In working with kids impacted by divorce, one of the most common things we hear is that kids don’t understand why their mom and dad don’t get along. “I always feel like my mom gets mad if I have fun when I see my dad – and then I never feel like I can talk to my dad about how much I miss my mom; why can’t they get along and stop putting me in the middle?” As adults who are no longer a couple, it is hard to “get along” and at a minimum it’s awkward when we see each other; however, for kids it’s important to remember that from their lens mom and dad are their two FAVORITE HUMANS and how mom and dad interact after a divorce sets the emotional tone for the children.
Facial expressions, body language and tone of voice all tell a story to the shared children. Often kids report to us that mom and dad literally don’t speak to each other at the ball games or the weekend exchanges or even as the child comes off the stage after a high school graduation. The “silent war screams loudly” to children when the two people they love the absolute most are sending a strong signal that everything is NOT OK.
As a divorced mom, I have had hundreds if not thousands of overlapping moments when my daughter’s dad and I were at sporting events, dance recitals, school functions and weekly handoffs between his home and mine. We divided households when our daughter was one and she turned twenty just a few weeks ago. In all of those hundreds, maybe thousands, of overlapping moments as co-parents, we have both tried to always remember that we want to put her needs first. We wanted Angelia to feel comfortable and at ease emotionally when mom and dad were in the same space. When she was five she gained a wonderful stepmom and when she was nine she gained a stepfather. Now she would tell most people she has four parents and a large family of people that love her.
One of THE most important things we are showing our kids when we are around each other as co-parents (ex’s) is how to behave responsibly (or not). We are also writing a story they will carry in their hearts forever about their childhood. Mom writes the story of mom. Dad writes the story of dad. Stepparents write their own stories that are important in the life of a child in a divided home. Overall, when the kids grow up and look back, what do you want them to say about you? You can’t write the ex’s story – you can’t make them do the right thing or stop doing the wrong thing – you can only control and write YOUR STORY. Think about 20 years from now and how your children will look back and speak of you. Did you act mature in public around your ex? Did you give you kids the freedom to actively love and enjoy their other parent? Or did you stay angry and take every opportunity to engage in conflict around the other person and thus put your children’s emotional stability at risk? No matter what you have done in the past, this is a New Year and FORWARD THINKING IS 2020!! I challenge you to think about your child’s emotional peace of mind and what they will say and remember about YOU far above what you don’t like about your co-parent. Set the example of how mature, kind and level headed adults act in public, even when it is awkward or complicated as well as how intentional parents are when they support and affirm their children’s love for BOTH parents, not just one.
20 years from now your children will tell the story you wrote with your actions, body language, facial expressions and tone of voice when you were around the other parent – may this year begin a new chapter of a great story you are writing as a parent, even if you are co-parenting between two homes!
Tammy Daughtry, MMFT –Author and Founder of CoParentingInternational.com and ModernFamilyDynamics.com. She and her husband live in Nashville and have a blended family of four!