Divorce is about the dissolution of a marriage, NOT the family – unless YOU let it be that way.
People often experience divorce as if it were a big wave that swept them off their feet, over a cliff and carried them out to sea. They flounder. They struggle to breathe and stay afloat. And many of them grab on to a divorce attorney as if he/she was a lifeboat that would save them. They assume this boat will take them where they need to go, even though they have absolutely no idea where that is. They forget that they once knew how to swim on their own. They forget that they are their own compass. They forget that now, more than ever, their children need them to be a steady beacon of light – proof that they are safe, loved and never lost.
I see too many people in my coaching practice who are blindsided and in shock by their divorce. And of course, it makes sense that you would feel this way. If you have kids, though, you can’t stay in that place. Divorce is a highly personal event. And while it represents a personal loss for YOU, it doesn’t have to be that way for your children. It CAN’T be that way. Divorce is about the dissolution of a marriage. It is NOT about the dissolution of a family – unless you let it be that way.
Your kids are depending on you to be a strong parent (and co-parent) right now and it is your mission to preserve a stable family structure for them. That structure probably doesn’t look the same as it once did, but your kids need to know – and feel – that your love for them is unshakeable. They need to hear it and see it. You need to reinvent your life WITH your kids. You need to create a co-parenting relationship with your ex that always put the kids first. You need to reinforce that you are still a family. Divorce doesn’t change that.
Believe me, I know. We never used the “D” word with my kids. Together, we told them that their father and I had decided not to be married anymore – but that we are STILL a family and ALWAYS will be. We explained that while we would live in different houses, the love that lives in our hearts for them is what is most important. Nothing can change that. It’s not enough to just say the words though. You need to show them every day. So, we both attend all of their school events, practices and games. We model responsible behavior and decision-making with one another, so that our kids can feel safe and secure. And we recognize that our kids need both of us in their lives as much as possible.
Please don’t think this is easy though. I had to learn to separate how I feel about my ex from what the family needs from him as a father. I had to acknowledge what was most important to me – my children – and put their needs above my hurt. I realized that my divorce was not the end goal, but just a transition on the way to a new family structure, one that would be more functional than before. There are also lots of resources, such as your attorney, collaborative divorce specialists and parenting coordinators, to help you create a workable co-parenting plan with your ex. Ultimately, all relationships take work. You’re building a new relationship, as a co-parent, with your ex. You are redefining your relationship with your kids. You have to walk that walk EVERY DAY. And it’s important to realize that you need to put aside your past and negative feelings for your children’s sake – for your family’s sake. It might not be easy, but there is huge fulfillment here.
Also, realize that this is an incredible opportunity to have a deeper relationship with your children. Once you are a co-parent, your time with your children is limited. Previously, you might have taken your time with them for granted, but now every precious minute counts so much more. Things are changing for them and for you – so use this time to have REAL conversations with your children. Ask them what they think and feel. Ask them what is most important to them. Be curious about who they really are as individuals. This is the time to take your relationship with them to the next level.
I know this might feel impossible if you are still caught up in the storm of your divorce. So, let your children be YOUR beacon of light, pointing the direction and showing you what is most important during this difficult time. They will show you your strength. And you will be strong in return. You need each other — that is what a family is. You are completely capable of reinventing your life in a way that gives your children stability and love. And never forget, you are always a family and nothing, not even a divorce, can take that away from you.