“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me” – Jim Valvano
Sometimes, for no particular reason (that I’m aware of anyway) I find myself reflecting on the role I have as a father to my children. Whether we’re about to embark on a summer road trip or we are exercising our weekly rituals during a normal school week, from time to time I will pause and think about who I am in their lives and what they mean to me. To have the authority and the privilege to shape their very lives and watch them develop is a rewarding, yet humbling experience. It is something that I have never taken lightly and I constantly work hard at keeping a balance of love, discipline, affection and correction in our home, albeit some days our easier than others. They never cease to amaze me with their distinctly different personalities, from their quick wit, persuasive charm and at times surprisingly stoic silence. It just depends on the current situation, whether one of them is not getting their way or not, or some outside pressure is affecting them.
No matter what their current moods are, I love them equally and I would not change the unique array of beauty that I receive from each of them daily.
I suppose it’s the type of beauty that only a parent can truly appreciate or even understand. To observe what has come from you, mature (before your own eyes) physically and emotionally, and express themselves freely with sincere thought and detail, while (you) knowing who and what they were only a few years prior is truly a treasure, and what I believe every parent desires for their offspring. To grow and see their place in the world. And although I am a divorced father, I have never divorced my children and I am thankful for the love we have for one another today.
Like anything worth pursuing or obtaining, we have to make a choice on how we will respond when life throws us the curveball. This choice must occur prior to the curveball being thrown, otherwise we will find ourselves at the intersections of life, dumfounded and perplexed on how to move forward. During that idle decision-making time, lives could be in the balance waiting for you to do something. My curveball was my divorce from their mother after fifteen years of marriage. The decision to continue to raise my children and to do what was necessary to be an instrumental part of their lives was always a priority for me. So that meant my independent pursuits had to become second to my children. This included not moving far away (for any reason), squelching differences that impacted my ability to raise my children harmoniously with their mother and establishing a working system that brought continuity between two separate homes. This was and continues to be an ongoing goal and obviously requires fine tuning and adjustments regularly, but I can say after almost seven years I have emotionally healthy children that are happy, (not perfect), loved, (not spoiled) and treat others with respect, while pursuing their goals and performing well in school.
The key was my children were always the only choice that I had, no matter what that looked like, including divorce, career, etc.
Their well-being meant more to me than my own, and I believed even after a divorce that they could live healthy lives, but it would require major sacrifices (or what I call investments from me). Below are a list of those investments:
My Personal Investments/Sacrifices for My Children
1. Be honest with them – Always approach discussions with an age-appropriate stance, but share the truth with your children. They have already written a story in their own heads about why and what happened, so this is your time to dispel any myths. Come clean about where things are (without the gory details) and give them the security that you will still be in their lives. When the kids mother an I decided to divorce, we sat our older two down and had a talk about where things were. We were honest with them and allowed them to express their concerns, vent or ask us questions. Each answer how a pound of assurance to go with it, and although it was the official beginning of the end of a marriage, it was not the ending of my relationship with them as their father. It was imperative that they heard and saw that as time passed.
2. Assure them that it’s not their fault – Kids have an uncanny ability to internalize and project why things happened the way they did. Now is the time to assure them that not only do you love them, but they had absolutely nothing to do with the decision that is being made.
3. Never talk negatively about your ex-spouse in the presence of the children – This is probably one the most common and detrimental things that we can do as parents. Yes, tensions are high and these circumstances tend to bring out the worst in people, but work at controlling your emotions during these times. We can’t undo our words and even if the other parent is an idiot, allow your child to develop their own opinion over time. I guarantee they won’t need your help with this. In many cases the person the child tends to harbor bad feelings over is the parent speaking negatively, so be careful what you’re saying. Remember, you’re not looking to get them on your side. Be their parent, not their best friend.
4. Check-in with your kids regularly – Since I share custody, I make a point to have a family dinner once or twice a week to just catch up and talk about the day. This is where I learn the most about where my kids really are and what conversations I should be having with them. Allow it to be a fun and a relaxing environment, with food they like. Unfortunately, many homes have lost the art of sitting together as family and talking. The dialogue at the dinner table will prove to be invaluable.
5. Get yourself a support system – Divorce is one the hardest things that I have ever experienced, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. This is a time when you need a solid support system. Hopefully family or close friends that can be empathetic, but objective. The last thing you need is someone who believes you’re always right (because you’re not) or someone who cannot feel your pain and simply listen to you when things our tough. Have the courage to tell someone this. Don’t go through it alone if you don’t have to.
None of us will always have the right answers, therefore we will inevitably make mistakes. This is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to continue in the them and not realize it’s causing harm.
I am grateful for the impact that I have had on my children as a father. I am equally grateful for the many single-mothers that have carried us for so long, and today I felt it was important to acknowledge the host of fathers raising their sons and daughters to be intelligent, fearless and whole individuals that dare to believe that they can accomplish anything because not only do they have mothers that love and support them, but they have fathers in their corners leading them towards their ultimate purposes, even if it’s from another home.
On being a father, I will close with this common phrase typically coined for women that have settled for men unworthy of their love that is, “Know your value, know your worth.” Fathers, let us never forget our value and our worth in our children’s lives. It could be a matter of life and death for them.