Kids need love, emotional support, consistent discipline, and structure to thrive. And you definitely want your child to thrive.
Yet, when you divorce, your ability to meet all of your child’s needs without fail becomes impossible — and not because of all the turmoil you’re dealing with. (Although, that does play a part.)
The real reason why you will never ever be able to meet all of your kid’s needs is because your ex, their other parent, has your child part of the time. And it’s your ex’s job to meet your child’s needs when they have your kid with them.
Yes, even if your ex sucks from your perspective, it’s still their responsibility to care for your child when they are together.
Of course, if your child suffers neglect or abuse when your ex is caring for them, then you do need to step in immediately. But thankfully, that’s not the norm.
When you can’t be 100% sure of what’s happening when the horrible person you were married to has your child, it’s easy to fall prey to fears that your divorce will destroy your kid.
But, you do have the power to raise an incredible child despite what your ex does when your child is with them … if you follow these three tips:
1. Take care of yourself.
When your child is with you, you’re it. You are the one who is there to meet their needs, so you need to be at your best. And the only way you can do that is if you take care of yourself.
Practically speaking, divorce upsets your life and your finances. And this upset puts a huge strain on you. Getting a handle on both your finances and your living situation so you can feel more safe and secure will go a very long way toward caring for yourself (and your child).
But you also need to heal emotionally from your divorce as quickly and completely as you can.
By doing so, you’ll minimize your distraction, stress, fatigue, and emotional turmoil, which all means you’ll be capable of being fully present for your child instead of just going through the motions.
And the big upside to this is that the better you feel and the more present you can be with your child, the less likely they will be to have significant behavioral problems as a result of the divorce.
Caring for yourself also means that you’ll avoid feeling guilty and obsessing.
There’s no reason to feel guilty for the situation your kid is in now with having two homes — even if the home you provide is more modest than the home your ex provides. Feeling guilty just diminishes your ability to parent, and opens up the possibility that your child will manipulate you into doing what they want instead of what you know is best.
There’s also no reason to obsess over things you can’t control.
You can’t control the weather and you can’t control what your ex does. Allow yourself to disconnect from their behavior and not get drawn into the drama.
When you do disconnect and truly release the things you can’t control, you’ll experience an incredible sense of freedom and have a whole lot more energy for dealing with the things you can control which includes doing your part in raising an amazing kid.
2. Get support.
Raising a child is almost impossible to do all on your own. It really does take a village.
So don’t try to do it all on your own.
Lean on others for support. Find other single parents you can count on and be there for them, too. Ask your family for their help. Find helping professionals when you need them. You deserve to surround yourself with help and guidance so you can be a great parent.
One of the traps that many single parents fall into is leaning on their child for support. This is a horrible situation to put your child in.
Your child needs the freedom to be a child — no matter how mature they seem. Sharing your adult concerns about your life or your ex with your kid (even if they are teenagers) is never appropriate.
3. Be the best parent you can be.
You already know there are so many things that go into being a great parent, regardless of your marital status. Parenting is a big responsibility!
You might be tempted to slide on things now that you wouldn’t have dreamed of sliding on when you were married.
This might be because you have a nagging sense of guilt about not raising your kid in an intact family.
To add to that, being a single parent adds a bit of a twist to the whole parenting thing. So, here are a few reminders of what being “the best parent you can be” means now:
—Encourage your child to behave well. You can do this by setting a good example, creating clear rules, being consistent with your expectations and your actions, providing appropriate discipline (remember to choose your battles), and praising your child when they do behave well.
—Focus on your child. Spend time alone with them and make the most of everyday moments. Be genuinely interested in their lives and what’s important to them.
Paying positive attention to them will help them to cope with all the changes they’re experiencing and when they’re coping well, you’ve got another opportunity to praise them.
And if you have more than one child, be sure that you spend alone time with each of them (as age allows).
Remember that you are the boss in your home and don’t allow anyone else to undermine your authority. This includes your child who may attempt to guilt you into doing things like their other parent does.
—Avoid all negativity about their other parent. Your child knows they are just like you in some ways and just like your ex in others. If you are negative about their other parent, they hear your negativity as an indictment of them too.
You’ll also need to send positive images about the opposite sex. Your child deserves to know that gender has zero bearing on how an individual chooses to behave.
Being a parent is challenging. Being a single parent is more challenging. And being a single parent with an ex who isn’t a great parent is the worst.
However, by using these three tips every single day, you’ll be able to not only meet your child’s needs when they’re with you, but also extend your influence into their life when they’re not.
And simply by providing your love, emotional support, consistent discipline, and structure your child will thrive and be incredible — no matter how despicable their other parent is.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach who helps people just like you who want support raising great kids after divorce. You can join her newsletter group for free advice or learn more about Karen and her work at drkarenfinn.com.