Ready to get real with me? I just went through a divorce.
I never thought I would be saying that, but here I am…a divorced mom.
Saying that doesn’t feel like a stab in the gut. I am not crumpled on the floor sobbing. Not that I am jumping for joy, but though I lost my marriage, I didn’t lose us as a family.
My parents got divorced when I was exactly my own son’s age, and all I knew was that I was NOT going to repeat whatever the hell it was that they did. The daily bashing, using the kids as messengers, can’t-even-be-in-the-same-room drama cast an “I am never getting married” attitude over my teen years.
Even if our romantic relationship was no longer working, my ex and I decided we were always going to be a family; our beautiful son deserves to have parents that can both be at his games, holidays and dinners, without a frost that gives everyone stomachaches.
In order to achieve this, we needed to go through intentional steps to pave a path of unity around the wellbeing of our son.
Yes, that is easy to type out. And I am sure many divorcing parents have that same vision. But it is a goal that cannot be attempted without support. It was our marriage counselor (yes, we continued therapy together) who suggested we take the Kids First Program class that teaches separating parents how to, literally, put their kids first.
Honestly, I think this class, one of a handful offered by the Scarborough-based nonprofit Kids First Center, should also be mandatory before a couple even HAS kids, but I digress. For four hours we were surrounded by couples in various stages of separation, anger, confusion, sadness or resignation, and I was impressed at how many parents were still there together.
It was heartwarming to see how far divorce has come that so many were putting their revulsion for the other aside to learn how to be supportive, caring and empathetic for the trauma their children were going through. And while it has been said that “a good divorce is better than a bad marriage,” there is a scarring that happens to children that has to be acknowledged. Their lives will forever be drawn into the Before and After of their parent’s decision.
Whether you are also going through a divorce or just need some reminders on how to parent better together, here are a few tips we learned at our Kids First class.
The class recommends that parents set a weekly 30-minute phone call or sit-down that starts with anything celebratory to share, then moves into scheduling confirmation or changes, and finally any questions or concerns. Should personally driven anger start to slide into the call, the other parent should calmly ask, “Is this in the best interest of the kids?” We have had to use this a few times, and it is amazing at how quickly that de-escalates building tension.
Children should NEVER hear you bashing the other parent to them. Remember, they are half that other person. If they hear all of your gripes, disappointments and name-calling toward your spouse, of course they are thinking you feel the same way about them. Don’t do it. It breaks their hearts and ultimately could turn them against you.
If you have fallen in love with weeks of your divorce, don’t drag your kids into that. Respect they are grieving the loss of their normal. Throwing them into a new family will be so disruptive to their healing. Kids First recommends waiting 10 months minimum into dating someone before introducing your kids to a new partner, and then only after you have included their other parent in that development.
The workshop we took also shares how divorce affects children at different developmental stages. This was key in seeing this process from our 11-year-old’s point of view. He needs to know primarily there was nothing he could have done to change anything, we love him completely and that his favorite things (like lacrosse) wouldn’t be going away.
We had to recognize a few other behaviors to support, like he is a kiddo who gets anxious about remembering what bus he is taking after school, so we have taken extra steps to help him feel comfortable about changes in his routine.
If you are leaving a relationship that is violent and abusive, Kids First Center has classes that speak to those additional traumas. There are support groups for kids and parenting classes that are dad-specific as well as more intensive co-parenting classes.
I am proud of us. Not saying we are running through fields of daisies daily, but we are committed to keeping our communication respectful, our time together joyful and reminding each other that should personal angst sneak in, our new vow is always putting our kid first.
Maggie Knowles writes about all things kid. She and her son live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees, laughs at her chickens and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.