Ok, Dads, there are actually two distinct parts to this blog. The first part, I was planning on writing anyway, due to some questions I got from some people going through divorce, and the second part comes from some personal events that happened yesterday.
So first, lets call “emotional recovery”. I have dealt with this somewhat before, but the questions I have gotten seem to show maybe I haven’t dealt with this particular aspect in the detail it deserves. Now, dads, it can be an ego thing for us to “jump back in the saddle” in the wake of a separation or divorce. We want to feel attractive to members of the opposite sex, and so we throw ourselves back into the dating world as quickly as possible. For some dads, that’s trying to seek sex, for some, it is an emotional relationship to bury the pain of rejection, and for some, they just can’t handle being alone.
I have seen many friends throw them back out as quickly as possible, and to be honest, I was just as guilty of that as the next guy. BUT, this approach is a MISTAKE. As I have stated repeatedly, you are going through a trauma, and though we call it “Divorce” as if it is one single thing, its NOT. It is a series of events, the MIDDLE part is you and your spouse separating. As with ANY traumatic event, your recovery from it is going to come in STEPS, and your EMOTIONAL recovery is included in that.
Simply put, dads, unless you marriage had been DEAD, in your mind, for a LONG time before the divorce, your emotions are bouncing around like a ping pong ball on crack. So, you may think “Yeah, I can handle a relationship again. I am already past things.”….um NO YOU AREN’T. Not at six months, not at a year….sorry to disappoint.
Your emotions are in turmoil, and going around in your head. You are going between grief, sadness, anger, happiness, in some cases, and these emotions can literally change between one minute and the next. Now, being guys, we can fool ourselves about our emotions, because we don’t like to deal with them, and we can lock onto one emotion and cling to it like a drowning man clings to a life preserver. We can do that in such a way, we can suppress our inner emotional struggle….for awhile. But the other emotions will come roaring back at the most inopportune moment, demanding we recognize them and deal with them.
And because we lock onto that one emotion, we may also not realize that emotion MAY be a false one, or the object of that emotion may NOT be what we believe them to be, or even what we truly want.
So when venturing out into the dating world, we need to be careful.
So, for example, if you seek out a group of divorced people, either in the real world, or on line, as I did, you find a community that actually GETS what you are going through. They understand your pain, your emotions, and in these rooms, you find both men and women going through it. It is a WONDERFULLY therapeutic thing! Then you find yourself talking to one particular woman, who you connect with, because of your shared trauma. You find yourselves talking to each other for hours, and a bond is formed because of this shared trauma.
NOW is where you need to step back. You need to take a deep breath and you need to regroup. Its time to ask yourself some question, before you cross that line of sharing pain, to actual romantic involvement.
Its simple, and its not. YES, you have this bond, YES, she gets your pain. BUT (You knew there would be a but!)…What ELSE do you have in common ASIDE from that trauma? What interests do you share? How about philosophies of life? Religion? Music? Views on child rearing?
Sharing trauma only gets you so far, dads. It helps you heal, as sharing ANY traumatic event with someone does…but does THAT translate into something that can actually LAST? Eventually, the trauma is going to fade for both of you. Eventually, you are both going to heal, and then you are going to have to actually BUILD something with this person that has a SOLID foundation.
“But she GETS me!”
NO, she gets your PAIN. You are NOT your pain, as much as it FEELS like you are in those early days. You are a person with beliefs, and interests, passions and desires, hopes and fears, and so is she. And if those things DON’T match up to a significant degree, then once the trauma that bound you together is gone, what do you have left?
Because men DON’T, in general, deal with their emotions well, they can lock onto this release, this balm on our pain, like it is the answer to all our problems. I saw SO many men, AND women, jump from partner to partner within the chat community I was in. And MOST of them were not doing it to be players, or be mean…they were CONFUSED. That is NATURAL!!!
Almost three years into things, there are both men and women from that room that I consider CLOSE friends. But they are people I found OTHER interests with, aside from the divorce. Our conversations, these days, still touch on the divorce, but also roam through SO many similar interests, that I would have been close to them, if we had met and had NEVER divorced. And the women I DO find attractive? Well, there is far more to what we have in common, again, than that pain!
In the early days, you have to be more careful, and more AWARE of where your emotions are, than at any OTHER time in your life. You don’t want to be hurt, and you don’t want to hurt someone else. So TREAD CAREFULLY. Don’t leap at an opportunity that somehow SEEMS a Godsend, when it is simply a part of healing, no MORE and no LESS.
Take your time, and ask yourself the HARD questions, as much as you now want something SIMPLE. Otherwise, one of you is going to be hurt. We all want to think our particular romance, or situation, is unique, and will buck the trend…and it MIGHT…but there is a reason the OTHER way is the TREND….because that is the way it usually ends up.
Dig into your emotions, dads. Root them out, acknowledge them, and you will HEAL far more quickly and be MUCH more likely to actually find a person you CAN match up with long term. Again, easily said, not so easily done.
Okay, another part to the divorce process, is being a parent. Whether your children are with your part time, or full time, you are STILL A PARENT, with ALL the responsibilities that entails. It is natural to want to spare our children from going through any MORE pain than they already have.
BUT again, a natural thing, for SOME parents, is to become OVER protective, and actually drive our kids away. Now…much as I hate to, I gotta drag my ex into this again, because it is DIRECTLY about what she is doing that is alienating herself from her daughter.
My step daughter called me yesterday. I make sure I am available for her to vent to, because she and her mother have some serious issues. Unfortunately, my ex creates many of these issues by lying to her daughter, and being hypocritical. And even MORE unfortunately, my ex thinks one of the things she needs to do is listen to ALL of her daughter’s phone conversations, including ones with me.
