Ending your marriage means not only renegotiating your relationship with your spouse but also with your children. Reorganizing your family creates the opportunity for improving your relationship with your children. Sometimes it happens organically and sometimes it’s more of a conscious decision like following these 6 simple ways to be a better parent after divorce.
Sometimes, being a better parent is forced onto you like when you have parenting time and you’re the only adult in the house. You’re in charge and there’s no falling back on your other parent. There’s less opportunity to hide or cover up your mistakes, and we do all make them. Are you going to step up or just carry on as you were?
Sometimes, being in two households creates the freedom and the opportunity to craft your own parenting philosophy. While being closely aligned with your ex on parenting may make it easier, when that alignment conflicts with your personal beliefs, you can choose to follow your own style. That means you can be more authentic, you can hold true to your values and you can pass those on.
Sometimes, the real gem in two households is that you end up with more one-on-one time with your child and that means plenty of opportunity to deepen your connection.
Paul Ross, author of How To Profit From Your Divorce, has written about he discovered a new relationship with his daughter after his divorce and says, it was a relationship that was hidden during the 25 years of his marriage and may not have developed if he’d stayed married. Ross joins me for this episode of Conversations About Divorce on how to be a better parent after divorce. Listen in below or keep reading …
A little background first … Ross’s only child was 17 at the time of his divorce. She’d just graduated high school and was headed for college. For the last four or five years of his marriage, Ross says his work took him away from home for weeks at a time. When he wasn’t travelling, he was working long hours. Not only may this have been a contributing factor to the end of his marriage, it meant that he missed much of his daughter’s teenage years.
“If I were to turn the clock back, that was one of my learnings. It’s getting that work-life balance right,” said Ross.
Put Your Child’s Interests First
While Ross’s divorce proceedings went on for a protracted five years, he and his ex were agreed that they had to put their daughter’s interests first. She was off to college and they both wanted her to be successful and for the divorce not to sidetrack her.
“It was very important that I made both sides of the legal professionals, the lawyers in particular, aware of the importance of unconditionally putting the family and the child’s interests first. I also made the courts aware of that. Everybody had to be on the same page,” said Ross.
(Note: Ross lives in England and his divorce occurred in England where the legal process is very different from the U.S. Based on my experience, it’s very unusual in the U.S. for divorce proceedings to take five years.)
Find A Common Interest
With his daughter away at college, Ross started to visit her and through their conversations found common interests, like their shared family values and the same sense of humor. When they started talking about career goals, Ross’s daughter expressed an interest in pursuing a similar career as Ross in commercial marketing.
That they gave them a whole new area for conversation. Ross started to share his own goals, his future dreams and ideas and in turn, she was sharing hers. It was about forward-thinking, moving on. Ross says the discovery of this new shared interest was a turning point in his relationship with his daughter. There was a new chemistry that hadn’t existed before.
Encourage Your Child To Talk About Divorce
Parents are sometimes reluctant to encourage their child to talk to others about what’s happening seeing the divorce as private family business, not anyone else’s business. While guarding your privacy is understandable, this can isolate your child and eliminate important sources of support.
Ross says his daughter had friends who had experienced divorce and she was talking to them about how they coped. He says he felt it was important to give her the time and space to have these discussions especially since Ross’s mother also passed away the year the divorce started compounding the emotional trauma for all.
Make Family Events A Priority
Here’s a practical demonstration of what putting your child’s interests first really means. Regardless of what is going on with the legal process and when the legal process is all over, family events are important and need to be a priority. That’s the birthdays, the graduations, Christmas and all the other special occasions your family is used to celebrating.
“Both myself and my ex-wife attend the events with dignity and in a civilized way, which was very important in trying to keep a constructive relationship,” said Ross.
Yes … a civilized way means no fighting in public – that’s the last thing your child needs.
Give Your Child A Voice
Almost all the divorce professionals I’ve met say that children do not get to make decisions in divorce especially when it comes to parenting time and where they’ll live. That’s the job of the adults. That doesn’t mean however that they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions and that applies no matter what their age.
The challenge with this however is giving them a voice in a way that doesn’t set them up to make a choice between their parents. It’s the difference between asking a child if they’d like dinner with mom or dad on Saturday and asking them if they’d like to have dinner with dad on Saturday. The former is forcing the child to express a preference whereas the latter is giving them permission to have dinner with dad.
Building those open communication channels is key. “Being, open, transparent with each other, optimistic about our futures, helping each other through what was a challenging family time, really did help that new bond, the new chemistry we’d discovered,” said Ross.
When Ross’s daughter finished college, she choose to live with Ross and he feels that gave him the opportunity to make up for the time he missed during her teenage years when he was away from home on business. Ross’s ex lived close and his daughter visited with her mother several times a week. Ross felt that it was important for his daughter to maintain that connection.
Have A Constructive Relationship With Your Ex
Common advice is not to bad-mouth your ex and I find that even with the best intentions that can happen. Ross puts it another way. He advocates having a constructive relationship with your ex and to let the children see that.
” Even from a young age, I believe children can see that. [their parents cooperating] They’re pretty savvy and smart and they can observe that constructiveness and that life is going to be different,” said Ross.
Even during the long drawn-out legal proceedings, Ross tried to rise above the conflict. He kept an open, honest age-appropriate dialogue with his daughter about the divorce. On some issues, he sought her input but as a rule, avoided sharing details of the issues with his daughter. His focus was on keeping her informed about where they were in the process and the next steps. He tried to give her reassurance about the things that directly impacted her. Her concerns were very much around feelings and concerns for Ross’s well-being.
Ross says that while there were clearly disagreements during the legal process, there was never any blame. He was guided throughout by his core values: humor, honesty, family and transparency and that’s his recommendation for anyone going through divorce.
“Even at the beginning, have a clear vision for what you want your life to be. This is the starting point of a new life. Enjoy yourself. Have goals.”