When one parent is essentially absent after divorce, there are pluses and minuses. There may be fewer conflicts but there’s less support for when times are tough, the lack of a role model/parent figure and less financial resources. But perhaps the most difficult challenge is accepting that your ex just won’t/can’t parent in the way you’d like and then getting your children to understand that it just is what it is.
It’s a challenge my current guest, Kimberly knows about. She has two children and they were aged six and ten at the time of her divorce. Kimberly had sole custody of her children and her ex was essentially absent. Here’s Kimberly:
When my daughter was about eleven or twelve she all of sudden started asking questions about the divorce. “Why weren’t daddy and I getting back together? And what would happen if he was to have children with this other woman he was with?”
So, I took her to a psychologist and had a couple of sessions and she, at one point, suggested that my ex and my daughter have session together, which he agreed to do. My daughter had the opportunity at that point to ask him all of these things that were bothering her. “Would you have children and forget about me,” etc. According to the psychologist he gave her all the right answers, so she felt much better after having that session.
While she was the one that reacted it doesn’t mean to say that my son didn’t feel the same, but because he’s so quiet and didn’t say anything, I couldn’t do anything about it. He did go to one session but didn’t go any farther than that.
My daughter over the years kept trying. She would call my ex when she wanted to talk to him and when she wanted something. She would call him on a regular basis rather than him calling her. There were times when she got frustrated by that and felt that she was making all of the effort, but she continued to do it and now they have not a bad relationship. She did come to the conclusion a number of years ago that he was maybe a nice guy but not much of a father and she’s learned to accept that.
She’s learned that that’s what he is and he can only give what he can give. She takes what she can get from him and she can’t get anymore so there’s no point in getting upset about it. But she’s 23 years old; it was a long time coming; many years of her trying and trying and trying.
I’m not surprised he’s been such a distant father because he always has been.
In all honesty, when we were dating and first got married he said he didn’t want children. We actually were married for eight years before we had children. Like a lot of women I got to a point in my life where I decided I wanted children and said, “I want to have children,” and so we did.
I can’t remember too much about that. I do remember that we discussed it. It wasn’t just a one time thing like, “I want to have kids,” “OK.” We discussed it for quite awhile and then when we decided we’d try I got pregnant two months later. And then we had a second one.
Sometimes I think maybe it was just to please me. I mean that’s kind of ridiculous when you look back on it; to create a life just to please somebody, but I’m only assuming at this point. He and his son are very much alike, not very talkative, not very open about certain things.
Accepting the way your ex parents as “it is what it is,” with no expectations would certainly relieve a lot of stress and angst, and is liberating but it’s not an easy place to get to. I’m not sure that you ever “get there” but rather are constantly working towards it.
Let me share a personal story with you.
Many years ago I was at a corporate dinner event where the organizers had arranged a variety of pre-dinner entertainers, magicians, jugglers, fortune-tellers and so on. I stopped by the fortune-teller’s booth and we got talking and we got talking about my mother-in-law. I was feeling angry, resentful towards her. As a manic-depressive she wasn’t capable of much interaction with my kids who were very small at the time. There was never any playing games, doing a craft, reading a book or watching a movie. There was barely even any conversation.
My own mother had died before the children were born and I felt it was unfair. I had seen how my mother was with my brother’s kids and I knew she would have been an awesome grandmother and I wanted my kids to have that experience, not the one they got.
The fortune-teller asked me what gave me the right to say what was a good or poor grandmother relationship? Wasn’t it up to my kids to develop their own relationship with their grandmother? If she was doing the best she could, wasn’t that the best I could expect? Wasn’t that enough?
Obviously, that fortune-teller had a profound effect on me – here we are, some fifteen years later and I can still picture the scene in my mind. When I get frustrated with my ex because he isn’t parenting the way I do, or when the kids are frustrated with him, I remember the fortune-teller and try hard to simply accept, not to judge.
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