By Heidi (Goldstein) Friedman
I am pretty sure that nobody, if they had a choice, would choose to parent two kids alone, or to co-parent with an ex-husband or ex-wife. But sometimes life doesn’t turn out as planned.
I was divorced when my oldest was 5 and my youngest 3. When I look at them now, almost 16 and almost 13, I marvel at our relationship (picture super-close when they are not yelling at me and demanding things). But it was not without its trials and tribulations.
Here are my top 5 pieces of unsolicited advice on raising kids through these challenges:
1. Never say a bad thing about your ex. I do not care what the awful story is that led to the end. It is critical to allow your kids to reach their own conclusions about both parents. Trust me—they figure it out. Even if the ex is bad-mouthing you, be the good guy and remind the kids that both parents love them no matter what.
2. Recognize that you cannot control what you cannot control. Yes, I am a textbook control freak. I was the mom who labeled each toy bin before my kids could even read. And yes, when the Legos got mixed with the Thomas the Train pieces, watch out! But after the divorce, I learned that when the kids were with their dad, I could not control what happened there. My rules would not be his rules (god bless those divorced parents who work together so the rules are consistent), but that did not matter. I only had control over my time with my kids, and that remained my focus.
3. You alone—not your kids—are dating. I do not believe the kids should be part of the post divorce dating experience—even teens. I admittedly had my fair share of online and offline dating and fix-ups. I can proudly say, though, in my nine years of post-divorce single life, I only introduced my kids to one guy, and he is now my husband.
4. Find a divorce posse. I felt like I was wearing the equivalent of the scarlet letter at the beginning of the process. It helped to find friends who were in similar positions. My son, especially, voiced how good he felt when he met other friends whose parents were also divorced.
5. Take care of yourself. Things can be a bit hectic in any house with teens, but a single, working parent household can be the epitome of chaos and anxiety. Make sure to take time out to regain your sanity. Wine and yoga are a good start (but probably not at the same time!)
The good news is that as your kids grow up, each new era brings new challenges, but the basic rules seem to stay the same. For me, advice points 3 and 5 led me to eventually introduce the most wonderful stepfather (with two teens of his own) into our lives. Now I can start compiling my top pieces of unsolicited advice on how to be a successful stepmom with double the number of teens!
Heidi (Goldstein) Friedman is a partner at the law firm of Thompson Hine. She is also a mom and stepmom.