Divorce causes a lot of changes and worries. It's only normal to worry about how your children are going to react to your divorce. We love our kids and would never purposely want to hurt them in any way.
But what if your ex-spouse is not as worried about the kids. What if your ex-spouse just slowly drifts out of your children's lives? For me, this is one of the saddest consequences of divorce and one I will never understand.
I want to focus today on what you – as the parent who remains – can do for your children in this situation.
Be prepared to continuously reassure your kids you are not going anywhere – This is a case of abandonment pure and simple. There is no way to sugar coat it. Even if support is being paid, emotionally these kids have been abandoned. That means you are the only parent they've got and it can be frightening to think of any scenario in which you might leave them. So, be prepared for fear when you choose to date, get in a serious relationship and remarry. Understand that their hesitations come from fears of losing you.
Accept this is out of your control – While you can take steps to talk to the absentee parent and encourage them to be a part of the kids' lives, you can not fix it. The sooner you recognize this, the sooner you can move on and really help your kids.
Acknowledge what's special about them – Abandonment causes kids to assume there was something wrong with them. "If my own dad / mom does not love me …" It's important that you're sensitive to this. Am I saying you should put them on a pedal and give them everything they want? NO! But make sure you celebrate successes with them. Take time to point out what you like about them as unique individuals. Be careful to not be overly critical.
Give them a safe place – They need to know it's OK to ask you questions and share how they really feel about the fact that their parent walked out on them. You need to be prepared for rages, tears and hard questions. Is it fair for you to receive this? No, it's not but you're the one who's there so you're the one who will get it. They need to know it's OK to come to you. Your job at times like this is to listen.
While you may think they want you to join them in a slam fest against their other parent, that's the worst thing you could do. While it may seem insane to you – they still love that other parent and it's hurtful to hear you bash their parent even if your kids are sitting there doing it.
Let me give you an example: Your son says, "I hate her for never calling me on my birthday!"
- What not to do: "What do you expect, she was never responsible. I was the one who always bought your birthday cards and Christmas presents."
- The better option: "It really hurts your feelings that your mom has not even acknowledged your birthday.
I do not think anyone will disagree with me when I say, single parenting is hard. But when you're having to do it completely alone while dealing with your kids feeling abandoned by their other parent, life really gets difficult.
I encourage you to remember these 4 points and give yourself a break. You're not going to get everything right, but never forget that you are the one who chose to remain in these kids' lives.