Parenting During And After Divorce
Parenting Through Divorce gives tips on:
- How to limit the negative impact on your kids
- Tips for making your communication effective
- How to talk to kids and what to say
- Things to talk about with your EX
- Things to talk about with your new love interest
- How to introduce a new love interest to your children
- and much more!
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Transcript for Parenting During And After Divorce:
Kristina: Welcome to The Impactful Parent Inspire and Learn series. Real parents tell their real stories of inspiration and learning because a wise man learns from his mistakes. Still, a wiser man learns from other people’s mistakes, and today we’re going to learn from our guest speaker, Aaron Windtke. Aaron will talk to us about divorce and a father’s perspective on going through a divorce. Thank you for being here, Aaron.
Aaron, you have four daughters, but I also know that you have gone through a divorce from talking to you earlier. And when that happens, family dynamics change. It is going to hurt the kids, no matter whether it’s amicable or not. Divorce is just a painful transition for every family. Do you have any tips or advice that you can give the audience who are going through a divorce and try to minimize the negative impact that it might have on their family?
Aaron: Yeah, what a great question, and not an easy topic, so I’ll do my best to address it. When I was going through my divorce, the first thing was to put the kids in counseling. It’s very important that the kids understand it’s not their fault and that they’re not why the two adults are going their separate ways.
Also, I actually think I became a better dad because of my separation from my ex-wife. This is sad to say, but I took time with my kids for granted as a married man. I was just in a routine, you know. I got up, go to work, came home, and just never took time to appreciate all the little things. Once I got separated, I had time by myself versus time with the kids. I was more engaged in spending quality time with the children.
Kristina: My audience knows I’m a single mom of four kids. I have met plenty of single dads, and I hear that message from other single dads too. Once they got divorced, they became better fathers because they appreciated time with their kids so much more. Time with the children was not for granted anymore. It’s really great that something good can come out of something that’s not so great.
Aaron: Yeah, I think there are two sides to what you just said. It’s intentional from the dad to the child. But the flip side is also intentional from the child to the dad, where there’s an opportunity for the children to communicate with me. When I went through that, I had one child who didn’t want to talk about anything. We would just write letters back and forth, and that was our way of communicating. There was another child who would just pull me aside, and we would sit in a room and talk to each other about how we were feeling and what was going on.
I found it was therapeutic to me to be open and honest with my daughters. It was good to be vulnerable and tell them that I was feeling sad and why. I also wanted to tell them how important they are to me in my life. I don’t know if I did it right or wrong. I did the best I could. I think that’s what we all need to remember as parents. We’re doing the best we can off the information we have today. And so I think it’s important as a parent to give yourself a break when you need a break. It’s so easy to beat yourself up. There are so many things you’re doing right and not giving yourself credit. You’re doing way more right than what you think you’re doing wrong.
Kristina: It’s never too late to change and apologize to your kids. Tell them, “I didn’t know. I’m going to do better from here, moving forward.” I think this brings a lot of integrity to you, and it is such great role modeling for your children.
Did anything change about your parenting style after you got a divorce?
Aaron: I think it leveled the playing field. I felt like we became closer with our communication. I feel like we have more meaningful conversations now. It’s weird, but the divorce has brought us closer together as a family.
Kristina: Sometimes, it takes a while for kids to accept their parents’ separation. Kids can become very bitter and very mean to parents while going through pain in their hearts. I don’t know if you experienced that with any of your daughters, but can you speak to any of them?
Aaron: It is a challenge. It is really important to stay on the same page as the ex in regards to the kids. Your new goal is to raise the best kids possible and put them ahead of your own needs. We can deal with our differences separately. I also want my girls to know that I talk about their mother with respect. Now the challenge is sometimes, as parents, we get weak. We have emotional breakdowns, and we may say stuff about the person we were once with that we probably shouldn’t say. Sometimes the kids can see our flaws that might have been covered up before in the marriage. Sometimes divorce makes our flaws more obvious.
