The process of getting divorced often puts parents in opposing corners and that can bring out the worst behavior in any of us. What may have been hidden during the marriage is now exposed. However, you and your ex are both still parents and it’s your responsibility to help your child accept their other parent.
Wendi was married for about 22 years and while she has very little contact with her ex now, she can recognize his positive traits that her two boys inherited from him. Here’s Wendi:
It was pointed out to me and I have to agree that I married my dad. My father was narcissistic and so that’s why I’m not getting married again. However, I can take the great genetics from my father, like my younger son is going into aeronautical engineering just like my father did and my father was really well known in his field. They’re both partly Native American and my older one in particular is really proud of that.
So, I think you look at not the person itself, but you can say, “Oh isn’t this great? I can sing, I got the DNA from his side of the family. Isn’t it great that she’s really smart, she got that from her mother’s side?” So you can really be grateful for things like that.
My kids have no contact with his parents, because the mother particularly was so toxic and the father said to my younger one who was crying, he said, “Unless you have a relationship with my son, we’re not having a relationship with either one of you boys.” So, they don’t. You know sometimes the whole family can be nuts.
I would say the family ties got severed, like the grandparents refusing to have anything to do with them. They did sever ties with their father, but they can say he had talents and he had DNA that was good and we talk about that. And I say with my father, “So, you know, my father was a jerk, but look I wouldn’t have been ‘abc’ if it hadn’t been for him,” and I said, “I passed those genes onto you and you’ve got them.” So, it’s like the DNA is good, but not the person. Even Hitler knew how to build roads. Hitler’s horrible, but he still had some talents so—I don’t think he had kids, but I’m just saying if he did, they could say, “Well, some of my DNA is that I can build roads.” So, I look at it that way.
I never talk about him. The kids even say—my younger one never talks about him at all, but the older one tells people, “You know, I can say one thing about my mother. She never talked about my father.” I did something right and I think that’s so important.
The Divorce Coach Says
This is a vitally important message when your ex is your child’s other parent. They will always be a part of your child’s history and a part of their heritage. Helping your child accept that and to find value in it is part of your responsibility.
Now, that’s obviously easier in some situations than others. In Wendi’s situation it hasn’t meant that her children have to have a relationship with their father and I think that may make harder and yet, even more important to recognize the good that has come from their other parent. Wendi has a good strategy – look for individual traits and characteristics that are positive and then reinforce them with your child.
I think it’s also helps to remember that people and families are messy. Every family has its difficulties, but they’re often hidden from the view of others and so we fall into the trap of thinking that the “Smith family” has everything together or that they have a charmed life while in reality it’s a facade. Life is rarely what it seems and it’s sometimes hard for us as adults not to forget this. It’s even harder for children because we like to protect them. But when you help them see that other families have messy situations even if it’s from families in books, on TV or in the movies, you’re helping your child see that they aren’t an outcast, that they may not be so unusual.
Not speaking ill of your ex in front of your children is one of the fundamentals of parenting after divorce. I think that most people understand that speaking ill undermines that parent’s relationship with their child and puts the child in the middle of having to choose which parent to please. But it goes further. Children understand at a very young age that they come both of you, that they part you and part their other parent. That means when you speak ill of your ex you are speaking to part of your child. They won’t necessarily be able to make the distinction between themselves and their other parent and they may assume your criticism of your ex as criticism of them. It’s confusing for them and understandably may lower their self esteem.
Wendi Schuller is the author of The Woman’s Holistic Guide to Divorce. Read more about Wendi’s book and follow her blog at her website.
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