How do we support our children and listen to their stories when they want to talk about our ex? Sometimes I just want to scream, “I don’t care! I don’t want to hear about what my ex did or said.”
I know I can’t do that as it would make our child hurt, angry and less likely to share other things. Children have a need to go on, to treat many things as they did before the divorce. They have a deep desire for their parents to still love each other, a different kind of love, but love nonetheless.
How do we as parents share things with our kids without saying” don’t tell your mom or dad?” Not that we are talking bad about the other parent or have anything to hide, but we just feel our new lives are none of their business.
To deal with the first part, me not wanting to hear it, early on I set some boundaries with my kids. Oh, it wasn’t immediate, as I didn’t know this would happen. But every time my kids would come back from theirs dad’s, they would go on and on and on. This is what we did, this is what he did, this is what he said, this is what he didn’t do, etc. It got to the point where more than me not wanting to hear about him and his new life, it was consuming all my time with our children.
So I put into effect the 20 minutes rule. From the time they came back to my house they had 20 minutes to rant rave and share. After that, it was our time.
After a while, we didn’t really need the rule any more. They enjoyed our time together and didn’t want to ruin it. They still shared, sometimes way more than I ever wanted to hear, but at least it was no longer a volcanic eruption of sharing. And yes, still to this day I am privy to way more than I want to be. I love my kids with all my being, therefore this will always be a part of my life.
The second part, of me not wanting my life shared with my ex has proved to be harder to contain. I do think much of it stems from his narcissistic need to know everything I was doing when he left. Even though he left and wanted a different life, he still felt he needed to control me, needing to know what I was doing and who I was with. So I believe I developed a wall, a barrier, and the thought process that it is none of his business. I mean, seriously, if you don’t want to be part of my life, then get out and stay out. You can’t have it both ways. Oh, he thought he could, he thought he could go live his own life however he wanted and I would still do all the wifely and motherly duties for him. Well, we all can guess how that went.
Now I am faced with not wanting him to know about my life, but sharing children. I can’t really say “don’t tell your dad,” because then they think we are doing something wrong, which we are not. Such a hard concept for me – how do I explain it to our children?
Then I individually sat with each of my children, ranging in age from 9 to 26, and had a conversation about the new lives we were all leading. We talked about many things and I allowed them to ask any questions they wanted and I would do my best to answer honestly.
My main point was that even though their father and I both loved them, and we each had a life with them all, our lives were now separated. Therefore, what happens at dad’s stays at dad’s and what happens at mom’s stays at mom’s.
Of course, I had to expand on that. If you do something at your dad’s or with your dad that you want to share with me, I want to hear it. And definitely if something bad is going on that involves our children, I want to hear. But what dad does with his friends, or at work, or just life in general, I don’t want or need to hear that. Same goes at mom’s. If we make the most awesome dinner, and serve it on fancy dishes and dress up fancy and you have a blast, by all means share that with your dad. If your dad takes you bowling and you fall on your butt in the alley and you both laugh hysterically, I definitely want to hear your story. But if mom goes on a date, or buys a new couch, or dad introduces you to another new “friend” or goes to vegas for the 4th time this year, we each don’t want or need to know those things.
We, or maybe just I, needed to form my own life, my own world, separate from my ex. It is a tough concept for me as an adult, but even harder for children, no matter their age. We must be extra gentle and deal with each child’s feelings individually. Each understands at a different level. I never want them to be ashamed or feel they are or have to keep secrets.