Tuesday, May 13, 2008

For the Sake of the Children

Nobody wants to hurt their kids. I firmly believe that. Even before, during, and after divorce, most parents are more concerned about their kids than anything else.

Look at how many people stay in rotten marriages "for the sake of the kids". Look at how many people try to hide the problems during divorce "to protect the kids". Look at how many endure (or avoid) post-divorce difficulty because "the kids have already suffered enough".

What most of us don't realize until way too late, is that we are constantly sending unspoken messages to our children. And the things that they learn from us implicitly, without us even being aware of it, often cause far more damage than we ever intended.

For example, I went through a period in my life where I was working very hard. When difficult things happened, I "sucked it up" and shielded my kids from the problems. I believed I was protecting my kids, and providing for them -- both very honorable intentions, right? But after-the-fact, I discovered that what my kids had learned from me during that period were some awful habits:

* Grown-ups should not ask for help when they are in a tight spot.
* Our mother cares more about her work than she does about us.
* When work causes Mom to stress out, it's okay to come home and take it out on us.
* It's better to shut down emotions and feel nothing at all than to handle pain or hurt.
* Mom's emotions are our responsibility - if she snaps at us, it's our fault, not hers.
* Being a grown-up and having to work really sucks and we don't want to have to do it.


Kids also learn some intended lessons when parents perpetuate ugliness before, during, and after a divorce. If parents cannot manage their emotions, control their expressions of anger and hate toward the ex-spouse, or learn to let go and move on, they teach their kids some terribly damaging habits. They harm their kids in unspeakable ways, and the damage goes deep, and stays with them long into adulthood.

For the sake of the children, put yourself in their shoes. Truly set your own "stuff" aside and listen with your heart. Do not get defensive if they say something that indicts you. Be glad to have a better understanding of ways that you can change your behavior and do something healthier instead.

For the sake of the children, take your divorce pain and anger and guilt and fear to someone who can help you deal with it; rather than bringing it home for your children to absorb.

For the sake of the children, show them the path to peace by having the courage to walk on that path yourself, even if it means facing your own demons, owning up to your accountability, or sacrificing the personal payoffs you receive for being a victim, a martyr, or a warrior.

For the sake of the children, do something different than what you are doing now, if what you are doing now isn't working. Keep doing something different, until you find something that works.


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