Michela Montgomery has helped several of her divorced dad friends navigate the introduction of a new alternate home for their kids. She shares the secret to making it work.
One of the most common complaints I hear from newly divorced dads is that their children express preference for their ex-wives way of doing things to theirs. They try to emulate, only to fall woefully short of their child’s expectation of how things are ‘supposed’ to be done.
“Mommy cuts the crust off in a heart shape.”
“Mommy makes eggs that aren’t scrambled.”
“Mommy tickles my back at bedtime.”
Nothing can be more frustrating that being told you are not doing it ‘right’ by the person who matters most; your child. But happily, there is a really easy way to ensure this doesn’t become a competition for who does lunches, play dates or bedtimes “best.”
As tempting as it may seem to simply tell our little darlings that it doesn’t matter what shape the damned bread is in…the sandwich will, indeed taste the same – the success rate of that argument is equal to nailing jello to a tree. In addition, it reinforces the principle that daddy is now trying to ‘keep up’ with mommy. Making them see each house as special will take some practice – and patience – but in the end, it will be worth it.
Routines are as important to our children as they are to us. When my morning routine is interrupted – I run out of my protein shake, fruit…something before I head to the gym – my entire morning feels a little off. It’s the same for your child. Happily, as adults we have coping skills that allow us to move past these little hiccups and still carry on. And, it’s incumbent on us as parents to pass this skill onto our children; starting with making a new routine. One that they only have at Daddy’s house.
My friend Rich called me one night when his daughter was in full meltdown mode at bath time. I arrived to find his six-year-old Sarah crying uncontrollably – and somewhat resembling Chuckie – at the edge of the tub while Rich continued to try and find alternatives to their dilemma. It seemed that his ex-wife sang to his daughter at bath time – a special song that only they knew. Not only was Rich out of luck – his singing voice made dogs howl – but he had been unable to find the song on the internet.
Sitting next to her on the edge of the tub, I told Sarah what a lucky girl she was that she had a mommy who could sing to her. But then, I told her that she was extra lucky because not only did she have one talented parent…she had two. Her mommy could sing magical songs, and her daddy could tell magical stories. Now, as soon as the words were out of my mouth, Rich looked at me like I’d gone insane. But I shot him a look that told him he’d better pull a story out of his hat pretty quickly. He plastered a smile on his face and turned to the dubious-looking Sarah.
The good news is that Rich did manage to tell a story that got Sarah in a bath and clean with no more tears. The better news is that Rich asked her to help him with the rest of the story by asking her what she thought happened next. Her six-year-old imagination took hold and before he knew it, he was tucking her in with a magical ending to their most magical story. Finally, after Rich had dropped Sarah off at her mother’s house the following week, he told me that each night Sarah had demanded they do another one of ‘their stories’ together. He had created a new routine…but most importantly, he had created something positive that was only ‘theirs’.
I’m not suggesting that every problem can be solved with a dog and pony show rivaling Cirque de Soleil. But many of the ‘mommy does it another way’ problems can be solved by offering an equally special ‘daddy does it differently’ solution. I know that lunches are a problem for some divorced dads. It’s hard not knowing the secret formula to crusts, apples with the peels cut off and other various sundry idiosyncrasies that our kids seem to thrive on.
When my ex and I first divorced, I noticed that he put a note in their lunches written on their napkin. At first, it was something small like, “Have a good day!” But then as they got older it became more specific like, “I know you’ll do well on your math test!” And it was always signed, “Love, Daddy.” Now, in my opinion, the nutritional content of those lunches was always a bit…spotty, but reading those messages, I knew he was making their lunches special. Lunches from mommy’s house were always good, but you never could tell what message daddy had written on your napkin. Over time, my kids didn’t seem to mind that his lunch-making results were different than mine.
Hearing that your ex-wife has done something “the other way” than you can feel like fingernails on a chalkboard, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Children are many things, but mostly they are resilient. And they will adapt, no matter how we fear that we are putting them through ‘too much change’. Divorce is like driving full speed, the wrong way down a one-way only tunnel. You just hope to God that you’ll make it through without killing yourself or someone else. Driving that road is hard enough without our children as back-seat drivers telling us that ‘mommy would have just taken the expressway’. Don’t be afraid to tell your kids that new can be scary, but it isn’t always bad. It can be fun, silly and…you might end up discovering something amazing that you never had before. You never know…they might grow to like scrambled eggs – because it’s just how daddy does it.
Photo: Flickr/jo hopkins