Now, she demands her daughter tell her everything, talks about how they have to trust each other, but demonstrates HER clear lack of trust by this intrusiveness. “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Folks, you can’t be a hypocrite with your kids. Kids have better BS detectors than ANY adult I know. They know when someone close to them is lying, being false, or giving off the “Do as I say, not as I do” vibe. Sorry. They do. And if you think YOUR kids don’t, you are LYING to yourself.
My ex pretends she is NOT listening in, but my step daughter KNOWS she is…there is no doubt in this.
Now, when we were growing up, you ALL knew those kids who had the overly strict parents…the ones who always had to know where the kid was, who never believed what they said, who monitored the children like they lived in a concentration camp…lets call this the “Dick Cheney” approach to parenting:
“Yes, you can live your life, but I am your parent, I know better, and to keep you from screwing up, you have NO rights and NO privacy while you are under MY roof.”
Now, what happened to those kids, almost UNANIMOUSLY? They became the kids that got into the most trouble, had the worst emotional issues, and went off the deep end far more quickly than any OTHER kid. It ALWAYS happens, and if you think back to your teenage years, you can name at least ONE kid I am talking about. We ALL can. Unfortunately, some of those kids, in their over-reaction, ended up dead.
It is SO easy, as a parent, to think: “Well, I am older, far more wiser, I knew what I did, and I need to prevent my kids from doing those same things.”
And it is SO easy to think exerting absolute control is the answer to this. ITS NOT. IF you let yourself become one of these parents, you are actually setting your kids up for a FALL, and you only have YOURSELF to blame.
There is a fine line in parenting, folks. You want to be FRIENDLY, but you CAN’T be your child’s “friend”. You need to ARM your kids to handle the world, but you CAN’T prevent the pitfalls of the teenage years, and it is FOOLISHNESS of the highest order to think that you can. YOU CAN’T.
There is a balance to be struck here. Part of it involves treating your kids as individuals WORTHY of your respect. This means talking to them about grown up things, in terms they can understand, not sheltering them. For example, again with the ex, my step daughter is 13, almost 14, and a couple weeks ago, my ex FINALLY had the “talk” with her…this is NOT the 1950s…holding that talk off till then merely made my ex’s efforts PITIFUL, and look like a JOKE to our daughter. That talk should have been a couple years ago. To compound her error, my ex used words like “boy parts”….
Look, the “Talk” with your kids, is going to be uncomfortable, but you NEED to, as with everything else, show your kids you think they can handle truths…so suck it up and use the appropriate language. Don’t fool yourself. Your kids already KNOW the terminology from other kids in school. So, where my ex talked about a girl using her mouth on “boy parts”…this doesn’t mean you say “blowjob”, pardon my explicitness, but you DO say “Oral Sex”. If you DON’T give the appropriate respect in these instances, you might as well say NOTHING.
There is a woman I know, who is the BEST mother I know, bar none, and she and I talked about this, and she used an example that made me remember my parents had the EXACT same approach.
Lets use underage drinking as an example. Again, lets not be hypocritical. I drank underage, and 90% of the teenage kids I knew did as well. The odds are YOU did too…so what is the APPROPRIATE way to arm our kids?
The approach my friend used was the exact same one my parents used with me. You let your kids know you consider it to be WRONG, but IF they are in a situation where there has been alcohol and drugs, then that night, they can call you for a ride, because you DON’T want them to either drive drunk, or RIDE with someone who is drunk…For that NIGHT, there will be no questions, and no recriminations. You will come get them NO QUESTIONS ASKED.
Now, the next DAY is a different story, and there WILL be consequences. And they need to KNOW that…the point is to make sure that if they DO screw up, you will get them through it, and THEN you will deal with it.
And you know what? I DID drink underage, but I NEVER drove drunk, or rode with ANYONE who was drunk. I can hear some people saying “Well then your parent’s approach didn’t work!”
Get with reality. Yes I drank, SOME, not much. Yes I had sex. But I didn’t drive drunk, I made sure I used condoms, and as result, I am alive, and have NO children from a young age…so WHICH, in the end, was more effective do you think? SERIOUSLY, don’t be HYPOCRITICAL.
Another example, going back, is my step daughter told me about the “talk” my ex had with her. My response was simple. I said, “Good, I don’t need to go over the mechanics with you, but now, here is the GUY take on things.”
I talked with her as an adult. I told her how boys and girls have hormones running through them on a level adults don’t. How boys can and do say ANYTHING to get sex, including saying “I love you.” I told her flat out, I had concerns, given her mother’s situation with men, that she might be vulnerable to the first guy who paid serious attention to her, and to KEEP him, she would give in when she didn’t want to. I told her the perfect guy is the one who says “I will wait till you are ready”…and then she should WAIT with him. I told her the mistakes I felt I made as a teenage guy, and I treated her as a young adult the entire time, and refused to look uncomfortable about this conversation for a single second. I looked at it as a NECESSITY that my discomfort could AFFECT.
As parents, we need to face reality. Our kids are going to make errors, and do things we don’t want them to. You can’t prevent it, you can’t stop it. ALL you can do is chart a course through these rapids of teenage years, that let them make it through it as well adjusted, and ALIVE adults. BE REALISTIC, be honest. Think back to when YOU were a teenager, about what things got through to you and what didn’t. SPYING on your kids, hounding them, treating them as INFANTS….all this is going to do is make your kids resent you, and drive them to push the envelope more, folks.
Be friendly, be honest, stand by rules, but also, be your kid’s safe place…be that place they KNOW you will catch them if they fall. Let them know that YES, there are consequences for screw ups…but those consequences are REASONABLE, MEASURABLE, and treat your kids with the respect of talking HONESTLY….that is being a TRUE parent!