Dad’s must be mindful of these five “G” words for an amicable breakup and a healthy relationship with their children afterwards.
Separation or divorce is certainly less than ideal and not planned when a couple start dating. It effects everyone it touches, from the ex-partner to children and also extended family and friends. Separation is very painful and dealing with that pain can be confusing. But the pain can be mitigated if the couple mutually decide to handle their emotions appropriately, which results in individuals consciously deciding to prioritize peace for themselves and their children.
As a therapist, I have heard many criticisms and noticed five common issues that can be detrimental to a peaceful “de-coupling”. Fathers should be aware of these five “G” words and act wisely.
Let’s get this one out the way right now. After your break up, you might be tempted to get into another relationship right away. Getting “back in the saddle” can seem like a pretty good strategy to make the pain go away. This might be the right decision but often it’s not because a breakup should have time to processed. “Too soon” can also transmit the negative message to your children that they are less important, whether intended or not. Some children also easily attach to new adults in their lives, which could set them up for more hurt if the new relationship does not materialize.
It might also end up being another source of resentment for your past partner, which adds to your “drama” especially if they perceive the new relationship as being “too soon.” This sends the message that the previous relationship wasn’t that important or serious. Maybe you want to send that message as a way of hurting your ex, but what good comes out of this approach?
Seriously consider taking off a few months after a break up and only introducing your new friend to your children after you are confidant it is stable and has a good chance for success.
Gossip is an easy trap to fall into. It begins by speaking badly about a previous partner to anyone that will listen. Talking about the wrongs and hurts can create a sense of vindication but it’s really just a guilty pleasure that harms everyone, including children. Instead, always take the high road and make the decision not to talk negatively about an ex with anyone except maybe your closest friend.
Children are especially impacted by negative talk about their parents. They don’t have the luxury of picking sides and gossip forces them hear negative things about their parent and that is especially hard when they are compelled to pick one truth over the other. Regardless of whether an adult is right or wrong, forcing a child to pick one parent over the other is just emotionally cruel.
Turning to guilt as a tool to feel better or get your way is another selfish tactic. Sometimes an adult may be tempted to try to get their way by guilting their children into picking a side, and this is harmful to children that don’t have the emotional intelligence required to create safe boundaries for themselves. Guilting a child to side with one parent over the other places them in a very precarious position they should never be put in.
Instead allow children to make their own choices based on what is best for them, not what you feel is best for you. This probably means that kids will sometimes side with Mom and sometimes with Dad. But using manipulation and guilt as tools to control a child often comes back to haunt the guilty guilting parent in the future. As children grow up, they begin to see these tactics for what they truly are, and could even resent the parent that used guilt to manipulate them into creating an alliance against the other parent.
Everyone loves to receive gifts and kids are no exception. Gifts can then be a tool to try to extract love or an alliance that leaves the other parent looking stingy, mean, or incapable of meeting their needs and wants. I am certainly not saying that we shouldn’t give our children gifts but I am encouraging you to consider your motivations. Are you giving because you love or because you want to gain an advantage over the other parent?
If your motivation is to out-do your ex, then you have again made your child into a pawn in your selfish game. But something greater may happen as an unforeseen consequence. You may be teaching your child powerful manipulation tools that they will take into their own adult relationships. Imagine growing up to believe that people must purchase you things in order to have a relationship with you. This type of gift giving may reinforce to children that there are strings attached in being loved.
Good Time Charlie
Of all the complaints I’ve heard, this is probably the most common. “When the kids go to his house they have no rules and can do whatever they want. They don’t even do their homework. Then when they come home, I have to be the responsible adult and I end up looking like the bad guy (mom).” There are many reasons why Dad’s don’t enforce rules, whether it’s too difficult, they just want to have good times with their kids when they do get them, or maybe they feel a sense of justification for sticking it to their ex. Whatever the reason, being the “good time Charlie” only causes greater conflict. An ex certainly will not appreciate this perceived lack of adult responsibility, and they will eventually let you know they aren’t happy. Also, kids will not thrive in this inconsistent upbringing where one lets them do anything and the other has stronger boundaries. If you only want to have fun with your kids, you aren’t parenting, you are hanging out with equals. And if you haven’t noticed, your kids are much younger than you and depend on you to be an adult. Therefore it’s time to man up and begin to enforce some rules with your kids. You aren’t going to hurt them or your relationship if you become more firm with rules.
Going through a breakup can be a heart wrenching experience. Don’t make it worse by using your kids as a weapon to get back at your partner which could end up damaging your children and cause them greater harm. Instead choose to do the right thing and take the high road. Lay aside your selfishness, revenge, childishness, and pain. Your kids will thank you for it when they become adults.
KJ Coupland is a husband, dad and Registered Psychotherapist in Brampton/Mississauga with Bayridge Counselling Centre. He enjoys helping people make wise choices and moving towards connection.