I have some divorce advice that I think any divorced parent will truly appreciate. It has to do with parenting schedules, more specifically, the times the kids are with you and the times they are with your ex.
If I had to pick the hardest part of adjusting to divorce, I'd have to say it was the fact that my then 3- and 5-year olds were sleeping out. I don't think I'll ever forget how devastating that was, and how hard it was to get used to. Six years later, I'm still not "used to" it.
I mean, seriously. Isn't the best feeling in the world when your kids wake up in the morning, come downstairs and give you hugs and kisses?? Waking up without that is and has always been very difficult for me. It feels unnatural and wrong. It feels strange and empty. That said, it is the reality of divorce.
If the kids are really young, divorced couples have a schedule, and the kids just adhere to it. They don't know any better. But, if the kids are older, or as the kids get older, they begin to "have a say" in where they want to sleep, which is what happened to me the other night.
I had not seen the kids in a couple days, and when they came back to my house on Sunday, they didn't seem happy. My daughter was actually crying, and my son was quiet. After asking them several times what was wrong, they told me that they wished they could have stayed at dad's for an extra night, because he was leaving for a business trip the next day, and they wouldn't see him for a week.
I ended up calling my ex and they ended up going back over there and spending the night. I ended up crying myself to sleep. Do they love him more? Is he more fun? Would they rather be there than at my house? These were all questions running through my mind. I was angry at them, angry at my ex, and angry at the world. I was bitter and wished I wasn't divorced.
But then, the next morning, rational Jackie woke up and I realized something. The kids were feeling insecure that they weren't going to see their dad for a week, so they wanted to go there, probably to reassure themselves that he was "in the picture." That doesn't mean they don't love me. That doesn't mean they love him more. That doesn't mean they'd rather be there all the time. It means that they love both their parents intensely and equally.
Here are some characteristics of children of divorce:
1. They can have guilt at times when they aren't with the other parent, as they are worrying and wondering if the alone parent is okay.
2. They become devastated when one parent says something negative about the other, of even if the parent doesn't come right out and say it, if they know the one parent is angry with or dislikes the other parent, it kills them.
3. They are confused. Whose house do we want to be at? We can't decide because we want to be at both parent's houses, and that isn't an option.
4. They can feel unorganized because their stuff is everywhere. One day they want to wear a certain shirt and they realize it's at the other parent's house. That can frustrate them or make them angry.
5. They can feel insecure if they are at one parent's house and they haven't heard from the other parent via phone or text.
The situation that occurred the other night was a lesson that taught me the importance of selflessness, in other words, making it all about the kids and not about me at all.
It's really difficult, but if your kids choose the other parent, here are 5 tips:
1. DO NOT take it personally. They LOVE YOU TOO, just as much as their other parent.
2. DO NOT make your children feel bad about their decision to be with the other parent. Fake it if you have to.
3. You are allowed to feel sorry for yourself for about 30 minutes. Then use the alone time to be productive or find some enjoyment by doing something fun or interesting.
4. Continually reassure your kids that they have two parents who deeply love them and that they are welcome in both of their homes unconditionally and whenever they choose.
5. Lastly, don't take it out on your ex. It's not his or her fault. It's just divorce.
Jackie Pilossoph is the author of the blog, DIVORCED GIRL SMILING. She is also the author of the comedic novel, FREE GIFT WITH PURCHASEabout life after divorce. Ms. Pilossoph is a weekly business features reporter and columnist for Sun-Times Media. She lives in Chicago with her two kids. And she's divorced (obviously.)