I remember the first time my boys brought up their father‘s girlfriend, now wife, like it was yesterday. We were shopping at Publix when they saw a Florida Gators cup. A cup right. No big deal. But, that cup was the beginning of a new season/chapter in our life. A chapter that included another person. A person that was involved in my boys' life in big and little ways. This cup opened up the conversation regarding her, her love for the Florida Gators and her involvement in my boys' life. To be perfectly honest I didn’t know how to respond to them at that moment, I was defintly white roomed. I never imagined the boys having another mother figure in their life and I didn't know how to navigate this new chapter in our life.
This senario isn’t far from the ones that come through my office on a regular basis. Moms trying to figure out their feelings surrounding the new wife or girlfriend. Their daughter calling someone else mom. Their daughter doing things with another women that mom wanted to do with them. They are figuring out how to do life with their kids and this new person. Sometimes no matter how many books one reads or friends they talk to, there's no preparing for such a moment. However, in my own situation I did quickly realize one thing. How I navigated through this new chapter of my life, both in my responses and interactions was going to have either a negative or positive effect on my boys. So, the five things I did and guide parents on in order to not get stuck in your feelings is:
Listen to them. They just want to share. They are not asking for your opinion, thoughts, or feelings. They just want to share THEIR feelings, thoughts, experiences or ideas. A concept I call sitting on the sidewalk.
Share in their life. Listen, invest and share in their experiences in the other household. Not from a place of judgement but from a place of investing in your child's life. By you inhibiting them about sharing what goes on in their life when with the other person you close off parts of their life to you, creating more distance and coldness then you can ever imagine.
Recognize and accept their other family. Like it or not this person/people are part of their life and your child now has two families. Let go of the old and embrace the new, even though this new is unfamiliar and perhaps unwanted.
Keep things comfortable. Mind your tone and body language, as you can make the situation quite intense and uncomfortable when the child is trying to share with you an experience or situation. Children can read you like a book. You may not use your words to express dissatisfaction but they can read it all over you with your body language.
Separate your feelings about the other person and work them out in your alone time or with a therapist. Your kids don't have to be dragged into your adult feelings. Far to many times children of divorced parents speak about how their parents involve them in their adult situations, thoughts and/or feelings. Doing this will rob your child of their innocence and puts undue stress on them with long term negative effects.
I recognize this is probably easier for me then most because I’m already conditioned to be a good listener and to listen without judgement because I’m a therapist. But, I’m not a therapist to my kids and my life frazzles me just the same as yours. Hard is hard. And I got through it with intentionality and reminding myself it’s not about me and my feelings but about the boys. What ever my feelings are I need to separate them and deal with them in my alone time. Unchecked feelings can snowball and become toxic, having negative effects on your children and yourself. I see this over and over again in my practice as children report feelings of:
Heart ache. That their parents are at odds. That they can't share what happens at Dad's/Mom's with the other parent.
Stress. As they are dragged in the middle of numerous adult situations and feelings.
Confusion. On why all their parents can't get along and talk things out like they are taught to do.
Sadness. That their family is at odds with each other and they wish they could fix it in order that everyone would just like each other.
Hope: surprsingly they still carry out hope for a better tomorrow. Hoping that their parents will figure it out one day and things will get easier.
You can't change your circumstances, but you can change your thoughts about them which will positively effect your feelings. We all experience new seasons/chapters of life from time to time, some positive and some negative; some wanted and some unwanted; some exciting and some draining. I love what Tracie Miles said about letting go of the old and embracing the new,
"But regardless of the new that lies before us, how we choose to look at and think about those seasons of newness will determine whether or not we walk through them with peace, hope and joy, or with heartache, anxiety and fear".
As you enter this new and unfamiliar chapter/season of life. Your feelings toward the situation, step-parent, biological parent, circumstances and stresses are real and I'm not trying to dismiss or take them away. Please understand that the concern comes from how we handle these feelings. Getting stuck in them is a dangerous place to be for both yourself and your loved ones. It brings undue stress, pain, and chaos. It takes time, energy, effort and for me it also took lots of prayer. But, it's worth it. Recognizing and understanding the bigger things at play makes it all worth it. Our kids don't have to be a casualty of divorce. We can help them thrive rather then just survive.
Yvette E. McDonald is the owner and counselor at Traveling Light Counseling, a practice for divorced and blended families in Port Saint Lucie and Martin County. I'm passionate about helping children through the twists and turns of their parents divorce, helping them find peace, clarity, perspective and hope. If you're in the Saint Lucie or Martin County Area and you or your child is struggling in the transition of divorce, please give me a call at 772-361-8448 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.