I have two sons ages four and three (and of course they will tell you “soon to be” five and four). The challenges of being a single parent seem to have little to do with the kids themselves, but rather your relationship with the other parent involved. How do you split their time? Do you consult openly and regularly on matters like their health, their education and how you discipline them? How do you do all this with a person that you most likely have had a falling out with at one point in your relationship history that ranges from mild to knock-down-drag-out?
For me, that is the true challenge of being a single parent when both parents are involved in the child’s lives. I don’t get along very well with my kid’s mom. I think she lies about her life, about their lives and does so simply to make her life easier. Of course this is my opinion and I assume her opinion would be totally different (thus why we are divorced). So how do you manage that relationship in a way that is best for your kids?
I have my kids three days per week and my ex-wife has them for four days. The real challenge in this for me is the transitions. When I am about to get the kids, I am mostly excited but also a little nervous. Do I remember how to do this??? Of course this is completely irrational. It has only been four days since I have seen them, but nevertheless it is there. Then there is the transition to when they go back to their mom. By then we have gotten back into a routine and a life together that feels right, and then just like that it is over. This is the time that can be a little empty and hollow, but as always this is the time to focus on the positive of how they make you feel and how you have enriched their lives while they were with you.
I think the first step in successfully navigating these dual relationships is to separate your relationship with the other parent from the relationship with your kids. This of course is made more difficult when there are issues relating to raising the kids that you and the other parent must consult on, yet you alone have to have a belief that what YOU are doing is right for your children and then work to make that a reality with the other parent. It is easy to be dragged into confrontation with the other parent, it is difficult to bite your tongue and focus solely on your kids-it is what you HAVE to do.
These are some things that I try to focus on with my kids:
- Focus on your plan for them from the minute you have them. Many times there may be a transition of sorts back to your method of parenting as compared to the other parent so stick to it.
- Do not allow yourself to be bothered by stories of “how great it was” with the other parent, instead bask in your child’s excitement.
- Engage with your kids immediately. You can be mentally and physically worn down from all life is throwing at you when you do not have your kids so it is important to make a real effort to interact with your kids from the minute they are in your care. Don’t just give them a snack and plop them down in front of the TV, do something that allows interaction between you all.
- Always focus on the joy they bring to your life!!
Even though you can always feel like you are playing “catch-up” to all of life’s other demands when you do not have your kids, it is important to take a moment or two during this time to think of how much you enjoyed your time with them and maybe simply sketch out an idea of what you will be doing the next time you see them. Maybe plan a trip somewhere? Is there a toy they want that they have earned with great behavior? Don’t just wing it, make the most of the time you have with them by making a plan of what you will do BEFORE you have them.
By all means be the bigger person! Easier said then done I know, but it is what you must do for the well-being of your children. Your kids easily sense and understand your moods. Don’t let your anger, impatience or disdain for the other parent taint your relationship or your time with your kids. Make your own life plan for your kids and work to meld that plan with that of the other parent. If there is conflict, don’t fight but listen and when all else fails simply step away from that relationship and regroup whenever possible. There is no benefit to your children in the conflicts that exist between their parents. While you certainly have to embrace a sense of compromise with the other parent, it is imperative that you create a plan that YOU think is right for your children’s lives and stick to that despite what the other parent may think, say or do. Of course there will be conflict, but it is your job to effectively manage that conflict in a way that is not harmful to your kids.
Kids don’t choose their parents, that is simply their luck of the draw. I always strive to make sure that they feel endlessly lucky that they ended up with me!