“We had a great time!!!”
Those words, coming from children who just spent time with the other parent, can break a parent’s heart. We know we shouldn’t feel this way. In our heads, we know it is critical for the children to have healthy, productive relationships with both parents.
Yet, when we see it happening, all too often we just want to lash out, let the children know how awful that other parent really is, and shut the fun down. So, why shouldn’t we?
Reason 1–To convince the children YOU will always love them
In all likelihood, when you announced your divorce, you made your children a promise: You would always love them. Now, you need to keep your word.
Your children no longer trust verbal promises. After all they heard you say that you loved your former spouse–often. If that love can go away, so can your love for the them. Or, so the children believe. Now you have to prove that it won’t.
Oddly, the best proof comes as you support the other parent’s love. As you set aside your hurt, your insecurity, your sense of rejection to encourage their time with the other parent, you ensure the children get what they need. A relationship with both of you. Your actions prove that you will put your children first–the hallmark of real love. Repeating over and over convinces your children that your love isn’t going anywhere.
Reason 2–Your children need both parents–even the less than stellar parents
Your children need everything you give them. They also need what the other parent gives that you can’t. They need the other parent’s wisdom, experiences, and insights. They need the other parent’s different way of seeing issues and different priorities. With the combined strengths of both parents, children develop a wide range of tools for maturing. Your support of their relationship with the other parent ensures your children get the whole toolbox.
They also need to interact with the other parent’s flaws–just as they need to interact with yours. Children learn to cope with the flaws of the larger world by coping with the flaws of the people in their family. When you help them define and develop skills to create a healthy relationship with the other parent despite his/her flaws, you prepare them to engage well with all the flawed people they will encounter for the rest of their lives.
(Note: Flaws are different that abusive tendencies. Children should be protected from truly abusive parents.)
Reason 3–Your children’s enthusiasm for the other parent is NOT a rejection of you
This can be the crux of the matter. The person who promised to love and care for you the rest of his/her life decided they wouldn’t. Rejection hits like an avalanche that never recedes.
Now, your children love being with the person who rejected you. What if he/she pulls the children into a deep relationship that leaves you out? When children love being with the other parent, many parents fear they are losing both the marriage and the children.
THE GOOD NEWS–you won’t. In fact, a warm relationship with both parents is the best indicator that a warm relationship will continue–with both of you. When you refrain from putting the other parent down, from sharing the current conflict, and from making your pain the children’s pain–you leave room for the children to develop their own relationship with both parents. That builds security. The person offering security is always in high demand.
More, as the children develop their own relationship with the other parent, they will learn the truth about that parent. You won’t need to explain the flaws. The children will experience them first-hand. And, because the children didn’t have to constantly defend the other parent against your criticisms or outbursts, they will likely turn to you for comfort and advice on how to handle. They will admire your maturity and reserve. They will be even more grateful for you willingness to quietly cope rather than drag them into the fight. All this deepens their relationship with you.
When you hear, “We had a great time!!” resist the urge to destroy that moment. Instead, support it. If you can–you win. More importantly, your family wins.