On divorce, be the adult you hope your children will be

What do I mean by ‘On divorce be the adult you hope your children will be‘? Well, it’s very easy not to be adult when we are hurt, angry and in pain. We lash out, say things we don’t really mean or say things we do mean, but we wouldn’t say if we weren’t feeling triggered, and had more control of our emotions.

This blog was inspired by the Facebook post of Billy Flynn Gadbois– you may have seen it, as it went viral! If you didn’t and you want to read it it’s here: Divorced Father’s Facebook PostBilly is a divorced father of two young boys. As it was his former wife’s Birthday, he took her flowers and cards from his children and helped them make her breakfast. 

His former wife complained and asked him why he kept doing these things for her. His answer may surprise you.

  • Is it because he want to impress her? No!
  • Is it because he feels guilt? No!
  • Is it because he wants her back? No!

In fact, its actually got very little to do with her or her Birthday! 

Billy said “I’m raising two little men. The example I set for how I treat their mom is going to significantly shape how they see and treat women and affect their perception of of relationships…. So if you aren’t modelling good relationship behaviour for your kids, get your (act) together”.

So. Whether you are raising little men, little ladies or both, remember that you are always modelling behaviour to them. How you treat yourself and how you treat others.

Keep your divorce child-centred

The easiest way (note I say ‘easiest’ – not ‘easy’) to be a good role model for your children is to follow a child-centred divorce. As ever, my posts are not written for you if you and your children have experienced, or are experiencing domestic abuse. For you, protection and safety should always come first.

Domestic abuse can be emotional, physical or financial. It is not the same as having heated disagreements as your relationship ends, where either one of you or both say unpleasant things to each other (which is unusual for the two of you).  Domestic abuse usually occurs in a pattern, over time. If you are in that position, seek support. Women’s Aid can help.

If that’s not you, then a child-centred approach will be helpful. It means putting your children first. It means setting aside your differences, anger, resentment and hurt to focus on what’s best for the children. Not just in terms of home, maintenance, time with both of you, but in how you treat each other as co-parents, and fellow human beings. Shout and be vile to your former partner – your children are going to think that’s ‘normal’ and an ‘acceptable’ way to treat others. That means they are more likely to go on and repeat that pattern in their own relationships. Would you want that for them and your grandchildren? I didn’t think so.

When there’s too much hurt and anger

When there’s too much hurt and anger, that you find it impossible to work together in a child-centred way, get help. That might be in the form of Family Mediation which is particularly useful if communication and focus is challenging right now. Family Mediators work in a child-centred way because the court does. A court (should you end up there), won’t be interested in the minutiae of your disagreements, who said what and when (unless there’s domestic abuse and I’m not talking about that here). All the court will be interested in is, what’s best for your children. In truth, the court would rather that you decided that between you. 

If issues run deeper, visit your GP for referral to a counsellor or psychotherapist. You may want to try relationship counselling together (yes you can use relationship counselling to resolve end of marriage issues). Often the end of relationships trigger old childhood wounds that are long buried. Fears of abandonment, not feeling good enough, betrayal by a loved, and many more, can trigger child hood behaviours that make it challenging to act like a rational adult. This is very common and nothing to feel ashamed about, but unless you deal with that pain in an appropriate way, it’s unlikely to resolve and you are more likely to pass those behaviours on to your children – we do all learn from the videos of life we were shown as children.

Allow your children to love both of you equally

Allow your children to love both of you equally. That centres and grounds them both as children and adults. It allows them to experience that it is possible to move forward from relationships that haven’t worked. Fears that your children will love one of you more than the other are common. That insecurity is borne out of uncertain times and worries that you aren’t ‘good enough’. Ask yourself if that’s really real? So the other parent may be able to ‘treat’ your children to expensive gifts, days out and holidays in a way that you perhaps can’t. Younger children are often impressed by this but don’t underestimate their need for you and all that you give. The truth is, as they get older they get wise to that and can resent the feeling of being ‘bought’.

If you can, discuss these types of issues and build them into your Parenting Plan about spending on the children so one of you doesn’t give the children everything financially. Remember – the parent that does that feels just as insecure about your children’s affections as you do!

Emma Heptonstall is a Family Mediator at Crombie Wilkinson Your Family First in York UK. Public Funding is available. For further information on family law matters and Family Mediation, call 01904 624185