It may come as a surprise that I believe getting a divorce catapulted me into being a better parent. I don’t believe that anyone would choose to get a divorce, and I’m not promoting single parenting. However, I’ve come to believe that there are many reasons that flying solo caused me to be a more assertive, compassionate, and effective parent.
Here are 7 ways divorce can be a catalyst to effective parenting:
It can empower you and your children if your marriage was high conflict. It’s important to realize that kids are better off with two happy parents living separately than living in a high-conflict home where they may feel they have to walk on eggshells.
Nothing builds your children’s self-esteem better than spending face-to-face time hanging out, playing games, listening to music, going for walks, etc. Be sure that any screen time you share with your kids is used as a time to connect and exchange information and not a distraction. Play with your kids. When your children are young, get down on the floor and interact with them.
Children who have experienced loss and have compassionate parents can become more tolerant of others because they’ve “been there.” Practice tolerance with your kids. Remember that children aren’t carbon copies of their parents and need to be accepted and nurtured for their unique talents, interests, and personality traits. If your kids remind you of your ex, show gratitude that they may have inherited good qualities from both of you. They may act out their individuality in clothing choices, hair styles, choice of friends, or interest in school or activities. Let your children know that while you might not always like their choices, you love and accept their decisions – as long as they are safe and respectful of others.
Often the best chats I’ve had with my kids have been on the way somewhere in my car. Other opportunities might be while you are watching a TV show or going for a walk together. Be sure to model good listening skills.
Adopting a forgiveness mindset can help both you and your children to get out of the chronically angry mode and become healthier. Teach your kids to let go of toxic anger and to take responsibility for their actions. After all, forgiveness is as much for them as the transgressor. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget – the person simply has less power over you. Your children will be grateful to be given the gift of a forgiving mindset.
Experiencing parental divorce can set the stage for children to become self-reliant because they often live between two homes and are good at multi-tasking. Encourage your children to be independent but still place limits and controls on their actions. Authoritative parents are loving and affectionate with their children. For instance, extensive give-and-take is encouraged but the parent makes the final decisions.
Juggling home and work responsibilities as a single parent is a unique skill set that can teach kids to prioritize and be efficient and competent individuals. Be sure to study, pay bills, and read in their presence daily so you model the skills they’ll need for life.
Before my divorce, I was so preoccupied with managing the stress in my relationship with my ex-spouse that I felt drained and distracted. In retrospect, it took me years to realize that being in a high-conflict marriage was damaging to my children and had actually weakened my parenting skills. When a family member pointed this out to me, I refused to accept her feedback but later realized that I was using denial to get though the rough patches in my marriage. In hindsight, I was being defensive due to fear of being alone (and raising my kids alone).
But after I’d adjusted to being a single mom, I was able to regain my enthusiasm for parenting and connect with appreciating the little things, like pizza night with my two kids. In essence, the reasons I became a parent in the first place became clear to me and filled me with pleasure. Even the simple activities of reading with my kids at night and attending school functions once again brought me joy. An added bonus was that I was successful at navigating these things without a partner.
Truth be told, it’s possible to go through a challenging divorce and to become a competent, good enough single parent. Many parents do this because they had good models to follow. However, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Developing and maintaining a successful relationship with your children is a skill that can be learned with patience and persistence regardless of your own background.
In hindsight, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my quest to be a competent parent hasn’t lessened over the years even though I've remarried – it’s an ongoing challenge. But I’ve made good progress with incorporating models that have helped me to be a more successful parent. In sum, I view my years as a single parent fondly because I was able to form a close bond with my children which helped them be more resilient people.