“Prior planning prevents piss poor performance,” is a saying I learned in the Army and applied to real life. Plan for everything. Plan to make time to plan. Naturally, when my wife of five years and I decided to separate, we talked about a lot of issues. We quickly moved past “why” it was over, and got down to discussing life post-split. Together we made decisions about everything from custody and visitation to who gets to claim our (at the time) three year old son on the taxes. The last thing we wanted was a hellish divorce or drawn out custody battle. I thought we planned for everything and was feeling pretty good about myself for handling it with maturity.
Just like we planned, she moved about two hours away for work, leaving me to care for and raise our son. Between my full time job and online classes, I barely had time to catch my breath. But I love being with my son, so it was worth it. For a few months, things were going well.
One night at bed time, I was reading “Are you my mother?” to my son. All of a sudden, in the middle of the story, his eyes teared up, and his lower lip quivered. I asked him, “What’s the matter buddy?” And as soon as I asked, I wished I hadn’t because he heaved and cried for almost two hours. He asked only one question: “Where’s my mommy?”
Throughout the separation and divorce process I had planned for everything I could control. But I didn’t plan for this. I was left dumbfounded and speechless. All I could do was try to comfort him and calm him down. About a year later, I’ve gotten better about talking to him and addressing issues like this before they turn into temper-tantrums or weeping spells. Here are five things I wish I knew a year ago:
5. No matter how young your child is, they know something is wrong. Don’t try to hide it or cover it up. Bad news doesn’t get better with time, and to young children this is the end of the world as they know it. Break the news together, and gently. Don’t be ambiguous about why you got divorced, but obviously spare the kids the details. It’s most important to make sure the child understands that they are not the cause of the divorce. Try to highlight the good aspects of the separation. For younger kids, help them to understand how they’re feeling. It was overwhelming for my son, I had to help him learn some new words to express himself.
4. I’m one to always expect my son to keep his chin up and his eyes dry, but when he’s missing mommy or daddy and doesn’t understand why they we all can’t live at home together, they’ve got to let it out. Be firm and reassuring. And patient.
3. As much as possible, stick to the same daily routine. Build a regular schedule for visitation and enforce it. Children like to know what’s next on the agenda.
2. Talk to your ex-spouse. The divorce might have been painful, even hateful, but you have to get past your feelings. Children’s school, doctors appointment, religious holidays and family gatherings all require each of you to talk, share information, and plan ahead. The first thing you have to do is pick up the phone.
1. Learn to Forgive. I’m still working on this one myself.