Friday, November 2, 2018

The Shift

The Shift from a Romantic Relationship to a Parenting Relationship

(*please note: in this post a talk a lot about the male role or the father role, because in my family this is what we have. However, I'm sure it translates to the mom who did not birth the child, or the father who does less of the nurturing and child-rearing in the family.  But because I know less gay couples with children, I don't have a lot of experience watching those dynamics, I would love to hear about your experiences and if they are the same*)

I responded to a friend a few weeks ago who asked for parenting advice while going through a divorce, something from my pages and pages of stream of consciousness stuck out to me that I hadn't zoned in on before.
The need to fill each others cups up with love, so we can then fill up our children's cups.
In layman terms, we need to compliment each other.

When we are divorcing, separating or breaking up with a romantic partner all trust has been broken.  Even if there was no affair, there are still promises broken. The silent agreements we make to each other, that are often impossible to fulfill. And no matter who did what to whom, you both feel hurt, betrayed, broken and vulnerable.
NO ONE likes to feel vulnerable. It's no wonder so many relationships end with a vicious custody battle. When our heart shrink with pain, our ego will make up for it and get larger than life.  And the ego, or at least MY ego, is not one to intrust with big decisions.

Men are especially vulnerable during a divorce.  It is my personal belief, that most fathers will stay in a bad relationship longer than a mothers, although unhappy, doing whatever he can to survive.  Because it is the men who have typically gotten their children taken away from them.  Judges side with mothers, it is no secret.

Men also have our patriarchal culture working against them (shocker? It's not just us gals hurt by sexism!)  Although things continue to change in the right directions, as a default in our culture, we still see the male as the breadwinner and the female role as child rearing.  As feminists it is easy to see the negative impacts this has on us women, we all know them and I don't feel like that is something I need to get into here.  What concerns me though is what is stolen from the father when these typical male/female roles are in place.
I can never remember what book I read it in, but when I was pregnant I read that a father will be as close to his children as the mother will allow him to be.  Many of my mother friends know, this is my favorite piece of advice to give new mamas.
It is our job when we are new moms not to grab our newborns out of our partners arms every time they cry.  It is hard! Tell me about it! We have the gold, the end all be all, the MILK! We can make that baby stop crying in an instant.  But, what is more important, to quickly hush the baby or to allow a bond to take place between the father and the child? To make sure the diaper gets on correctly, or to let the father do it on his own?
Not only does this create a bond, this empowers the new father, that he too can care for that little human and is needed in the family unit.

It is not only our job to empower our partners when our children are born, but also in a divorce.
Ugh! Who wants to put that energy into someone who has hurt them? Someone who has probably broken vows, big or small? Your ego is screaming 'Take that man to court and show him just whose boss! I'll take the house and the kids, you bastard!'

Or maybe you're not angry, but you're tired and defeated and hardly have the energy to take care of yourself and your children. Do you really STILL have to take care of a man too? Maybe you are getting out of the relationship because you are TIRED of taking care of that man in the first place.

The best advice I can give while going through a divorce is to be his advocate, fill his cup up with love, empower him, show him over and over that you will not take his kids from him. You are not a threat.
 It probably won't pay off for months, maybe a few years, but eventually it will pay off.
We are all human. We are all hurting inside. We all unsure of our capabilities and need love... especially after a breakup.

And so, the romantic trust is broken. That's ok, it will never be unbroken, but you don't need it to be, write about it and burn it, bury it, or just let it go.
What you need to build now is parenting trust. Perhaps you've hurt each other in the love arena, but you will not hurt each other in the parenting arena, you are in it together in that arena, so you have to start building that trust.
You have to make the shift into your new relationship.
There are probably many ways to do it, but I only know how we did it.
"Thank you for bringing the kids"
"Thank you for being such a good dad"
"Thanks for signing Redding up for Tball"
"Thanks for paying for aftercare"
(I don't care if he let your 5 year old watch 'Back to the Future' and you are pissed as all hell because DUH that's not appropriate, and if he's capable of that what ELSE could he let slip???!?!?!?
that conversation is for another time - probably in email form - when he drops off the kids say 'thank you', and mean it. Because what matters is he spent 48 hours loving, feeding and cleaning y'alls babies.)
I often said (still say) to the kids, in front of John "Y'all have the best papa", or "did you know you have the greatest papa," or "You are so lucky to have such a wonderful papa"

And wait. and wait. and wait. And eventually it will come back at you.
Or maybe it won't, But you will create an environment of kindness for your children during drop-offs and pickups.
You will help empower your partner to be the best dad he can be.

Like I always say, all studies (which there aren't many yet) point to equal time with both parents, being the most beneficial. So may as well help your partner be the best parent he can be.

Parenting is for life, may as well start healing as soon as possible and shift out of the old and into the new. Compliment your co-parent, let them know you are grateful for everything they do, or one thing they did... every time you see them. And if they roll their eyes, shrug it off. Parenting with someone is not a sprint. We are in it for the long haul.

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