Much of the conflict in divorce comes from the parties fighting for “their share” or fighting to get even. When children are involved that becomes extremely damaging and not just in the short term.
My current guest, Donna F. was in high-conflict mode with her ex so she made the decision to move out of state because she genuinely believed it would be in the best interest of her child. She demonstrates that when even one parent can be guided by that perspective, it can reduce the conflict. Here’s Donna:
Pretty much everyone judged me. Family, friends. For a long time it was hard to tell people because a mom should be home with her kids. That’s what people think like, “How can you be away from her? How do you know she’s doing okay?”
My belief was that if she knew where I was, that I was a part of her life and that she had some stability, that that was the most important thing to me.
I did the best that I could with our situation.
I knew for me that if she was in a safe place, which she was—her dad did love her and that she knew I was there and that she was being taken care of, then the rest of it was about me and I could take care of that elsewhere.
I think the biggest thing that I learned early on was that she came first. It was hard on me, but what she learned to do and she still does it today, she learned to be where she was. So, when she was with her dad, she didn’t miss me. When she was with me, she didn’t miss her family down there.
I know it happened exactly the way it was meant to happen. When my daughter was two and I hadn’t moved up to Colorado yet, she was telling me, “Mom, you need to play with me now. You need to pay attention to me now.” I was trying to build these businesses and get some money going. When I’d let go of that and accept that when I’m with her, I’m with her 100 percent of the time, she had my total attention, it was an easier way to live.
When she came up to visit me for the summer, I barely worked. I worked from home. I tried to do things where I could be with her. Before, when I was married and I was just trying to start that business, I was like, “I’ve got to get this and be successful.” She made me stop and realize that I was missing stuff with her. So by being a hundred percent present with her she knew I was there and I was available to her when we were together.
When we were together, it would be about her and we would paint nails, not because she needed to have her nails painted, but because I would touch her and hold her hands and give her massages and she still likes massages today. I tried to create our relationship and just focus on that.
She really learned to be present too, which I think is a huge gift. And if she did miss me, she could call me in the middle of the night. She knew I was there if she was scared and she needed something.
I tried to put what was best for her ahead of everything and sometimes I would have to get my needs met other places. I definitely created debt while I did it, because she was my priority. If you’re driving back and forth every two weeks or flying back and forth a couple of times a month, it’s huge.
Initially I always reacted to anything my ex presented me as far as seeing her and not seeing her. Then, finally I thought, “You know what? I just need to not react. If I don’t get to see her this time, I’ll do something else.” That was big. We couldn’t work things out. I did the best that I could and the non-reaction and putting her first was key to getting through.
I really get crazy when I have friends that are going through a divorce and they’re like, “Well, he’s going to get them all the time and I won’t have my time.”
I’m like, “It’s about the kid. What does your kid need?”
Another friend of mine had sixteen boxes of legal documents, being in and out of court with her ex. She was about to go through it again and I said, “Do you know what? Seriously, is this about them or about you?” And she ended up letting them go and within a very short time she got them back full-time.
So, I think that surrender to whatever the process is and what you really believe, especially if you feel strongly about something. We can’t control the other person. That’s the bottom line. Get to a place of doing your best with what you believe and taking care of them.
That focus kept me out of the fight and kept the best relationship with my daughter.
I admire Donna’s courage in moving away knowing that others would judge her for it.
Donna didn’t talk about this but I imagine her daughter asked questions about why she’d moved away. It’s important to encourage your child to ask questions like this and to answer them in an age-appropriate way that doesn’t make your child feel like they should be choosing between parents or that they are the cause of the conflict between their parents.
Remember, your child will likely be getting comments from classmates such as, “Well, that’s weird?” or “Why does your mommy live in another state? Doesn’t she love you?” You can help your child handle these by asking what the other kids say and then role-playing possible responses. When your child has rehearsed an answer, they’ll be more comfortable and confident in their response and will better understand the decision you made.
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