I wish this pout had seemed sweet on December 28, 2012. I wish it had made me want to smile. But on December 28, 2012, my sweet Sophia wasn’t just pouting. She was throwing an all out tantrum. The cause of the tantrum? I was picking her up from her dad for my parenting time. It makes me want to start sobbing even now. I have waited over a year to write about this and as I sit typing, a large lump has formed in my throat.
It was primarily a product of inopportune timing. You see, her paternal grandparents had just arrived in town from Texas for an after-Christmas visit and here I arrived at the hotel to whisk her away for my weekend. So in the lobby of the Double Tree hotel, she kicked and cried and clung to her dad as if her dear life depended on it saying over and over she didn’t want to go with mommy. She did this in front of her dad, my former in-laws, her sister, and to add insult to my injury, in front of his girlfriend and her son. To say I was mortified doesn’t even scratch the surface. I stood there stunned. To this day I have no idea how I didn’t burst into tears on the spot.
Her dad carried her to my car and forced her into her booster seat. I drove away with her crying in the backseat. I messaged him when I got home asking if I should just bring her back. We didn’t have plans. I understood that she wanted to spend time with the grandparents she doesn’t see very often. I wanted to give in and make her like me again. He supported me and told me to stay strong – that she would quickly get over it. And she did. I didn’t.
It was a lesson for me in not taking things personally. Do not take how your children feel personally. Read that about 100 more times and slowly the concept will sink in. It is a theory made more impossible as a divorced parent. We constantly worry that we are messing up our children. We look for signs in their every movement of divorce scarring. We forget that we are completely flawed parents struggling just like every other parent. But unlike other happily married parents, we carry the divorce burden on our shoulders as a constant reminder that our divorce directly caused our children emotional distress at some point.
I remembered this painful learning when my oldest daughter complained to me a few months back about going to her dad’s house. She wanted to stay with me. Because of the holidays our schedule had been off and she hadn’t seen me as frequently. She just missed me. Just like Sophia the year prior just missed her grandparents. I was mindful not to take it personally – even when my ego begged for it.
Parents often fall into the temptation of believing they are a superior parent or something must be wrong at the other parent’s house when our children express a passing preference. We want it to mean that – but it doesn’t. We want to use it to pit ourselves against the other parent or to falsely believe we are better than the other. But it just means that children have normal, transitory feelings. Our job as parents is to not take our children’s feelings personally. Our job as parents is to help them navigate and honor their feelings as best we can. Our job as parents – yes even as parents of divorce – is not to give in to the pout… ours or theirs.