You may not be able to please everyone at all times, but you can do everything with love and compassion. Here are some tidbits, practices, and loose rules for considering yourself, your co-parent, and your children when the complications of divorce and single parenting get extra tricky.
As a therapist, one of my fundamental beliefs in parenting revolves around taking care of yourself and the positive impact that has on your child. In fact, it’s one of the things I get on my soap box about a lot. Doing what’s ultimately best and most healthy for you is typically doing what is best and most healthy for your child in most circumstances.
For so long in our culture (and often even still), the theme looked more like ignoring your own needs, wants, desires in order to focus on improving life for your children. There is always certainly a place for that kind of selflessness in parenting.
For instance, if my son is still hungry at dinner, I’m going to give him my last few bites. Or if he falls down at preschool and breaks an arm when I had plans to go have lunch with a friend, I’m going to pick him up from school and get him to a doctor, absolutely. Some of that is just parenting. It’s selfless in nature sometimes and I think that’s beautiful.
What I’m talking about is more about taking care of yourself and your needs and remembering who you are as a human, not just believing all the things will be better if you focus on your child’s issues.
Some examples of this could look like this: letting a babysitter come keep my kids sometimes so that I can continue creating healthy community with my friends. Or pursuing a dream I have that makes me come to life, even if it means we are not able to play soccer this year. There are a thousand of these choices each day in parenting, it seems, and similarly thousands in trying to become a more healthy person as well. I believe healthy parents make healthy children overall more than anything else.
One place where this gets extra tricky? After divorce. Suddenly both parents are single parents on duty when they each have the kids and there is less help for sharing the load or what’s best for each parent is no longer supported by another person ultimately wanting what’s best for the family. So, what then?
What do you do if what would be best for you would be moving for a job or moving closer to family but that would leave your ex-spouse hundreds of miles away from the kids? How do you stand up for yourself and also your kids then?
Worst of all, what do you do if what is best for you and what is best for your child’s other parent are in direct opposition of each other? What then?
Unfortunately, there is no hard fast guide on this one. It is likely, in fact, that each situation is a case by case scenario.
In life, in family, in divorce, it is impossible to please everyone all the time. You and I both know that in all the other realms of the world. In family though, it just happens to be more heartbreaking and painful sometimes. I wish more than anything that I could provide you a detailed guide on how to make every right decision in every scenario. (I would sure like that for my own life!)
Since we both know the impossibility of that, I will give you something else that feels a little more realistic. More like a guide to love and compassion along the journey.
Here are a few tidbits, practices, and loose rules that can help as bumper lanes along the way as you look to take care of yourself and your children as best you can.
1. Always remember this was you and your spouse’s decision together, not the children’s.
2. A working, communicating, non-hostile relationship with your co-parent goes a looooong way in making these decisions. (And in the overall health of your children!)
3. Being FOR each other helps everyone win. Wanting the best for yourself AND your child’s other parent helps create compassion and understanding.
4. While your children are still in the home, some sacrifices will always have to be made. Like it or not, you are still tied to the other parent because your child still needs them.
5. Learn to find what’s best for you and then what’s next best for you and then what’s best after that. Let all those ideas be options. Be creative with your solutions.
6. Stay considerate of everyone’s needs, including your own. Don’t settle for being a martyr every time or allow your spouse to do the same. Offer loads of grace to each and every party. This is not easy!
7. Ask for help and guidance along the way. Include wise mentors, friends, family, and therapists in your decision-making processes. One perspective may not be enough.
8. Try to stay away from rushing into rash decisions based on big emotions in a moment. Give yourself, your child’s other parent, and your children time to think, process, and be wise with each decision.
9. Be open to growing, learning, trying, failing, dusting yourself off, and trying again.
10. Listen to each other. Listen to your kids. Listen to your co-parent. Slowing down enough to hear each other will be a gift to everyone.
11. Remember that these years are short, ultimately. Your children will always be your babies, sure. But they will only be under your direct care and guidance for 18 years.
This comes as no surprise to anyone who has been a parent longer than five minutes – making decisions based on what’s best for yourself and what’s best for your kids can be extremely challenging, whether you are a single parent or happily married. This is a non-exclusive club.
Ultimately, we are all just trying to do the very best we can with what we have been given.
At the end of the day, everyone’s needs and feelings and desires matter, including your own.
Maybe what you need is practice believing that your needs and wants matter too. It is so easy to lose sight of yourself as a parent, but your children need you to be you, as best you can. If you fall in this category, let’s strengthen that muscle! Practice believing that your emotional and mental health directly correlates with your child’s emotional and mental health. Make a decision today that is something best for you. Decide today that you are worthy of love and care and respect too; do something kind for you that reflects that mindset.
Maybe there has been a lot of animosity between you and your spouse in this process and what you need practice in is remembering that he or she has feelings and needs and wants that matter too. Take time today in your mind (or maybe even with your words) to offer him or her extra grace and compassion. Believe for a minute that maybe they are doing the best they can too. Setting our brain’s metaphorical dial toward compassion makes a huge difference in how we interact with someone we tend to disagree with.
By the fact that you are on this site reading this blog, I would guess the next option is least likely, but it is worth mentioning regardless. Maybe it’s your child or children that you need to stop and think about today. Maybe you need to slow down and put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what it’s like to be going through this from their perspective in your family. Think about how each decision would affect you if you were them. How would you feel or react? Empathy changes perspective sometimes in huge ways.
You can only love your kids as well as you are loving yourself, but loving yourself does not always mean getting everything you want, just like loving your kids does not mean giving them everything they want either. Loving yourself consists of considering yourself and believing you are worthy of love and care too.
So, who is it you need to consider today? Who is it that has been overlooked as you have been trying to please everyone? Is it you? Is it your co-parent? Is it your kids? How can you slow down and see each of you in a compassionate light as you make heavy decisions?
Though it may be impossible to please everyone all the time, you certainly can offer love and compassion to everyone in each decision you make for yourself and your family.
We feel proud of and encouraged by each of you as you do this hard work and love yourself and each other well. Let us know how the decision processes go for you and how we can walk with you well along the way!
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