Being a parent is many things: beautiful, precious, challenging, frustrating, and exhausting, sometimes all at the same time. And you can count on these qualities being magnified during and after your divorce.
Last night I experienced all of the above within a 30-minute time frame. My 22-year-old son was heading out for dinner with his dad, and he’d been instructed to bring his tax information with him.
“Mom,” he called, “I have to go. Dad’s waiting. Where’s my W-2?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. I thought I’d placed the W-2 in a folder along with all his other tax materials, but apparently it had gone missing.
“How can you not know where it is?” he asked.
Without thinking, I retorted, “You’re twenty-two. Why can’t you keep track of your stuff yourself?”
Well, that unnecessary comment set off a spiral of guilt and resentment within me that led to something of a meltdown. I’d taken on the assignment of collecting my son’s tax information as it came in, mostly because I knew he wouldn’t stay on top of it and it would become my problem anyway. When I asked him why he couldn’t handle it himself, what I really meant was why is all this on my shoulders? Why does Dad get the nice dinners and I get the “Where’s my W-2?” Why is it always my responsibility to raise these kids?
I sent my son out to dinner – without the form – and collapsed into a chair, fighting tears. A few minutes later, he was back with a hug and an apology. “Mom,” he said, “we know how much you do for us. You’re the one who’s around when good things happen, and you’re the one who’s there for the tough days.”
His kind words made me realize how grateful I was to be the parent that I am.
For the first 16 years of my marriage, my husband worked long hours and traveled extensively, but I always knew he was there. After the divorce, he remained a great dad, always available to the kids, but now that they were teenagers I often felt alone in trying to manage a bigger game with much higher stakes. Meanwhile my ex, in my mind, the Monday-morning analyst, was reviewing my performance and second-guessing the plays I ran.
Simply dealing with your kids’ daily issues on your own is hard enough. Post-divorce, you also have to share what’s happening and receive input from someone who cares as much and is invested as much as you are, but wasn’t there when the decisions had to be made.
I needed to learn how to:
- Hear my husband’s perspective as a parent, which could very well be different from mine.
- Lose my resentment at being on the front lines.
- Enjoy the fact that I’m the parent who sees and lives the day-to-day adventure.
- Accept that I will get tired; I will feel envy and resentment. The key is to recognize these feelings and catch myself before a meltdown occurs.
This is not to say life is easy for the non-custodial parent. Here are a few things my non-custodial clients have said to me:
- I miss just being there, seeing the daily routine, having impromptu conversations.
- Letting go of day-to-day parenting is tough. I wish I had more influence.
- My ex-spouse resents my perceived freedom.
- I know I’m missing a lot and it kills me. I do my best to make it up to the kids by being SuperDad.
And what about parents who are sharing custodial duties 50/50?
- Why do I always have to be the bad guy, and the other parent is the fun one?
- The logistics of two households are driving me crazy.
- Transitions are so challenging. My kids always miss their other parent for the first few days.
- I miss my children when they’re with the other parent.
- I can’t keep up with their homework!
Divorced parenting: not so different after all
Each of these situations has its pros and cons, challenges and rewards, wins and losses – not unlike parenting in general. As in conventional two-parent families, the following actions can make life easier: expressing appreciation for the efforts of the other parent, establishing regular communication, working to be on the same page, and being willing to be the “bad guy” when necessary. It’s just that in divorced families, these things are more important than ever.
Finally, no matter what your family’s configuration, it helps to take a moment and look at things from your kids’ point of view.
- How would your kids describe each of your parenting styles?
- What would they change if they could?
- What could you do to make life smoother and help your ex-spouse?
- What could you ask of your ex-spouse to help improve your parenting time?
- How can you both take the “me” out of this and focus on the children?
- How would your child finish the sentence: “You’re the parent who [fill in the blank]. Thanks!”