Divorce Part 2: Rules of Engagement.

Hands down my greatest challenge as a divorced dad was remaining a deeply engaged father in my children’s lives with a co parent who was no longer my partner, whose feelings towards me were less than hospitable and whose ideas about parenting came from a different manual than mine. As parents we don’t get to escape the “till death do us part” clause even after divorce.  Our exes remain part of our lives for as long as we are both alive. And our children need us to make this relationship work.

Here are some practical and very important principles to apply in dealing with your ex.

 

FOR BOTH MOMS AND DADS:

1. No matter how tempting it is never speak badly of your ex.  Be the bigger person and remember how important he or she is to your children.

2. Do not hold on to anger, resentment or bitterness. Let go for your own sake and for your children. Even if your ex is behaving very badly don’t allow bitterness to creep in.  Letting go does not mean condoning bad behaviour it simply means taking back your power and not allowing his or her behaviour to affect you emotionally.

3. Never communicate with your ex through your children.  They are not your carrier pigeons they are your children. Whatever you need to say, say it directly, either verbally or by text.

4. Never involve your children in any fight or disagreement you may have with your ex, and never, ever get them to take sides.

5. As far as possible come to an agreement with your ex on the rules and boundaries you want to set for your children.  It’s destructive and confusing to have a completely different set of rules at each of your houses. Discuss food, manners, sleeping times, behaviour, what they can watch and can’t, use of social media, staying over at friends, language, what’s acceptable and what’s not. It is SO important that the two of you form a united front and give a common message to your children. Of course when dealing with a difficult  ex this is not always possible.

 

FOR DADS:

1. Be present in your children’s lives from the beginning and consistently thereafter.  Many men give up because it is just so dam hard.  Fight to be present in your children’s lives.  Just because you don’t live in the same house or even city as them does not mean you can’t be there for them.  Use technology to communicate daily.  Plan your life so that you can dedicate quality time to them.

2. When you are with your children make it count; engage fully, do stuff they love doing, create memories. Switch off all distracting devices and be with them.  The time you spend with them is incredibly precious. Don’t waste it.

3. Never try and outdo your wife in the gifts / holidays / fun stakes.  This is not a competition where you compete for their affection, it’s about being a great parent and doing what’s best for your children.

 

FOR MOMS:

1. Children need a dad so unless your ex is abusive or unsafe allow him access to your children. Make it easy for them to connect. Assist with transport and arrangements whenever you can.

2. Don’t speak badly about men in front of your children. No matter how angry you are with your ex remember that you are the most important woman in your children’s lives and they take  what you say seriously. By speaking badly about men you will undermine your son’s self esteem (as he is a man in the making) and damage your daughter’s perception of men.

3. Give him space to be their dad. Don’t interfere or try and curate your children’s relationship with their father. Unless he gives you clear reason not to, trust him to be their father. The worst thing you can do to a man is to undermine him, it will either make him withdraw or lash out, neither of which is good for your children.

 
Ultimately it’s not about you or your ex, it’s about your children. 

The two of you brought them into the world and they need both of you.  As a dad you are the most important man in their lives and as a mom you are  the most important woman. As a good parent you need to do everything in your power to make the relationship work for them. They will love you and thank you for it (even if your ex never does).

Craig Wilkinson

Craig is a bestselling South African author, award winning social entrepreneur, sought after inspirational speaker and Dad Coach. He is passionate about equipping men to be great fathers and leaders. Craig has worked extensively in the Non Profit sector in the areas of experiential education, socio-economic development and the development of men and fathers as well as a consultant to the corporate sector in strategy and human resource development. He is the founder of Father a Nation (FAN), an NPO which restores men to true masculinity and authentic fatherhood. An avid hiker and mountain biker, Craig lives in Johannesburg, South Africa with his wife Martinique. His two adult children, Luke and Blythe, have both recently left the nest.

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