Are you consumed by anger at your ex, and outraged by her demands and behavior? Are you pretty sure you are right, and she’s wrong about, well, almost everything? Does she try to control what you do with the kids on your time and show little flexibility when it comes to your time? Well, you aren’t alone.
In fact, many dads feel there is an imbalance of authority and control over the kids post-divorce. If you have not traditionally been the primary caregiver to your kids, you may find yourself with new responsibilities along with all the old demands. You may not know how to do it all at once. And, if you haven’t made most decisions historically about the kids, your former wife may think she gets to continue to do it even when it should be up to you.
In fact, the constant stream of communication, advice giving and straight up ranting can seem endless. It may seem overwhelming, and you want to do anything to make it stop. You are not alone as many other dads have found themselves in your position, filled with anger at your ex and ready to walk away from the whole thing.
You Can Calm the Anger At Your Ex
The truth is that, for both parents, divorce is a time of shifting of power and control. And although you may not sympathize with your ex, you certainly can likely acknowledge there is a real change for her too. So, if you can calm the overwhelm and anger, it’s likely you might decide you need to cope with whatever is thrown at you and make it work for you and your kids.
No matter the difficulty in this transition, however, there are three key reasons you cannot decide to abandon your kids because of it.
Why You Can’t Abandon Your Kids
- It hurts your kids. You may ultimately believe you are expendable because, according to your ex, you do everything wrong anyway. You aren’t. In fact, it helps kids to see that there is more than one way to manage a situation, even when their parents are married. In divorce, kids build resilience and good coping skills when they see their parents can support them well, if differently.
You can talk honestly with your kids about your struggles to manage it all but don’t try to make them take care of you, emotionally or physically. You can build a teamwork mentality; however, that will make your kids better able to take good care as they learn and grow. Create a household schedule with shared responsibilities. Usually, even the youngest of kids can participate in helping get ready for dinner, clean up, and other housework. You may even create financial or other incentives for pitching in on extra chores. Motivate your kids to appreciate hard work, and it will pay off for the rest of their lives.
When you need to do it, block out the noise. Set aside one time each day to review email from your ex. Don’t respond to toxic messages, at all, and communicate simply and neutrally to the others. This makes certain you are shielded, on a limited basis at least, from that which you cannot control, and make sure you keep the focus on what does: the kids.
- It hurts you. You may believe you can just re-connect with your kids when they turn 18. Guess what? That’s too late. Sure, you may have heard stories about dads that do that, but if you probe a little deeper, you most often find the relationship is never restored to the level they once had with their children. In fact, there are too many sad tales of children who imagine they were abandoned by their fathers because they did something wrong.
It doesn’t help to tell the kids it’s because of their mother, by the way. Remember, she’s the other parent to them, and they deserve to love you both very much. Don’t stand in their way even if you genuinely believe she stands in yours.
In a practical sense, you need to develop coping skills and an outlet for the difficulty. If you don’t get physical exercise and practice mindfulness too, start. If you already do, push harder. Get out of the mental space of focusing exclusively on the difficulty you face and learn to manage your thoughts better. When thoughts turn negative, use a physical prompt, ear pull, wrist snap with a rubber band, to shift away from that pattern. It works! Physical activity and meditation, even briefly each day, is a great way to do this and also get you in better shape for all you need to manage in your new life too.
If you find yourself too angry or sad to make a change, get professional help. Unless it’s been a pattern, it’s likely situation, and a professional coach or therapist can help you identify ways to cope too. You will be better for it in the long run.
- It Will Always Be With You. You may have been able to outrun pain in other areas of your life by ignoring it. It’s much less easy to do with kids. You will not forget them, and you will likely suffer legal and financial consequences for abandoning them too.
Staying engaged with your kids is a down payment on your emotional and physical health for the future. The link between mental and emotional health is now clear. If you disconnect from your kids, it’s a huge loss for your health too. It may seem simpler, in the moment, to walk away and compartmentalize the anguish by blaming your ex, but you must recognize that isn’t fair to either of you.
Don’t Let Her See You Sweat
Consider the mantra, “This too shall pass.” As hard as it may seem to communicate with someone who may no longer your ally, but is still the other parent of your children, it is possible. Simple and neutral rules the day. Don’t let her see you sweat and try to make clear that you can handle whatever arises with the kids. Whatever ideas you have about her desire to control or manipulate, it’s likely she loves the kids as much as you. Figure out how to work it out for them. And remember that it takes a while for new habits to form. Don’t expect change immediately. Calm and consistent gets the most results in the long run. Don’t allow yourself to be derailed by your own emotions or your ex’s expression of hers. How you feel can be shared with your therapist or coach but how you behave with your ex must be consistent and unflappable. That, uniformly and universally, helps the kids.
You can overcome your anger at your ex to parent your children. The process begins by prioritizing the needs of the kids. Next, you will need to figure out how to support yourself while learning effective communication with her. If you can’t do it alone, consult a professional to help. In extreme circumstances, you may even need legal help to protect yourself and your children.
Continue Parenting Your Kids
However, it’s often the case that both you and the mother of your children need to learn new skills for communication and co-parenting to go neutral with each other. If you keep in mind that your children are one-half of her too, it may help you understand their need to love both of you and why it’s important to allow that. Whatever you say and do to her, you do to them too. By remembering that and using the tools outlined here to help keep you focused, you can overcome your anger at your ex and continue parenting your kids. It’s likely one of the best decisions you will ever make.
- Several years ago, I attended a wedding that set the stage for blended family chaos. The bride’s parents had divorced when “Holly” was in elementary school. Her mother remarried shortly thereafter, and the stepfather, “Tim,” was instrumental in Holly’s life. So important that, when it was time to plan the…