Kristina: My best piece of advice for any parent going through a divorce is: Under all circumstances, no matter how bad things get, try your very hardest NOT to say negative things about the other parent. Kids love their parents. That person you’re talking about is their mom or dad, and your child loves that person. It doesn’t matter how much at fault they might be or all the bad things they may have done. Kids love their parents. Even kids that are neglected and abused still love their parents. Every time the other parent speaks badly toward somebody that the child loves, it makes things very confusing for the child. Talking badly about the other parent makes the divorce more heart aching for the child.
Saying, “Don’t talk bad about the other person,” sounds easy, but it is not. You are human too, and you got a lot of feelings going through your body. It’s easy to say bad things about the other spouse because we are in so much emotional pain. Sometimes it just slips out. So, my second piece of advice is to give yourself some grace when you mess up and say something bad. After you make a mistake, go back to your child and say, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” and you admit your fault. Then tell your child why you said it, “I am hurt right now. I am going through a lot too. And it is through my emotions I said something I shouldn’t have said. I’m so sorry I said it.” Admitting your faults can be really helpful for your child.
Have you had to deal with your spouse remarrying or introducing your girl to a new woman?
Aaron: I have remarried. She has not.
Kristina: New love interests bring up a whole different dynamic to your family and the divorce. Do you have tips for a parent that has remarried or fallen in love again?
Aaron: It’s challenging because nobody can replace the spouse. Regardless of how much you love this new person, they can’t replace your ex. I think it’s important to be open, honest, and communicate with the new person you are trying to integrate into the family. Be transparent. But yeah, there’s no playbook on how to do this. One of the things that I tried to do was just one-on-one time with the new love interest. Really get to know them before you introduce them to the children. It’s not easy.
Kristina: How did your daughters accept or not accept your new spouse when they were being introduced?
Aaron: They had a million questions. It was funny. I can still picture the day they met. They took her daughter one direction and took her in a different direction. They had so many interesting questions. They knew that this person’s important enough for dad to bring around. They wanted to talk to her and ask ALL the questions. They also knew she must be pretty special.
Before the introductions, though, you have to talk to the new love interest about their expectations too. If they come in and say, “I’m your new mom. I’m in charge,” that’s not going to go over well. My wife is not trying to replace their mother. She plays more of a “friend” role. She and the girls have fun together. They do many fun things together, versus her sitting there telling them what to do. Those things you have to talk about upfront. As your new spouse, what’s your approach, and how are we going to work together? There’s a lot to talk about to hopefully have the best outcome possible.
Kristina: That’s exactly it. I’m going to reiterate what you said.
- Talk to the person that you’re trying to bring into your family,
- Get their viewpoint on where they want to stand inside your family dynamic.
- Have open communication.
Aaron: Ask your new girlfriend/boyfriend, “What was it like growing up for you?” “What was your childhood like?” This is important because our default is how we were raised. People will fall back on what they learned as a child.
Kristina: Yes, exactly. And you really want to ask the children what they expect from the new spouse? What kind of relationship do they want? I think a mistake that many parents make is saying, “Hey, I love this new person. They’re going to come in and join our family now,” and that’s it. No conversation.
My kids don’t want another parent. They don’t like it when someone comes into the home and tries to act like a mom or a dad. They’re very open to somebody coming in and taking care of their parents. My kids want their parents to have a partner. They’re not opposed to that. They are opposed to someone coming in and trying to replace the other parent or coming in and trying to tell them what to do. This is just another reason to have a good conversation with your new love and say, “Look, this is where my kids are coming from, and I want them to accept you and like you. And because I don’t want you to mess up this relationship, let’s talk about my kid’s feelings and what they expect.” Having that conversation can be powerful. Unfortunately, many parents skill this step altogether. We get so excited we found somebody else to love and love us that all sensibility goes out the window. You’re just so happy to be back in love again. BUT, if you’re listening to this right now, let’s learn from other people’s mistakes and do it right!
Aaron: You nailed it. That was fantastic. I should be taking notes. Treat your relationship with your children like the relationship with your significant other. You have to check-in and have date nights. Especially when you’re introducing somebody new, you have to have a lot of check-ins. There’s got to be a lot of conversation.
