorcesupport.about.com) if she could outline three key points that she would want to share with divorced or single parents.

Cathy responded: “Below are three topics I think are important for parents during and after divorce:

Anger and resentment:  Over the years I’ve come to believe that emotional intelligence becomes lost post divorce. Parents become too wrapped up in their own negative emotions and find it easy to over-look how those negative emotions affect their children.

Their child’s need for security:  Some parents look at divorce as a chance for them to start over. And, it is but what they fail to realize is that although their needs have changed, their child’s needs have not. So many times I’ve seen a child’s needs put on the back burner in favor of the parent’s needs.

The parenting role: Parenting roles change post-divorce. Mothers, who are most likely to become the custodial parent, take on more day-to-day responsibility.  Fathers, most of whom didn’t want a divorce, take on a much smaller role in their children’s lives.

Mothers become stressed out; fathers are left to deal with the pain of not seeing their children. This stress and pain can get in the way of both parents being the parent their child needs them to be.”

*

Building on these insights, I would suggest that anger management sounds doubly important for single parents.  With no partner to “tag-in” and help, and more likely an ex who just gets our ire up, pro-active strategies for calm can only help our kids.  Things to consider on this front might include yoga (and by this I mean five minutes, in your room, before sleep—I recognize that child-care, money and time are typically in short supply).  For a previous post directly about anger management see: http://tiny.cc/yoHeu.  A recent post on what it means to be passive aggressive might also come in handy for raising emotional IQ: http://tiny.cc/Gko3S.

Cathy speaks about children’s needs for security.  In the service of this it is important to avoid trash talking your ex in front of your child.  They, of course, shouldn’t disparage you either, but we’ll coach the high road and give love to the wounds that sometimes includes.  Further to this point is that kids are not typically all that concerned that mommy or daddy is unhappy; they are affected by parental unhappiness, of course, but their conscious fear tends to be about who will take care of them.  Even if you are scared, the message that they will be taken care of (fed, schooled, housed) no matter what can be calming for scared kids.  Sometimes they will go without, and that is very painful as parents, but at least we can give them space to express their frustration and sadness—a sympathetic ear and a heart like a bowl into which kids can pour their grief and their grievances offers much more than you might think to help kids be happy and develop into their authentic and empowered selves.

As far as the parental role goes, while the stats tip toward men leaving and moms parenting, there are also plenty of fathers who have been, and currently are, on the other side of this dynamic—men left by women, raising kids alone and trying to explain why mommy left.  My hope here is to transcend gender lines and keep our focus on all our collective children; we must acknowledge differences (in this case gender), recognize the way our past wounds can sometimes be projected onto others (i.e. “women always____”, “men always ____”) so that we can get beyond our learned prejudices and live in a richer and kinder community.

While Cathy knows her stuff, my hope is that we can, as a community (not in this particular blog, but in our expanding concept of like-minded parents who do stay, deal with the crap and somehow manage to become our best Selves through the travails of parenting) contribute our bit of energy toward shaking things up—contributing our modest drops of sticking with it into the seemingly indifferent ocean of those who don’t seem to care or get it.

From this perspective we might leave judgment about “good” and “bad” at the door and contemplate how everyone and their behaviors makes sense… at least to themselves.  People don’t set out to be hurtful, but when childhoods of trauma and abuse (see ACE study http://tiny.cc/GYpm3), lack of self-esteem and lack of basic self development in the first place, addiction issues and/or mental illness beset a person, that beleaguered soul just might end up bailing on the kids.  This is not to say that problems excuse hurtful behavior to kids, only that explaining it to ourselves can sometimes enhance our compassion, our growth and our effectiveness with our kids.

This blog is more for those left holding the bag than it is for the ones with the wounds that lead them to act-out and/or disappear.  It’s not that I don’t want to reach dead-beat exes, and the cluelessly hurtful, it’s just that my clinical experiences have taught me that unless you’re doing court-mandated treatment (which I am currently not), the people who seek help and input, even in a blog, are usually the higher functioning folks who are left to deal with the messes that the more impaired so-called parents tend to leave for them.

Maybe we can take a look at why we chose badly, if we feel that we did (i.e. “I married my mother/father”); and at the same time things seem to happen for reasons beyond our conscious capabilities of fully grasping and the splendid and unique children in your care might not have come to exist with at least a sperm or egg donation from an otherwise disastrous union.

So, let’s dedicate today to the legions of single parents who are stepping up to parent their children, often against all odds, struggling with economic terror, health concerns, various special needs in those kids, and hosts of other challenges.  Those who have any extra love to give right now, (and plenty of this will be single-parent to single-parent as I see the love and community that so many single parents have created across the blogosphere) please send that love out, along with wishes for health and prosperity, in the direction of single parents—in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

PS another site I became aware of recently, by April McCaffery, offers good spirit and pragmatic support for single parents: http://tiny.cc/oxXqc

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3 Responses to “Divorce and Parenting”

  1. April Says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. While I agree with Cathy that these can all be difficult hurdles to overcome, the easiest way to overcome them is for single parents to take care of themselves! Ask for help when you need it, take an hour either in therapy or in your car on your lunch hour and get out the emotions that need to be felt before you can be free of them.

  2. Cathy Says:

    “we might leave judgment about “good” and “bad” at the door and contemplate how everyone and their behaviors makes sense… at least to themselves.”

    Good stuff! Being able to let go of judgments about the other parent’s behaviors is the first step in taking care of yourself and your children.

    I remember thinking my ex was crazy and then realizing he also thought I was crazy. We both thought our behaviors made sense…just not to each other.

    What he was doing wasn’t either good or bad, it was just what he felt he needed to do. Realizing that went a long way toward me letting go of my frustration with him.

    We are better parents and people when we spend less time trying to understand the “bad” behavior of the other parent and focusing on our own behavior.

    Thanks for the mention Bruce. I fee quite honored!

  3. robleyblake Says:

    Divorce can be extremely traumatic to families, especially children. My children’s picture book, Living With Mom, Spending Time With Dad takes us through a myriad of emotions that two children, Stephen and Alex, experience through this tumultuous period. Young Alex especially gives an extremely candid and honest account of the day-to-day trauma, the hostility and at times the many poignant memories that he has. Living with Mom, Spending Time with Dad also addresses the concerns and anguish of being torn between two parents. Throughout the story there is that underlying hope that everything will turn out alright and everyone will be back in their original comfort zone.

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