The Good Men Project’s series How to Survive in the 21st Century delivers survival-mode insight on accepting life-changing circumstances and gives you the road map to your new normal.

In this 21st Century, life is different, moving at breakneck speed; it’s all we can do to keep up. As much as we try to plan the details of our lives sometimes events happen beyond our control, or we might realize we have no control. The visions others have for their lives and personal evolutions, and where they wish their journey to take them, their company, or their relationship, may not play nicely with the path we have carved to lead us to the future we desire. The Good Men Project’s 5-part series, How to Survive in the 21st Century, delivers survival-mode insight on how to accept your new normal, whether it be a devastating diagnosis, an unanticipated breakup, a bankruptcy, or other equally surprising occurrence, and then supplies the road map for getting on with your life.

A  sampling of topics on which I refuse to feign expertise: belly dancing, tax depreciation, orthopedic surgery and installing insulation.

 On the subject of divorce, unfortunately, I am what the experts would call … an expert.

Twice down the aisle and through the wringer of unraveling marriages, I represented myself in court both times, downloaded the applications for dissolution of marriage x2 and paid the minimal fees associated. I have scheduled visitation, arranged child support, swallowed a huge amount of useless pride for the betterment of my children’s lives and admitted so many weaknesses, jellyfish wanted to be me. So while I lack an educational master’s degree, I have a PhD in deconstructing duos.

As a result of my experience, I know the overlooked consideration in this easy-divorce, get-’em-while-they’re-hot relationship destruction is the children. Every day, I live with the fact I hurt my children, albeit as collateral damage, but still. The second time I attacked my second marriage with a seam ripper, I decided I required a time out because I was not to be trusted with my children’s hearts—not for a long time. Maybe you see yourself here, right now, you’re aching in this age of disposability, and maybe there is still a chance however slim and wispy, however hard to grasp, however shadowed and caked in ego to resuscitate your union. Perhaps there is no chance in hell. Either way, this article is for you. I have found the following methods, which help children survive divorce to equal the best way to hurt your children the least. Because let’s be honest you and your SO’s potential actions are about to hurt them. I’m sorry for that jab. It’s really nothing personal. I’m sure you’re a lovely person in so many ways. Unfortunately, it’s true. The sooner you own up to that fact, the better off your children and you will be.

If you wish to lead your children through divorce (nearly) unscathed, consider this advice:

