Kids Come First - or Do They?
Child centered divorce is really an oxymoron. If the divorce was truly child centered there would be no divorce. You see, there are two things all children want:
1. Two parents who love them.
2. Two parents who love each other.
How can you divorce and still live up to those expectations? Well, you can't. If your divorce was truly child centered, you would find a way not to. Of course that is much easier said than done.
Sometimes you hear people say things like, "Kids are the innocent victims of divorce." Others say that they are the victims of parents who divorce. Reality is that in divorce everyone is a victim.
This piece is about minimizing the impact on the kids. It begins and ends with seeing things from their perspective.
When Marriage Disaster Strikes
Divorce is easily one of the more traumatic experiences a person can go through. Emotions tend to take over and reason takes a backseat. When that happens, it is easy to forget that you're not the only one who is going through this. Forgetting about your spouse may not be a big deal, but what about the kids?
Kids are totally dependent on their parents for all of their needs. Filling those needs is the responsibility of the parents. Yes, they need food, shelter and clothing, but also such essentials as love, affection, being safe and secure, praise, appreciation, being heard, being informed just to mention a few.
I think it is possible to divorce in such a way that the kids come out empowered and stronger instead of traumatized and victimized. In this piece we're going to look at some strategies to make that happen.
Working as a team
I know what you're thinking. Working with your ex is going to be really difficult and you just can't do it. But I say to you: You can and you must. Get help.
Books About Child-Centered Divorce
What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger
It is true that children will be very concerned about practical issues like where will everybody live, where will the dog stay, can I see my friends, will I have to go to a new school, etc., etc. But make no mistake, there is much more to it than that.
Child centered divorce is about giving the kids the tools to deal with their new reality in an informed way. They will come out of it stronger and better equipped to deal with relationship problems in their own lives.
Get Out of Your Own Way
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35).
The love Jesus is talking about here is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the kind of love Jesus had for us. His love meant giving up his very life for us so that we could be saved. Of course you're not God or Jesus. Nobody expects you to actually die for anyone and certainly not for your spouse. In fact, that would be rather counterproductive. You wouldn't be much help to your children if you were dead, would you? Jesus just wants you to be willing to die, not actually die. He wants you to be a blessing, alive in someone else's life, in this case your children's, instead of in your own life.
Whether you're a follower of Jesus or not, that is what needs to happen in a child-centered divorce. Of course that is easier said than done when you're down in the dumps with problems coming at you from all sides. In an ideal world, your spouse would be doing the same and lots of problems would be easily solved.
Seeing Things From the Other Perspective
You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).
Notice how Jesus turns conventional wisdom upside down? So here's a challenge for you: See things not only from your children's perspective but also from your spouse's.
When you make plans for the future for yourself and your kids you're likely to learn that your plan doesn't make nearly as much sense to your spouse as it does to you. Now what? What is your reaction going to be? Anger? Yes, I thought so. And what's going to be your spouse's reaction to your anger? You guessed it, more anger.
This is when Jesus' approach really comes in handy. You're not Jesus, so you can only do it to a limited extent, but the more you can step into your spouses situation, figure out where he/she is coming from, what his/her interests are, the better you'll be able to give them what they want without giving up much of what you want. Does that make sense? Of course it does, but it is easier said than done. You do need help.
Hire a Professional Friend and Confidant
Every time you get professionals involved, you're likely to give up some control. They tend to begin to run the show for you and you're pretty much along for the ride. It is your job to control your professional, not the other way around. As difficult as this might seem, it is likely to be a whole lot easier than to control yourself and your emotions not to mention your spouses emotions.
A life coach is not a therapist. Therapists tend to look back, find out what is causing your problems and then try to make the changes to fix it. Life coaches are squarely focused on the future. Their role is to help you sort out your own vision for the future and then help you get there. They can't live your life for you, but they can help you make the most of it.
What Kind of Help to Get
Because it is so difficult to get out from under your own feelings, needs and wants and into somebody else's, you need help. Enlist an ally or two. Oh, and by-the-way, don't forget about what your kids want either. After all, that is why we're here isn't it?
Quite possibly the best help you can get is closer than you think. A trusted friend can help you maintain clear vision, serve as a reality checker and prop you up when you're down. If this option is not available, hire a professional, a life coach. Men, in particular, may find this useful. Loneliness is a major problem for them. You see, women are more vocal about what's going on in their heads. It's not considered manly to talk about your problems with others. You're a man. You're supposed to be able to take care of it yourself. The truth is that men are just as vulnerable as women but rarely have the support system they should have. Get professional help.
A professional life coach might even be better than a friend in some respects. He/she will not have the emotional baggage and loyalties a friend would. He/she can be more objective and will know how to tell you the truth even when it is painful to hear.
Hire a Mediator
A trusted friend or life coach will be completely on your side, A mediator will work for all of you, you, your spouse and particularly your kids. Their role is not to decide what is best for you, your spouse or the kids. His/her role is to help all of you to come up with the best solution for the whole family. Don't ever hand that kind of power over to a divorce court judge who doesn't even know you. For as long as you're still communicating even if it can only happen through a mediator, you still have at least some control over the outcome. Be sure never, ever to give up that power.
The mediator can be the go-between. He/she can help both of you transform your communications from destructive to productive. Instead of attacking each other, you will attack the problem together. The mediator can be the advocate for the kids when you cannot.
Remember, it's still a family. It's just being re-invented.
Do You Need an Attorney?
Yes, you do.
There are two things your attorney can do for you:
1. Educate you.
Your best defense against having your divorce disintegrate into an all out battle is good information, being educated about the process. A good attorney will tell you what to expect and when to expect the unexpected. The last thing you need are surprises.
2. Represent you.
Even with a trusted friend, a life coach and a mediator working for you, there is still a possibility that you could end up with a lopsided agreement. Have your attorney read it before you sign it and perhaps suggest some adjustments. Let him be the reality checker. Attorneys love to make suggestions. It makes them feel like they actually earned their money.
anonymous on January 06, 2014:
I try my best to put her first and sometimes I do accidentally forget she's hurting too. However, I would not do this on purpose, I love her far to much. Sadly her dad cannot see my point and tells big lies. He will tell her the most nasty things about our relationship, he will tell her she has to be mean to my partner, how she cannot see her own blood great grandparents whom are his grandparents all because he as fallen out with his gran for allowing my fiancé into her house. I totally disagree with this and feel its very selfish of them. I take her to see them on a regular basis, I stay with her most of the time and have a cup of tea they absaloutly doubt on my daughter so why should I stop her seeing them? even if they are not my family? they are her family! so I try I do. But he doesn't seem to care so no my little one isn't coming first and this is wrong! So thankful you've written about this. I only seem to get nasty and negative things said to me when I say these thing similar to you!