Kristina: Do you have any regrets about your divorce?
Aaron: I can honestly say I don’t.
Kristina: That’s good.
Aaron: I feel like I personally did everything humanly possible to prevent the divorce from happening. And that would be my piece of advice for people. When you think you’ve done everything you can in your marriage, go back and try again. Go back and try something different. Divorce should be a last resort. My parents have been married for over 50 years. I didn’t want to go down this path, but I did. I live with that. But it’s nice to know I can look in the mirror and say, I feel like I personally tried everything to make this work. I don’t have any regrets. I wish it didn’t happen for the children, but it did.
Hopefully, you can work things out with your spouse. Really try and find the route cause to the problems and stop playing the blame game. Unfortunately, usually, one person doesn’t want to work on things and only wants to make you feel as bad as they do.
Kristina: It’s very unfortunate, but it is common to get stuck in the cycle of hurting each other.
Do you have any suggestions for how you would talk to your kids about the divorce?
Aaron: That was a tough, tough conversation. I think a lot of it depends on the age of your children. My youngest had questions right away, but they were things like, what are we going to do for Christmas? What are we going to do for Easter?
Also, consider that your children may not even know that your marriage is on the rocks. Most parents will hide, to some degree, how bad things are getting in the relationship. Your kids may be caught off guard. There’s usually a significant emotional gap between the parents and the kids. You have to be patient and let your kids process the situation. Show up with open ears to listen.
Kristina: I think it’s important that you acknowledge some kids will be relieved that their parents are getting a divorce because they’re in a very toxic environment. Some kids are on the other side of the spectrum and hearing all the pain, yelling, and disagreement. Then, there’s the flip side. The parents that are very amicable in front of their children, and then the divorce becomes a huge surprise. I’m not saying show your kids there’s a problem. I’m saying, don’t forget to consider the child’s perspective. Give your child space and the grace to process what they’re going through. Remember, your child might be blindsided because you hid the “bad” so well.
Aaron: And something I just like to touch on is, How you saw your parents argue growing up is usually your default way to deal with your own anger. If one of your parents gave the silent treatment, that might be your default response when you have an argument. It is also how your kids might react to the news of the divorce. If you give the silent treatment when you’re angry, don’t be surprised when your kids do the same to you.
This is also a conversation to have with your new love interest. How do you deal with stress? How do you deal with arguments or disagreements? What will be the rules of engagement, and how will we communicate with each other?
Kristina: Rules of engagement! I love that term. How are we going to talk to each other? It is a great conversation to have with your children, your ex, and your new spouse. These conversations aren’t easy, but they will help in the long run. How do you initiate these conversations?
Aaron: One of the things that work well for me is, we’ll go for a walk, where we’re side by side versus face to face. I find that it relaxes us both, and we can have a more open dialogue. I used to joke about people that sit side by side at a restaurant. I never understood why people sat side by side. Well, it turns out you can have difficult conversations sitting beside each other!
As parents, it’s easy to want to give advice on everything when we’re talking to our kids. I would encourage you to say, “Tell me more,” instead.
Kristina: I find that the side-by-side conversation is a lot more effective and impactful than the front-to-front conversation, especially with teenagers. Remember that it is a lot more intimidating when you’re facing someone than side-by-side. A side-by-side conversation also leads to touching. If your child’s love language is physical touch, being able to hold their hand or put your hand on their shoulder or give them a little side hug works best side by side.
If anybody out there resonates with you and wants to know more about what you do and how you can help them, how could they get ahold of you?
Aaron: I started a coaching business in 2020 to help other adult parent coach business owners. You can reach me at purposeandwisdomcoaches.com
Kristina: Thank you for talking with me today. I really appreciate your perspective and expertise.
Parents, if you have an inspiring story that you want to share on The Impactful Parent, please go to the Impactful Parent’s website. https://theimpactfulparent.com/work-with-me We want to learn from you.
But until next time, you got this, parents. We are just here to help.