Sticks & Stones

August 25, 2014

Couples don't get divorced because everything is going smoothly and they are getting along. It is inevitable that the divorcees have disagreements both large and small that led to their split.

 If they have children together, differences of opinion on parenting may or may not play a role.

 The kids themselves didn't do anything wrong though, and in the vast majority of cases will still love and want to be around both parents.Mom_versus_Dad.jpg

 Those differences I referenced above can manifest themselves in different parenting styles, different strengths and weaknesses in parenting and different roles in the children's lives. This is to be expected, and I have touched on it before.

 With the different roles the parents play in their lives will come different reactions from the children. While “mommy lets me do it” is infuriating, “I don't want you, daddy” is heartbreaking. It is also frequent, unavoidable... And totally normal. 

Kids want different things from their parents. At different stages of development they will be more drawn to one or the other. Sometimes they cry to me that they want their mom, sometimes they cry to mom that they want me. In our dynamic, mom is the more comforting nurturing presence, and I am the goofier playmate who more often installs discipline. 

As I have referenced in previous posts, my parents also divorced. When I was very young, going with one or the other was just “how it is.” As I got older, though, my perception of “how it is” changed. Every time I went with one parent it felt like a referendum on the other. It was almost like I was being forced to judge and choose even though the path was laid out for me. No matter how much I loved being around one, I felt disloyal to the other. It wasn't a pleasant vibe, to say the least. 

Divorce rates have actually fallen since then, and the so called “amicable divorce” is on the rise. When my parents split that wasn't really a thing. I have talked before about feelings of inadequacy and helplessness brought on by divorce so I won't rehash that again, but I have personally felt very motivated to foster a closer partnership with my ex-wife as a parent. We can't escape our mutual responsibility to the children, so it makes sense to try to make it easier and more pleasant for them. 

After all, the kids didn't exactly ask us to split up. They have even expressed on multiple occasions that they want to do things with both of us. Every once in a while we make that happen. 

The thing to remember is the child expressing that they would prefer the other parents' company isn't trying to hurt you. They don't want to never see you again. They most likely say the same thing about being with you to the other parent. They also change their minds frequently - sometimes before they complete a sentence. 

It is important to avoid overreacting to these declarations of preference. Again, from personal experience, the kids don't really want to choose between you. They appreciate both parents for what they bring to the table. They want and need both of you to love and support them to grow into the best adults they can be. 

I have witnessed parents who do not get this. I have seen them say hurtful, awful things to their children about going with the other parent, about not being allowed to come back, and about not loving them anymore. I have seen this in public. I have seen this in horrific, screaming, embarrassing (to the viewer!) meltdowns. 

To those parents, I would offer this message. Your children do love you. They do want you. They are confused sometimes, they are inarticulate, and they love their other parent too. Their inability to appropriately express themselves is not their fault. 

To those children, I would simply say “I’m sorry.” And to mine I say, I will do my best to never be that parent.


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