Children tend to reflect back in their own lives what they see and experience every day. Because of this, we owe it to them to be a role model who strives to be the very best version of ourselves that we can be. Arguably, the mother-child relationship is one of the greatest influences in our lives. We have the power to use that influence to motivate, to encourage and to teach.
A divorced mother must model parenting, communication, and lifestyle to her children in a way that allows the whole family to move forward in a healthy and productive way that keeps divorce from damaging our children.
Even through the roller-coaster of uncertainty that accompanies divorce and single parenthood, we owe our children the following ten things on a consistent basis:
1. Show an Interest: Take an interest in what your children have to say. Kids don’t always easily open up. If they want to tell you something about their day, about a friend, about an assignment or a due-date, don’t be too busy to stop for a moment and take in the information. Keep a pulse on the difference between interest and prying - kids like you to listen, they don’t typically like to be peppered with a ton of questions. Let them tell you what they need in their way, but don’t make it hard for them to communicate by being too busy to take a moment and acknowledge that they are talking to you.
2. A Positive Attitude: Your mood almost always sets the tone for the rest of the household. Even when you feel like crumbling, do your best to stay upbeat for your kids when you can, especially during critical times such as mornings before school, just before extra-curricular events and before dropping them off with their dads. The time for tears is after they have left the house so they will not be burdened with the image of seeing their mother upset.
3. Continued Good Health: When your children are looking for something to do, don’t you want them to think about being active instead of heading for video games or phones? Lead by example, ditch the junk food and add regular, healthy activities to your lifestyle. Is there a store or restaurant close enough to walk to? Could you make a game out of cooking at home? Endorphins and healthy eating have both been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. Be active with your children and on your own. Your children need to see you eating well and engaging in a healthy lifestyle. If you always exercised, don’t let divorce change this habit. If you never exercised, make a commitment to getting out with your kids or taking walks after the kids leave for school.
4. A Healthy Self-Esteem: Be proud of yourself! It takes courage to walk the path of a single parent and a strong will and determination to parent well through a divorce. Celebrate your victories whether they are large or small and hold your head up high. Hibernate at home on occasion, but don’t forget that you have much to offer. You do not need a reason to dress well, wear nice clothing and keep yourself well groomed. You will feel better and be more motivated when you are pulled together and even if they don’t realize it, your kids will feel better about their mom when she looks like she cares about herself.
5. Space and Time Alone: Everybody needs a little space and that extends to you and to your kids. Your kids need some space to think for themselves and you all need to know how to function alone. Children who transition from one home to another also sometimes need a little time to readjust when they come back home. Give them (and yourself) a little time to make those transitions before diving back into your busy routine.
6. Show Them the Virtues Of Being Independent: Find things that you enjoy doing and make time to do them. Nothing is more boring than a person who has nothing interesting to say and nothing they are interested in doing. You will be more appealing to your children, to your friends and to yourself if you find a hobby independent of your children and your work. Your children need to see that you have interests and that your world does not revolve around them. Otherwise, they may feel overly guilty about having to leave when they visit their other parent or have outside activities. Give your children and yourself the gift of something to do that fills your mind and your time.
7. A Willingness to be Honest: Our children inevitably will have questions. Part of our responsibility is to learn how to answer questions in an honest and honorable fashion and to receive input from our children in the same way. We can honestly say we are having a hard day without burdening our children with details that give our children more responsibility than they need to carry. When questions about their dad cross into sensitive areas, honesty might mean explaining that those issues are between their mother and father and not appropriate for children. Sometimes honesty means that we have to let our children know that we hurt too but that we love them and are doing the best that we can. Sometimes honesty means that we have to be willing to listen to what they say to us even when it hurts because we have to know how they are feeling so we can do a better job parenting.
8. Be an Example of Good Work Ethic: Divorce turns everyone’s world upside down. What was reliable becomes uncertain and what was known becomes unfamiliar. Within reasonable parameters, set goals for yourself and your family and stick to them. While being the ‘responsible one’ is not a sexy title, it is one which over time has value to your children and can give you purpose when you are at a loss for your next steps.
9. Time to Relax and Play Together: As a counterpoint to work-ethic, of equal value is knowing when it is time to set aside all of the worries of the day and just have a little fun with your family. Be spontaneous from time to time and have dinner on the floor picnic-style or play a game of hide and seek just for fun. Make sure you lighten up with your kids and have a little fun with them to remind them how much you love just being with them.
10. A Safe and Stable Home: Home is where your family lives. As a mother, you create the place where your children can feel safe and where they know they are loved. Wherever they are, you have the opportunity to remain a constant source of love and a safe place for them to return.
As mothers, we invest consistently and profoundly in our children. As mothers who parent our children through and after divorce, we carry an additional responsibility. Not only must we parent our children in all the traditional ways: food, clothing, shelter, homework; but we also must ensure that our children have the tools to thrive in the chaos of a divided home and the pressures of going from household to household. By keeping the end-goal in mind, we can give both our children and ourselves the gift of influence, love and strength.