Divorce is an invitation to discover new ways to love where love was absent, especially for kids.
Can divorce be good for kids? I would not recommend it. Yet, divorce happens and when it does, it's been my experience that the more love expressed through acceptance and honoring helps everyone, especially kids.
There is no doubt about the tearing nature of divorce. The immediate family is torn apart, sending shock waves to distant family members. Within its unique dynamics, the words and actions of every person contributes to the redefinition of what family would be going forward, perhaps for generations.
Children cannot help but get swept up in the dynamics to no fault of their own. How children build back up depends largely on how the adults around them respond. Are responses based in fear, which serve to create more fear? Or are intentions, words and actions based in reconciliation and healing? Having experienced divorce firsthand from three different angles, let me weigh in.
My parents divorced when I was thirty-five, hardly a kid. I remember hearing an inner question, why did they wait so long? You see, family had no longer become a nourishing source for me. The love that was present around the holidays and family visits surfaced from memories or brought in by my brother, sisters and relatives.
Little love naturally flowed out. Having this insight did not protect me from the pain of their decision to end a key identity in my life. The news hurt and rocked me to my core. Even though the love had drained out of my parents' relationship years before, my observations did not stop the waves of feelings and questions as to who I was and my sense of family now.
Then, ten years later, I initiated the tearing of my own family—one could say that the divorce cycle repeated in my case. The decision was devastating, even for the initiator. My two boys were entering their teenage years, prime time for a constructive male role model, and our relationship was about to change in a big way.
Dreams popped. Disappointment took up residence. The prospect of fun vanished. The future was unknown.
Within a couple of years, I married my high school sweetheart, who had experienced her own divorce with her two children. Our marriage immediately inserted me into the step-father role to her two young adult children who were very active in their own lives.
Fast forward to today, after surviving the high school and college years, celebrating two marriages and the births of two grandchildren, the grieving of the passing of one child, I think we are all doing okay, and the work continues. Everyone responds differently to a crisis and divorce is no different.
Has the divorce been good for the kids? If you ask any of them I suspect they each would answer, yes and no, probably not in that order. From my vantage point, the divorce forced them to deal with more mature questions about their reality, define their sense of self-responsibility, take a look at relationships with a keener eye and invite them to expand their definition of family and question love.
Good subjects for personal development. Their level of success seems tied to their willingness to be open to all the newness, you know, whether they could go with the flow.
All three divorces removed all conventional ways of parenting. All divorces are unique in the context of the players, emotions, values, family traditions, visitation schedules—you get the picture.
As a parent, your role modeling days do not end at divorce, in fact I would say there's a heightened awareness of your actions going forward, and families last a lifetime regardless of your role. So, allow me to share three intentions that helped me help all the children make the best out of a tough situation.
1. Do Your Own Work.
Everyone in a situation contributes to the outcome of the situation in one way or another. In that light, I wanted to learn how I contributed to the breakup. Once I learned, then I could change. No one else can change for me.
So, I would ask, what was my role? What did I need to change in me in terms of my thinking, feelings, attitude, words and actions? Gaining greater self-awareness gave me greater wisdom, and applying greater wisdom demonstrated personal growth and provided a constructive role model. In taking responsibility for doing my work invited everyone else to do his or her work, gaining better understanding as to how each of us impacts our own life.
The next step was simple, yet not always easy. I just expanded my inner work to my outer world.
2. Forgive, Understand And Accept.
As I was able to understand, accept and forgive myself, I was able to understand, accept and forgive others. I continue to be a work in progress, much like everyone else around me. That goes for you, too.
Of the three, forgiveness was the most difficult work, yet it resulted in the most powerful benefits. It's one of those wonderful expressions of love. I held a space of understanding as my kids reacted to the destruction of their family as they saw it, and did their own process of reconciliation.
As a parent is not easy to suspend judgment, yet something told me that I would learn a lot more about my sons by seeking to accept their perceptions as an accurate picture of how they saw their world—even if I disagreed with them. The more I could accept their process, meet them where they were emotionally, offer guidance through discussions and questions, the more we progressed.
3. Expect The Unexpected.
I could not predict how my life after my divorce would look like one, two, five, fifteen years down the road. There were long periods of silence, attention seeking, misunderstandings, off-the-chart anger, manipulation, hurt filled words, acting-out, legal entanglements, and lonely holidays. Beneath all of the experiences there was a continual intention to seek the love in every experience, good or bad, for I know love is always present.
The way I see it, children continually watch their parents. Yep, my parents' divorce taught me a lot, most of which could be improved upon. I learned to keep learning.
Share your learning. Express love, as you know it, as much as you can. Exchange judgment and your need to be right with understanding. Accept and forgive everyone, especially yourself and be ready for anything.
Modeling these actions help you continue to teach your children well, giving them the best opportunity to pull the good out of divorce. If you can do it, you invite them to do it.
Want to know how you can be a positive influence in a negative situation? Send Scott Erickson at OPTIMUS an email. I am happy to help.