The stress of the holidays is often felt more by non-traditional families, such as those who have been divorced and are raising children on their own. I received this question from a member of my web site’s Women’s Wisdom Circle. Married or single, if you’re struggling to give your children all that you want them to have—while also trying to protect your soul—I hope the answer speaks to you.
How can I, as a single mom, continue to take care of my own needs when I find myself “picking up the pieces” when my children’s Dad cancels on them? My former husband often cancels on the kids and then plays the role of the “Disneyland” dad, swooping in with present and trips to make up for it. Do you have any words of wisdom to protect my spirit?
I have grown so much reading your books,
The first thing you absolutely must know, deep down, is that your children choose BOTH of you as parents. On a soul level, they knew what they were getting into. They have his genes as much as yours. Though it is not apparent to you now, your kids will ultimately get what they need from him. Life is LONG. And I’m guessing you will at least see this in retrospect.
Let him surprise you. I recommend that you give your former husband a chance to fail or succeed. Ultimately, you cannot control everything that happens to your children. Sometimes, you can’t even help them to heal, but a lot of times you can. Be open to what he might do, even though it’s not what you would do, and beware of the “self-fulfilling prophecy” that he WILL screw up.
Men like to win. Is there a way to help him win with the kids? Can you find him “doing it right?” This is not easy. But I’ll tell you this, when your children feel your support for their Dad, the situation is likely to change. When women try to control the situation overly much, their ex resists. But when you ask for help—genuinely and from your heart, and attempt to make him a hero—chances are good that he’ll surprise you and actually step up to the plate. The key here is to ask him for support with NO anger.
Can you find the perfection in the situation between you and him? That’s absolutely key. And this is NOT easy! Everything you can do to loosen your fear and guilt around all of this is the start of protecting your spirit. Way back when I went through my divorce, I was certain that I was wrecking my children’s lives. But lo and behold, my newfound sense of myself, and my ultimate total forgiveness of their father, did two things: 1) it allowed him to step up to the plate, and 2) it allowed my girls to see their mother as a happy, thriving, prosperous woman.
The bottom line is this: The biggest gift you can give your children is your own happiness. And that happiness comes when you let YOURSELF off the hook and stop trying to be all things to your children. In fact, I’d suggest learning how to ask THEM for support on a regular basis. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at what happens. And give yourself the time and space to do some yoga, take a long bath, or read a good book. The laundry and cleaning will always be there. Lower your standards!
I hope this helps.
Christiane Northrup, MD