Many couples, divorced and married have differing parenting styles. Trying to conform to a single style is a no-win battle and the resultant struggles will only harm your children. Accepting your ex the way they are may not be easy but it comes with benefits for all.
My current guest, Suzy is a very hands-on parent which is in sharp contrast to her ex who is emotionally and physically distant. Nevertheless, she’s able to accept and support his parenting style. Here’s Suzy:
My ex traveled for about 80 percent of the time and he still travels. He traveled overseas a lot. He’s gone and he likes that life. That suits him very well, so basically in our divorce it was, “Live wherever as long as it’s near an international airport.”
Never once did he say, “Please move to Washington, D.C.” That’s very indicative of where he’s at, so I chose Colorado because my best friend here.
My family has been very supportive but my friend is my sister. We’re super close. So, I made this decision. He keeps in touch with the girls through Skype. He calls. He flies into town every few months. And he’s Santa. He shows up with presents. This was always the parent that he was. He avoids the emotional depth and goes for Santa. I think that’s OK. That’s what he can manage. I try not to judge it.
He also takes the girls for the summer for about two months and he takes them during Christmas. He has flown them to D.C. to be with him. He has flown them to Chicago to be with his sister. He definitely puts out for his kids and he wants a relationship with them, which I’m really appreciative of. I also know that it’s limited. I’m the parent. I’m the only parent. That’s fine, because that’s how it always was.
I never put their dad down in front of them. I still don’t and I asked him to do the same. He didn’t really. He did say some bad stuff, but he repented of it and stopped, which was great. The girls have had a pretty good environment. It hasn’t been negative and backstabbing. It’s been pretty peaceful. That’s huge. I’ve also spent a lot of one-on-one time with them and talking about the divorce. I got them both into therapy to be sure they were okay.
Interestingly, when my eldest was going through therapy when we moved here, her dad knew she was going through therapy never once asked me about it, never once asked her about it. I can’t even fathom that. I would at least ask my child, “I hear you’re going through therapy. I hear you’re going through some difficult times.” Nothing. He just can’t go there.
I think as she gets older she’s going to go, “Wait a minute? Dad never asked me once.” I think that will be discussions in the future. I just plan on being present for that. They need to go talk to him.
I tend to be a little OTT (over the top), like, “Okay, are you alright?” It’s been four years now and I think they’re fine.
I’ve come to accept that his way of parenting is not the way I’m going to be a parent, but it’s the way that he’s being a parent and it’s the best that he’s able to be and he is their dad.
The Divorce Coach Says
Accepting your ex’s different style of parenting can definitely be a challenge – the bigger the difference between your two styles, the bigger the challenge but one thing’s for sure … it’s a whole less stressful for you and your kids when you can accept it because you can’t force them to change and it be simply impossible for them to change.
Criticizing your ex’s parenting abilities, even if it’s something like never being able to show up on time or the diet of junk food, can make your child feel that you’re criticizing them for wanting to spend time with their other parent.
Our kids don’t get to choose their parents and I believe it’s our job to help them accept us for who we are.
Your child may look at their friends’ parents and wish their other parent (or even you) were more like them, more involved in after-school activities, more fun, more spontaneous, a better cook, better organized.
One strategy for helping with this is to help your child see that the outside image of a person is not the whole package. Ask your child how they think their friends see their parent and then ask them how they see them. The two images probably won’t be the same. The same applies to those parents your child is wishing their parent could be like.
Another strategy is to dig a little deeper with your child and understand why they want their other parent to be like this. What are they missing? You can suggest that your child have a conversation with their other parent about this and even practice with your child what they might say. Even if you think it’s something your ex wouldn’t be very good at, encourage your child to have the conversation. Even having the conversation could foster a better understanding.
If your child is embarrassed by something your ex does, talk to them about why they feel embarrassed. Try to help them understand that their other parent’s behavior doesn’t reflect on them and they are not responsible for them. Then again encourage your child to have the conversation – it will have more impact coming from them rather than you.
You can also help them to see the ways your ex’s style complements your own style and the benefits that comes with that.
And all of these conversations are easier to have, if you yourself have reached the point of accepting your ex.
How does your ex’s parenting style differ from yours? What do you see as the benefits in that?