Are you getting divorced? It’s time to follow a 3-step parenting action plan for developing better relationships with your children.
Parenting Action Plan Step 1: Build an emotional shield.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to build an emotional shield that keeps your anger and resentment from impacting your children. If, as a parent, your emotional shield is already constructed, it’s time to reinforce it.
And let’s get something straight: If you believe that as long as you don’t explicitly badmouth your ex you’re staying ahead of the game, also consider how your emotions make it very difficult to keep your lips zipped about your feelings toward your children’s other parent.
The bad feelings creep up on you. Keep them away from your kids.
Parenting Action Plan Step 2: Seek a Stress Outlet
You know what this is about. Don’t tell me you don’t have time to take care of yourself. When you finally recognize that ignoring your well-being negatively impacts your children, you’ll find ways to re-arrange and reschedule. It typically takes just one big mistake that makes you feel like a horrible mom (perception, not reality), and you’ll become willing to move things around.
Stress-relief is as personal and unique as you are. You may know those kinds of activities that help you to decompress, or you may be struggling to figure that out. Devote one hour to soul-searching and exploring, and then choose. Plan the activity and DO IT. Afterward, if it wasn’t as helpful as you had wished, keep searching until you find what’s right for you.
To help me unwind, I like to watch bad reality television about rich housewives. You may prefer to exercise, to begin a tea ritual, to schedule time with a friend, or start or a craft or hobby. Some people like to browse the aisles in Sephora (raises hand). Eventually, you’ll discover your “thing.” Continue doing that “thing” at least once a week, or more as time allows. It’s not an indulgence; it’s a necessity.
Parenting Action Plan Step 3: Develop a Script
I’ll tell you a story about how I screwed up by letting my emotions get the best of me and not knowing the right way to respond. First, some background:
I’m peeved that I didn’t negotiate enough vacation time in my joint parenting agreement. While my attorney and I were reviewing the document, I conceded that time off wasn’t as important as financial support. I was a stay-at-home mom for more than a decade, and I knew that finding a job would be difficult. More worried about being financially afloat than being literally afloat on a warm ocean, I gave in, and I accept that responsibility. It still irks me, however.
During Spring Break, our agreement states, the kids stay with their dad for half the days, and with me for the other half. Recently, after returning from my half-week, I was beginning to feel the stress of coming back to the day-to-day responsibilities of an anti-vacation. That’s when one of my sons started ranting about how bored he was while at his dad’s house, and that it wasn’t fair he was sentenced to be bored like that every year.
Naturally, I reacted. Unfortunately, my reaction was a disaster.
“You know, I deserve some time off once in a while. I take care of you two for most of the year, and your dad gets you for only 27 hours a week!”
This is what my son heard: It’s a burden to take care of him and his brother.
My emotional explosion did allow me to release some steam but at a cost.
Thinking back to that conversation with my son, I’ve come up with a better response – something I should have said:
“Next year you should talk to your dad about what you would like to do while you’re there. Maybe you can plan a short trip.”
That sentence would have communicated that he is partly responsible for determining how he will spend his time and would have kept my personal feelings out of the conversation.
But you know what they say about hindsight, which is why it’s useful to prepare a script, of sorts, to respond to emotional triggers. It’s crucial to keep your bad feelings to yourself, but also important to find the right words. For example, if I had said, “sometimes we can’t get what we want” when my son complained it would have led to more frustration on his part. When you write your script, think about how your words can help empower your kids rather than make them feel small and helpless.
Occasionally, you will make mistakes when reacting to your children. Fortunately, mistakes lead to learning if we are self-aware, make an effort to accept responsibility and correct ourselves accordingly. Forgive yourself, and then be proactive about making your plan. While we like to think of ourselves as being a “natural” as a parent, in any job we have to continue to improve our skills or we’re going to mess up.
Your divorce will remodel the landscape of your parenting job, and there will be new stressors that will complicate your workload. Build and reinforce your emotional shield, find an outlet for your stress, and then prepare to respond appropriately in tough conversations. This kind of action plan will make you a better parent and will lead to better relationships with your children.