Post-divorce, it is important to be with your children to reassure them that you will be there for them, even if the rest of the world seems to have abandoned them.
Children need stability, and it’s your job to provide it. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be there all the time, 24/7. In fact, doing so may make your offspring feel that life is even more uncertain than it already is. This can result in older offspring (and adults) who are so paralyzed by uncertainty, or separation anxiety, that they can’t even make their own decisions.
Post-Divorce Smother Mother/Helicopter Parenting
One reputable source calls this behavior “Smother Mother”. You could also call it “Hover Mom”, or the more fashionable term “helicopter parent”. By any name, this 24/7 on-call behavior results in the exact opposite of the behaviors divorced parents strive for when practicing the three R’s: routine, ritual and reassurance.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to take care of your kids is take care of yourself, especially post-divorce. This includes finding ways to reverse your own feelings of worthlessness and abandonment in the wake of divorce. Because if you can’t survive the crisis emotionally intact, your kids won’t, either. They need you to become whole in order to do the same.
As an adult, you need the company of other adults to continue to mature and evolve. We see it in the animal world all the time: when the offspring are past a certain vulnerable age, parents rejoin the herd. This is safer both for the children and for their parents, and this is true whether you are an elephant or a human. In fact, we could learn much from animal behavior about healthy offspring, if only we would learn to study it.
For human parents and caregivers, whether male or female, it’s important to get back out in the world: doubly important if you have been a homebody all your married life (with the result that your one-dimensional self may have contributed to the divorce in the first place).
Find a new friend – preferably one completely unlike the ones you have had up to now. Volunteer at a hospital, nursing home, or handicapped care center – anything that will put you back in touch with other adults whose lives are equally complex.
If all else fails, take up a new hobby. Whatever you choose, makes sure that it puts you first for at least a few hours a week. If it adds another dimension to your personality – like the ability to throw a pot, care for a cancer patient, or dialogue with the learning/speech disabled – even better.
Giving Back As Good As You Get
The best part of getting out and interacting with the world again (or at least in new ways) is that – when you are around your children (at mealtimes or helping with homework, or the thousand other interactions that make you a parent), you will really engage them.
Nothing is more boring than talking to good old mom. Ask any newly fledged, 24-year-old entrepreneur with an exciting new job. That phone call, and subsequent conversation, is like trying to negotiate a combined minefield/quicksand pit.
As attorney and freelance writer Christina Pesoli notes, Smother Mother (SM) is boring! A one-dimensional creature whose repertoire of facts covers healthy food, germs, and little else, SM has spent so much of her life wrapped up in being wife and mom that no one wants to be around her. It’s like a conversation with a robomarketer.
Get out. Get going. Get back to the real world. Then see your own strength and fullness filling your children, and giving them memory banks from which to draw when they have tough times later in life.
As Ann Landers (writing the column as “Dear Abby”, and author of “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee”) once said: “It isn’t what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.”
And isn’t that the goal?