Now that you are starting to trudge the self-care path, what on earth should you do about all the others flailing about you in various stages of grief, denial, anger, resentment, panic…all the various and sundry variations of hard. I think it best to start with the most hard…and go from there.
Let’s talk about those adorable, challenging, loving, not-so-loving children of yours…
Let’s start with a very hard truth…As hard as this is on you, it is harder on them.
Why? Because they have no choice. Now, you may not have either but you are a grown up (well at least your age indicates you are) and you will always have choices. They, depending on their age, have almost no say so in what happens next. They are really quite powerless in the whole process and that, as you are finding out, is a horrible place to live.
So what to do?
Regardless of your circumstances: you left, you were left, it was a mutual decision…you can be compassionate with your kids that no matter how narcissistic, awful, hard, unkind you think, feel, and have tangible evidence that your ex is…that narcissistic, awful, hard, unkind person is your child’s parent too.
50% of their DNA came from that other person (or 50% of the parental responsibility if adopted) and everything you say about them lands squarely in the chest of your child. You can hate your ex, but please, for pete’s sake, do not let your child know…because every time you tear down your ex, you are shredding your child’s most fragile and delicate sense of who they are.
Whether you like it or not, your child is a combination of you and that other person who you used to love and now you hate. You cannot hate your ex and not also hate your child. They are inseparable. I am sorry. I know that sucks. It is just the way it is.
I am NOT saying that you can’t hate that person…hate away…but do it out of earshot, screenshot and the emotional range of your kid.
Remember this most especially at the holidays. You have probably spent a small fortune trying to get a holiday visitation schedule together…and likely, your kids haven’t been consulted at all. So whatever crazy, ridiculous emotional acrobatics are going to be required for you to meet the ridiculous four hour window on Christmas Day, remember that your child likely just wants it to go back to the way it was before. Even if they are 13, or 3 or 33.
You may have suffered through the holidays joined to someone you can’t stand and maybe even your child feels the same but you are not made up of molecules of someone you can’t stand . You can get a divorce and move on. Your child has you and this other parent and that is all they have…forever.
Try to keep that in mind as you plod through the holidays: your child’s whole world has just been up ended and the two most important people in their lives are now at odds, sometimes war.
The first best thing you can do for your child is to realize that none of this is their choice. Even if they tell you it is. No one chooses divorce on a lark. Most especially a child. Your ex might be a monster…but your child on some level loves that monster the same way you used to also.
Let that land…
There you go. That feeling you just got in your chest or gut…let that be your first reminder that regardless of intent, love, hurt, pain, guilt, shame, fear, hate…your child is alone in all of this even while you stand right there next to them.
So what to do now that you have allowed their pain, sadness and despair to occupy your body, mind and spirit…hold onto it. Write it down. Put it in that box you made the other day. Tape to the sunvisor in your car. Just remember that no matter how awful your ex is, your child still loves that person and always will. Just like they will always love you.
Now, go for the love. Do everything this holiday season with your child’s wellbeing in mind. Cater to them, give to them, hold them, talk to them, be present with them. It can be all about you some other year…this year, give it to them. They will thank you for it later. I promise, and if they don’t, you will thank yourself for it later. That I guarantee.
This divorcing holiday give your child your best and most precious present…your presence. Endeavor to do all the stuff you usually do but with an intention to roll it all back if you can’t do that AND be present. This year, the best gifts are not under the tree or exchanged over eight nights, this year, the best gift you can give your child and yourself is being present while their whole world spins out of control. Be there. Witness it and them. Love them.
Trust that all that is not ok today will be again. This year, make the holidays and your kids the focal point. To the degree you can, be charitable with those little ones that you love the most, regardless of whether they are tiny or grown adults. Holiday spirit can carry you far this year, right into the hearts of your children. And that is something to truly celebrate.
Erin Schaden, CDC Certified Divorce Coach®
I have a diverse background as a former family law litigator, Certified Mediator, degree in psychology and lots of life experience including a divorce of my own. I believe there can be dignity in divorce even if you are divorcing a sociopath! That is a strong statement but I know it to be true. I also believe that giving yourself the gift of coaching during this most trying time, helps bring your emotional reality and legal reality into the same zip code…which gets you through your divorce spending less emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually.