I am often asked by divorcing or separate parents, “WHY? Why should I take the high road?” or “When should I take the high road, before or after the legal battle ends?” My answer is always the same; you can never go wrong traveling on the high road. It is not always easy or enjoyable and sometimes it is impossible – but the payoff for a consistent effort is priceless for your children and that is reason enough to try in my opinion.
I am now a divorced parent of two teenagers. From the outside looking in, my married life seemed practically perfect in every way. In truth, it was a mess. Shortly after my youngest child was born I made a conscious decision to remain in my unhappy marriage; and I stayed unhappily married “for the sake of my children” for four more years before a marital crisis brought everything to a head. It took me years to realize that maintaining the illusion of a happy marriage was no more in my children’s best interests than neglectful parenting. Fear that my children would grow up believing that a happy marriage was like that marriage I had with their father finally drove me out. My therapist believes that the “crisis” saved my life…karma in action. Overtime, I have come to believe this too.
Our legal divorce spanned 2.5 years, was highly adversarial and cost a small fortune (six figures+). By the time it ended we were unable to parent without conflict and it took another 3 years to rebuild enough civility and trust to keep our kids out the middle of our on-going conflicts. Eight years after separation and ultimately divorce, we are able to effectively co-parent our children with minimal conflict. We worked hard to get there and we still have some pretty significant legal and financial issue between us – BUT we have figured out a way to separate those issues from parenting our children.
I will be eternally thankful that I married AND divorced my husband. Our kids are the positive outcome of our relationship and I would never have them were it not for my relationship with their father. AND, I am a better person, parent, and partner and friend today and that would not have been possible were it not for my journey through divorce. I went back to school, earned a Master’s degree, started a private practice doing work I love, found a new life-partner (added a bonus child) and have carved out a happy and fulfilling life. A life I am proud to model for my children. They know me and understand my values. They have a strong relationship with both their parents and they are well-adjusted. On the occasions I need to talk with my ex, I am almost immediately reminded of why we are not together (and I am sure he is too).
We’ve gone our separate ways – we’ve stopped trying to change each other and gave up trying to resolve our differences. And this is the secret of success.
Focus on that which you can control and leave the rest to sort itself out. Your child’s lot in life includes both of you…for better or worse. Your parenting partner must map his/her own journey. Behaving badly, saying negative things about you, or using the children as pawns will ultimately pound nails in his/her own coffin without any help from you. Your child will eventually see each of your behaviors for what they are and form their own opinion. Therefore, model the behaviors and values you want your child to learn and gently try to undo the damage caused by others as best you can without sacrificing your values. Someday, your children will reflect on both of your behaviors during this time and if you focus on your own and travel the sometimes difficult of the path of the “high road” you will see success. You will protect your children from the all too common long-lasting negative effects of parental conflict.
As my friend and colleague, Jerry Johnson says, Success in life (parenting) is not a destination, it’s a journey! Peaceful travels!
Amber is a divorce and parenting specialist in private practice in Burnsville, MN. She is also a divorced parent and step-parent of three children, ages 12-16.
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