So here you are, post the divorce. Daddy dearest to the devilish little lights of your life. Picking up the pieces. Moving on. Getting back out there. Finding love – maybe. That special someone for you outside of your former life. Husband no more, father forever. She might even be excited to meet these little rugrats of yours. She’s the girl for you after all; any trepidation there means you possibly won’t be making the leap of introducing her to your family in their likely-to-be tumultuously reshaped lives. The divorce was a landmark for all. You know there’s no point in taking her just to snap pictures and bail. She’s in: Now, what to do? How to do this?
Kids are a funny thing. We’ve all been there. We all know. Why is it so hard to remember? When was your parents’ split? These days, divorce is so common it might not even shake them up as it did you. If you’re the special sort who grew up with both parents, the good old fashioned “nuclear fam,” you still saw your friends’ families split up, the excited kids who knew how to play up that guilt for sweet double gifts, maybe even good enough to get their respective ‘rents to up the ante and top each other at the Buying Love game. The kids who withdrew into themselves, something different about them but still a mystery to all. The kids who didn’t care and the ones who rebelled, the ones who told the world to go screw itself because they said everything is a lie and everyone leaves you. We’ve met all sorts of kids in our lives and all of us, you, too, are the products of those same kids. We were all one of them and now we can only look from the outside, staring in. Knowing so much more and so much better, but just as lost sometimes. Just the same, only older.
So how do you look your kids in the eye, after everything you’ve all gone through, together and individually, and deliver more news, more change? Well, no one knows your kids like you.
The thing to remember is that they’re on your life journey and you’re on theirs.
What’s going on in their lives? Divorce and school stuff, social stuff, kid thoughts, family issues abounding or settling, possible home/school moving, losing 25,000 souls with one stupid roll off a cliff in Dark Souls 2 (hopefully this is a teen; younger kids might be dealing with Minecraft troubles). Life is Tough. This is change, and it’s always weird to deal with change. So you take them out for some fun and you hang out and listen to them talk about what’s going on – if you’re lucky. You play with the little ones. You relate to the pubescent woes of the older ones. You are a family, together, as always.
What a lot of people – you? – don’t realize is that we bring new people into our families all the time. That childhood best friend who is “uncle” to your kids that he’s seen grow up, looking and acting just like you did back when you guys first met in the woods behind your houses, or on the playground, or anywhere. Family is sacred.
Sacred. That’s what your kids are to you. That’s what you are to them, even if they hate you. You’re their one and only father, role model daddy, the superhero and villain and wicked cool guy they admire, vehemently or reluctantly. Your daughter wants you to walk her down that aisle. Your son wants to be an even better you. They want to make you proud. They want You to make them proud. So, now’s the time to be that man. To be their sacred father and lay it out there.
You’ve been through so much. You married a woman you love, you worked and built a home and family. You caused them pain maybe because in your life, in your path, you came to a point where something needed to change. Whatever your reasons, you and their mom split up. You’ve now become a divorced man, single again, trying to put your life back together. You don’t have it all down. You’re not perfect. You’re trying just like everyone, just like them, just like you’re supposed to be doing. So, you’re living and they’re a part of your life and the most important one. You’re nervous now to show them the rest of it. In the rest of it, there’s no longer just your job and wife. Sometimes you go play pool. You’ve taken up rugby or guitar. You’re learning to dance! That’ll get a giggle out of them. You’re moving on and you’re meeting people and you’ve met one you like a lot. You like her so much that she’s going to be sticking around. She’s important enough that you think they should all meet. That’s all there is to it. She’s no replacement, she’s something new altogether, she’s just herself and you like that self.
Now, ideally, all will go well. But this isn’t a fantasy land. Your kids might struggle with it. All you can do now is be there for them. To process it with them. To help them to process. To just be there, to listen, to understand them. To save them and make everything all better, in that ideal world. SuperDad to the rescue. Make their hurt, fear, confusion go away. Make everything just as it always was, when things were secure and the same and never, ever changed. Lay down the cape. These are real people. Their minds process things differently than ours. Kids take Everything in, they’re looking around, they’re definitely Thinking. They’re thinking so much about everything that they can’t always be concerned with practical matters the way our oh-so-developed minds can. They’re ditching the boring and going for the gold. They sometimes forgo rationalizations and leave you at a loss. They may take it personally because their worlds, like yours and most, are about themselves. That means: How these things relate to them. How much they may or may not be willing to take in a change. Doesn’t the world know that they don’t want it to change?
Let them cry. Thank goodness they have that outlet. You’re a man. You’re an adult and a role model. You’re not so lucky to be free to feel everything that you undoubtedly feel and let that frustration and fear flow out. Hug them because a hug from a father, or even a touch, a look, can melt away so many of the evils of their little wide worlds. This is your power.
Talk to the little people in your life like the grand people they are, the most important and meaningful part of your life…but not the only part of it. Just like their whole life isn’t just about school or Super Smash Bros. or baseball. Just like they have a crush on the cute redhead or the shy boy in Algebra, you met someone you want to be in your life. You can’t keep these two things separate. They don’t hang up their mitts and forget about baseball the second they get to school. They don’t forget that episode of Adventure Time just because it’s time for History. We don’t compartmentalize. They don’t exist in a vacuum and neither do you. That’s all this is: you’re living and your life has met up with another and you want to share some of it, right now. It won’t necessarily be easy, but things are hardly ever easy. What it is – is worth it, it’s vital, it’s respect enough in them and yourself to face this possible bad scenario with honesty and conviction. That’s being a man. If they can’t admire or recognize that yet, they will.
After all, they are your kids. Have some faith in them. They have it in you, undoubtedly, despite themselves or not. You’re a lucky man. You’re their father.
- This article was written by Teresa Virani, Co-Founder of coparently – a scheduling and communication tool for divorced and separated parents to organize & manage shared custody. Adjusting to co-parenting after divorce or separation is often a huge transition for dads. And when you haven’t been the primary caregiver before,…