No one gets married with the intention of getting divorced. I’ll never forget my first Christmas post divorce. My boys spent the holiday with their Dad. I spent it alone.
I remember that day like it was yesterday – driving the boys to their Dad’s house, pulling up in front, seeing my former in-laws car parked outside, forcing a smile and an enthusiastic wave as I watched my kids run up the driveway in the opposite direction of me. Then as their backs turned and the door opened, I managed another more authentic but much sadder smile and waved to the person I’d spent the last 14 Christmas’ with; a smile and wave that served as peace-offering of sorts – at least for the day. It was not returned.
I cried the entire way home. In fact, I cried the entire day, sitting on my couch by myself, in my pajamas, wrapped in a blanket.When I reflect on some of the earlier, more difficult days like this one, I’m not even sure how I managed to drag myself out of bed. But, I was determined to survive the crisis I’d found myself in, and in order to survive, I had to create stability that could carry me through the good days and the bad.
I’ve found there is no shortage of books, articles, or blogs dedicated to getting a divorce, surviving a divorce, and simply being divorced. There are legitimate and self-proclaimed experts who offer plenty of logical, sane and useful (albeit clichéd) advice. Advice like:
- Let yourself mourn the loss of the relationship.
- Work through negative emotions.
- Let your friends support you.
- If you have children, stay focused on their well-being.
What the experts are really trying to say is: divorce is an absolute sh*t storm. It doesn’t matter who initiated the divorce, it’s hard, it hurts, and it will test and stretch you in ways you never thought possible. You’ll need help, strength, and endurance through every stage of the divorce, and thereafter.
For most, the first year is often spent simply surviving in a sea of chaos, trying desperately not to drown when it feels like you’re circling the drain. If you ever find yourself here, I promise that with hard work, focus, and time, this feeling will subside. That’s not to say that the challenges disappear. They don’t, and at times, that sh*t storm that you thought you’ve moved through feels more like the snow in the Northeast – back and seemingly never-ending. And the subsequent snow berms? They can be high and overwhelming. But no matter what, I’ve learned that you have to grab that shovel because there is only one way out.
I’ve shoveled many a berm in the last two years. I’ve done it alone, and it was hard. But, when I pause and look back, I see tremendous growth, which is sometimes the one thing that propels me forward. Here are a few things I’ve learned as I’ve shoveled out:
- Sometimes it’s hard to determine where you are in a journey, but when your ability to face, deal with, and subsequently overcome challenges increases tenfold, it’s a good sign that you’ve entered a new phase.
- When going through a trying family time, staying focused on kids well-being is a theme through every struggle and heartache. This theme – this focus – is so important that it is not only constant, but it deserves to stand alone as a solid piece of advice.
- Parents sharing custody have many of the same challenges that all parents do. Divorced parents just face these challenges while simultaneously digging out of that sh*t storm I mentioned earlier.
- Divorce is not the only sh*t storm. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle of their own.
So, how does one stay focused on the kids – on anything – when going through a difficult time? I wish I could answer that question for you but it really differs by person and by circumstance. I’ve stayed focused by carefully picking and choosing my battles, deliberately (re)organizing my daily life, and adjusting my expectations. Here are some examples:
“Go the F*ck to Sleep!”
Maybe that is a little harsh. But there is a reason that book was written! Bedtime can be one of the biggest power struggles a parent has with their child. But, there is hope, and there are bedtime strategies that can help parents overcome bedtime blues. To read about what I’m doing to keep a level head during bedtime battles, click here.
“Potty, meet child. Child, PLEASE meet potty.”
Bedtime is just one example of a parenthood struggle. There is also potty-training with which to contend. When potty-training my oldest child, I found that using a consistent approach was best. Things like setting a timer and sitting your child on the potty every 30 minutes, and creating a reward system topped the tip list. But, for parents sharing custody, consistency may not come easily. When potty-training my youngest, I think my ex bought little toys to reward him. I bought a mop. My toddler bought some time. He also learned how to be flexible and, luckily, how to pee-pee on the potty…eventually.
“For the love of Pete, please eat something!”
When it comes to meals, forget about serving a homemade, balanced, nutritious, organic, sugar-free, dye-free, sodium-free, Paleo-derived meal; sometimes, parents just need their kids to eat SOMETHING. ANYTHING. My ex is a really good cook. I burn rice. Either way, my kids can be pretty picky about what they eat. Keep reading below to see how I’m overcoming this challenge.
“Stand down, soldier.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another challenge which applies to parents sharing custody: the transition. Put simply, this is the day that kids go from being at mom’s house to being at dad’s house and vice versa. Kids can feel overwhelmed on transition day. They may even feel guilt or confusion as they sort through feeling sad about leaving one parent, but happy about seeing the other. This could result in kids acting out or exerting power in areas that are within their control (see sleeping, peeing on the potty and eating). Transition day is a tough one, and it can take a few days to completely work itself out.
To help ease the transition, I hold a family meeting on the first day of my custody week. During the meeting, we talk about house rules, chores, expectations, things we’re looking forward to, and generally how we’re feeling. We also use this time to plan meals. We talk about our favorite foods, growing foods, and then determine together what we are going to have for dinner each night. A menu is then posted as a reminder of the commitment we made to eat what is served. I’ve read that enlisting your kids’ help with food prep is also a mealtime best practice. My boys are far too busy playing while I’m cooking. But, if you struggle with mealtime, that, too, is definitely worth a try.
Really, everything is worth a try, and I’ve found that no matter what you’re facing, you should continue trying everything you can until you find something that works for your family. Yes, at times it might feel like you’re driving in the middle of a blizzard trying to find the road, but it is worth the effort when something finally sticks. For parents sharing custody, it may feel more like riding a roller coaster in the middle of a tsunami, but hang on tight! I promise the storm will pass.