Dear Leaver’s Everywhere.
Going through this whole thing — and acknowledging that this whole thing will never end — I’ll throw some dashes into the run on sentence that is life and string together a few observations on what are some good strategies if you plan to leave your family and still be connected. Some of these my ex has done, some she has not. I was thinking of prioritizing, but they’re all important
You have to Prove Yourself to Your Children
It’s a parenting tabula rasa. All bets are off. Assume nothing.
Look of course, you’re not a stranger starting from scratch. But assume you are. Internalize that assumption and act on it. You are being
scrutinized. It’s like a probationary period for a new job.
It is unfair. You were there when they were born after all and everything from that point to the moment you left. In all fairness that has to be worth something. But watch a playground for an hour (or a city council meeting for that matter) and then meditate on human fairness. It’s why teachers post rules in the classroom, and why lawyers are rich — life ain’t fair.
So try harder. Whatever you did in the past, assume it’s not enough. Be at the top of your game, make it your priority. Whatever it takes — read a parenting book or two even if you never have and vehemently disagree with what you’re reading or it just affirms everything you are as a parent already — it will get it in your head. Because it will be hard to do so. With everything else going on, it will seem like the parenting thing should be the easiest, it’s what you’ve done for so long. But you have to try extra hard.
Remember everything that was said when you meet the kids (see below). Have a plan for each day. Wear your best disposition when you meet. Think of it as a new job — you’re qualified, you’re capable, you have experience otherwise you’d never have the job in the first place. But you still have to prove yourself. Consider yourself on probation for the first few months, plan and prioritize to make your mark.
Quit yer bitchin’
This is really important…. ah hell they’re all important. But you have to not complain. You will still complain. To whinge is to be human. And whinge you shall. And God knows the kids will be doing it and that will drive you crazy because their complaining will often feel like direct criticism which hurts.
But you’re modelling complaining, so the more you complain they will too. And you casting a negative pall around your circumstances means they will look at it negatively too and think about what would be/could be better. That’s much more pernicious, Leaver, and it typecasts you as weak.
You as the Leaver parent, especially if there is an unequal split in the parenting role, have an uphill battle fighting for authority and credibility. Of course kids will tend to defer to the primary caretaker but even a parent who is doing the 80 hour work week compared to a stay-at-home parent can keep authority; remember “wait until your father gets home?”
You don’t have to be a heavy to preserve that authority. Just focus on not undermining your own authority by being unnecessarily weak.
Keep a diary of important little things to do with the kids — promises, things to buy or fix, research, punishments, money you borrowed, anything you said you were going to do, or wanted to the kids. When you’re not in the household, you lose out on the dozens of casual reminders and little mnemonics that keep you up to speed and on track. Kids have much less going on in their lives and will remember what a parent said they were going to do and more importantly remember when you don’t. Keep a book, try to make sure they don’t notice you’re referring to it — the whole weakness thing, but even if they see you using it, it’s better than forgetting altogether — and stay connected
This is especially important if you’re the weekend parent and not doing an equal split thing. It’s the little daily things that establish a strong connection because the children feel reliant on you. Underwear, socks, the uncool, toothbrushes whatever — normal stuff. You should have that at your place where they are staying but you can also make sure that stuff goes home, too. Send cookies and banana bread to the primary home after a visit, regardless if you made it together or not. This may provoke a visceral reaction in the Leavee along the lines of you trying to say I’m neglecting them, that I can’t supply the basics. The Leavee may very well see it as an implied or overt threat or insult.
Tough. The person who is left running the household needs as much help as they can get whether they admit to it or not. He/she will get over it and get used to it. How can you say no to extra underwear and a plate of cookies?
To be continued….