“I hate him,” she sent the text in a fury. It came across my screen like an arrow, not so much aimed at my heart but at least my shoulder, causing me to metaphorically wince. “What happened?” I replied. She told me the tale – none of the details relevant – because all my heart hurt about was her distress, sadness, and pain.
All kids experience this at some point about each of their parents. And if you are sitting there smugly reading this and thinking my child will never hate me – let me tell you the day is coming, or it has already passed, and you were lucky enough not to have those thoughts from your child shared with you.
I suspect if my former spouse and I were still married and living in the same house together and these words had been thrown at one of us – later, in private and out of earshot of our child, we may have commiserated, smiled, and backed the other for whatever action led to the aggrieved angst of our teenager.
Instead, we no longer share a household. We no longer share a relationship. We no longer share trust, compassion, and our feelings with each other. So, when I read my daughter’s message – all I felt was rage. This anger was soon followed by a mother’s indignation that is felt when anyone harms our child.
My desire to defend and protect her overcame me. But angst for my daughter was not the only force at work. All of the evidence I have gathered, albeit unintentionally and subconsciously, since my marriage collapsed ten plus years ago came front and center. Thoughts that my ex-spouse is out to hurt me, cannot be trusted, and is not as good a parent as me provided the steely armor that encased me ready for battle.
I wanted to send a scathing text. No better yet I will call and raise holy hell. NO! I will go over and pick up my children and bring them home to my house for safety, security, and soothing. And maybe I even have cookies I can give them. I will rescue them!
Fortunately, I was in the middle of watching a captivating Netflix series on a serial killer and wanted to finish the episode before riding off in my SUV. By the time the show was over my daughter had already messaged me something completely unrelated to the aforementioned incident and we both kinda just forgot about it. Now, looking back I was like a lion that got poked, stood up and let out a loud roar, and then promptly laid back down and fell asleep.
Such are our emotions as divorced parents. There are likely not enough numbers in the universe to count the times we feel aggravated by our co-parents not doing it the way we would do it.
These three tips may support you (and me) the next time your children make a complaint about their other parent’s household, behavior, or rules.
- Pause. With the pausing you want to make sure and do some breathing. And when I say pause – I mean like pause for a minimum of 24 hours. Easier said than done for sure – but trust me. Time will be your greatest ally.
- Prepare. If after a good solid day of reflecting, venting to your closest friend, and a glass of wine you still feel a conversation is warranted. Prepare for the conversation. Look at the situation giving your co-parent the benefit of every doubt. Remember that your child is telling you the facts from their perspective and these may not always be 100% based in reality. Be prepared to ask questions rather than allege judgments.
- Persist. Persist in the aim to be a good co-parent. This is the most important relationship that can benefit your children in the big picture. Treat your co-parent how you want to reciprocally be treated. Read that about 3 more times. You would not want your co-parent coming at you with accusations, anger, and judgement. Persist in perching yourself on that higher road.
For many of you, co-parenting is the hardest relationship you will have. Much harder even than when you were married and miserable. I know this from experience and share the tools I use at least weekly. And if you only remember to do one of these things next time – just keep practicing. Eventually your armor will be dismantled and your huge heart for your children will be the only thing shining.