 Get ready to get hurt, parents. This is not the time to edit your children’s emotions. They are angry and scared (remember fear lurks under anger). Let them unleash their fury and perceptions of their powerlessness on you. You just destroyed their family, their security. Get real with yourself and your kiddos. If you listen now without judgment, if you let them throw their barbs at you, they will feel better. Not healed, but on the way to healing. They will feel important, and maybe will return to that memory of mattering when they crave reassurance on some of those tougher days to come. As you distance yourself from your ex, an unexpected pang packing the punch to tear you apart may descend into your being. Hell, you’re an adult. Imagine how that sensation would deconstruct a kid? I’m not judging you, simply telling it like it is. There are many times I have cried over the changes I thrust upon my innocent children, the actions I took and words that flew out of my mouth, which exposed their longing little hearts to the foreign reality of pain.
  1. Seek counseling. As you encourage your kids to speak to you with their high-pitched, honest, searing voices, recognize you may be biased. You might think all those cheery Facebook pics you take with your kid, where they’re smiling and you’re smiling should be enough to reassure you. Look at those precious mugs, obviously so happy! First, it’s a little selfish to use your coerced, grinning children to tell your story and reassure people in your circle. Maybe this is the time to put away the camera to preserve your child’s privacy during your marital strife? Try counseling instead, where you are made to observe as a psychologist yanks emotions out of your child, as they really nestle in and excise the ugly from their young hearts, then present it to you. The only thing missing is the silver platter. It’s easier for your child to spill it in a safe place, when they are not worried about pleasing you, while still remaining loyal to their other parent. A psychologist stranger has no skin in the game, no vested emotion, your kiddo knows they have nothing to lose when they unload in therapy. If your childnisn’t taking your split well, you will (likely) learn about it in those offices, which is the optimal place since you can now address such angst while keeping healthy conversations going, doors open and boundaries intact.
  2. Break the cycle. Do you want your unfortunate bad habits to reincarnate in your child? You would never wish the pain you went through on your darlings. I don’t know you, but I guess that’s a fact. Probably, you would sooner die than see your child struggle as you have in matters of love, which is why you must admit your mistakes. I have. It’s painful and I usually cry, but there is no realer real than your figurative naked self trying to hold onto your pride in front of your child. Show you’re human. You’re flawed. Explain you said too much, or not enough in your marriage—when they are emotionally ready to hear it. As time goes on, talk to them about why you got married and why it didn’t work. Do not throw your exhole under the bus. As much as you want to, resist. Your former is still their father, or mother—your diss disses the children, who are comprised of half of your exhole’s biological makeup, whether you’ve made peace with that or not. Work with your child as they grow and become more independent, as they are better able to make decisions. Talk openly and without self-rancor about what didn’t go well and why. They’re listening, even if you think they aren’t. Our children, miniature sponges, one day will to your astonishment, squeeze a drop of your advice out and apply it to their lives, then another and another drop will ensue until eventually, your guidance leaks from them in quick succession, informing their life choices.
  3. Keep your promises. Ah guilt parenting…guilty. Maybe you’re guilty, too. Envision Easter baskets you can’t lift off the table without the threat of tearing off the handle, mounds of presents for Christmas and the temporary joy I bought. Shamefully, I succumbed to it all and I didn’t even try to resist. I wasn’t even cognizant of the fact I viewed my children’s love as “For Sale.” I didn’t want to see that I had made my children miserable and besides, buying loads of crap made me feel better. I should have spent more time with them and less dough. Outside of that disaster, the one thing I did was try to keep every promise I made to my kids. You want to join that club? I will find a way. You want to own that new gizmo and I agree it’s reasonable? I will follow through. Family movie night gathered around the tube? Hurry up! The popcorn’s almost ready. In retrospect, it was more important to maintain promises as a priority over other issues I had deemed critical. Really, by breaking up their family (and I am well aware I own my part and my exes own theirs) I had shattered the biggest promise of all, that I would keep their family intact and defend for my kids what they couldn’t defend themselves. Following through with smaller promises allowed me to rebuild my integrity with my children and the faith that had waned between us. They started to believe in me again, and I began to dream they might even like me once more.
  4. Defend your new, members-only club. Divorce is painful, tumultuous, jostling, shuffling the emotions of every person involved, both parents and children. Now is the time to remake your family and create a club. No one else but you and your kiddos allowed. I talked to my kids constantly about putting family first, choosing to take the time to be together, how we all had a larger responsibility as one unit. Our fresh, remade family was special, resilient, a thriving revolution. We should feel proud about coming together, getting and being honest and upholding our feelings. About hearing each other out without detecting underlying resentment from the issuing parent or kid. A safe haven as one, all of us united, my kids knew they had a place to go where they always would be accepted. No one else was allowed in, not until it was time to introduce a SO—after enough dates had passed and the time was right. Once the SO had been welcomed into our fold, I remained the go-to, the decider, the ever-ready, the discipliner who was unfailingly present. Not once did I substitute myself because my kids needed to know I was in control so they could lose control. I parented them during these sticky, unsure times as one might a preschooler, realizing when my angels threw tantrums it was because they trusted me enough to let loose. When they shared their feelings, I knew we were getting back on the right track as they received reassured I wasn’t going anywhere.I mean to suggest in no way my kids won’t carry lingering pain with them. They will harbor it, but it will contain fewer teeth. I watch my kids’ tentative relationships with SOs unfold in front of me. One is almost sweet sixteen and several months into puppy love. Another has eased up on the intensity pedal and now appreciates fun with his new interest. The third will come along in his own time. I sense no daddy issues, no unworthy opinions; what emanates from my resilient and confident children is excitement at the potential bubbling up in their young, slightly-tarnished existences. It is such a relief and a joy to know they will be okay, that finally, they are exactly where they’re supposed to be.

Original article appeared at The Good Men ProjectReprinted with permission.

Photo: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig/Flickr

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