Divorce, the Gambler and apologies to Kenny Rogers
posted by: Guest Blogger
When it comes to parenting, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to scold ‘em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run to the therapists. I’ve got it all down pat. EXCEPT the scolding part. This is where my kids would roll on the floor laughing like people who’ve recently discovered that, indeed, a platypus should be feared. They’d be quick to correct me by saying that Mom has NO PROBLEM in the scolding department.
But oh, how I do. Or DID.
Like any mother worth her salt, I had my excuses reasons for lacking in disciplining skills. Initially, I blamed it on the divorce several years ago. It was then that I seemed to lose all perspective. Not to mention part of my backbone.
The three-year-old wants to stay up late watching Sponge Bob? Well, he’s been through a lot lately. And, c’mon, it’s Sponge Bob! Lemon cake for dinner? Okay. Just this once. And only if you promise to share! What? You used my lipstick to paint your shoes red? Fine. But do Mommy a favor and use the pink one next time.
This went on for a lot longer than it should have. I felt like I needed to give them time to mourn the separation of Mom and Dad. How much, you ask? NO. CLUE. And where were the lines drawn? *shrugs* Nowhere in particular. You must understand that these children were emotional wrecks who couldn’t be bothered with such stresses as RULES and BOUNDARIES.
But it wasn’t all about not wanting my kids to suffer undue stress. Unfortunately, it was also about not wanting them to hate me. Resent me. Dread living with me. Ironically, all the treats and TV and freedom from discipline only made them hate me, resent me, and dread living with me.
And then one day I overheard my daughter talking on the phone to her grandmother in the kindest, most loving, gentle, sweet-baby way. It didn’t even sound like the same person. The girl I’d been living with had a 40-year-old’s cynicism etched between her brows. I was deeply hurt and JEALOUS of this conversation she was having with my mother. I wept big, heavy tears.
And then I called up a dear friend and whined about how my kids hated me. My wise, wise friend and future husband said, “You have a choice to make here, slick. You can either make your lifelong goal ‘Kids that like me.’ Which, by the way, will NEVER EVER happen if that’s your actual goal. OR. You can decide to make your goal ‘Raising small children into kind, productive, well-adjusted human beings.’ The end.”
There are no time-outs in parenting, he said. Not even for something as life-changing as a divorce. He was right, and I knew it. But changing my ways was going to be as hard as trying to learn Swahili overnight. Or giving up fried foods cold turkey. Nevertheless, I knew I had to put aside my selfish need to be liked and do right by them.
From that moment on, I decided that bedtime was at 8:00. Not 8:15 or 8:30 or 8:45. TV was limited to an hour a day. Not an hour and a half or two hours or even three. Fast food had to be eliminated, too. Gone. FINITO! Cakes, pies, and cookies were cut, too, out except for on special occasions. No acquiecing when the begging began. In fact, no more begging allowed, either.
This was just the beginning. There were new rules about no more getting up six times a night. And running to the phone to call Dad every time the going got tough. There were new rules for me, too. No more bending over backwards to assure that every single child’s every single need was getting met at every single moment. As you can imagine, I endured a lot of tears and guilt trips, anger and frustration. And, with every dramatic episode, I felt like I was rolling some imaginary dice and gambling. Like I was taking a chance that maybe THIS would be the breakdown that caused these miniature human beings to irrevocably hate me for eternity.
Still, I knew I had to stick to the plan, keep my perspective. It helped that I had somebody to remind me that nobody was going to take my children away for cutting out fast food, sugar and Sponge Bob from their lives. My kids were stuck with me, and it didn’t really matter if they liked it or not. The goal wasn’t for them to LIKE ME anymore. Actually, the goal was for their 50-year-old selves to really dig me someday.
Discipline is still not my strong suit. I still have an inner need to be liked. But I do consistency fairly well. And quality time. And cuddling. And praise. And, believe it or not, they don’t irrevocably hate me. On the contrary, they speak to me as gently and kindly as they speak to their grandmother. Usually. It’s a work in progress.
But I’m curious. Divorcees, children of divorce, I’d love to hear how your parenting has been affected by the experience of divorce.