I am writing a book about the impact of divorce on kids. When parents decide to part ways, it can be a single emotional trauma within a childhood or it can be the beginning of a cascade of adverse childhood experiences that cause lifelong emotional and physical consequences. It’s about chronic emotional stress, it’s about how a child’s brain and emotional system get wired, it’s about teaching our children how to live a purposeful, peaceful, connected life with others.
When you have children, more is required of you than ever. When you have children and you’re going through a divorce, an extraordinary amount is required. Your family now looks different than it did, but make no mistake you are one ecosystem. Happy parents parent happy kids and happy kids are parented by happy parents. It’s no longer about you. Your children need both parents. They need parents who put their own heartache aside and take the high road.
Life in this world is stressful enough for everyone. Be kind. Go out of your way to be kind to your child’s other parent. Understand that your kids need you both and they need you both healthy, happy, and successful in life.
Well-meaning, good people cause their ex-husband or wife chronic heartache. Do they know what they are doing to their children?
“In 1995, physicians Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda launched a large-scale epidemiological study that probed the child and adolescent histories of 17,000 subjects, comparing their childhood experiences to their later adult health records. The results were shocking: Nearly two-thirds of individuals had encountered one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—a term Felitti and Anda coined to encompass the chronic, unpredictable, and stress-inducing events that some children face. These included growing up with a depressed or alcoholic parent; losing a parent to divorce or other causes; or enduring chronic humiliation, emotional neglect, or sexual or physical abuse.”
I recently had a conversation with a friend about Givers and Receivers. Of course my friend and I were both Givers. The alternative seems so selfish. This concept has perplexed me because we need both in life don’t we, as who would Givers give if there weren’t any Receivers receiving? Yet we do not want to think of ourselves being a Receiver, of being selfish.
Actually, I believe we all have the potential to be Givers and Receivers and it is a continuum that should have fluidity to go back and forth. Another bell-shaped curve. The happiest among us are able to freely move within the bell-shaped curve to Give and Receive and to reside in a neutral position on a daily basis. However, we are not a world or even a country full of shiny, happy people are we? In fact, there are many that really are just Givers or just Receivers and they usually attract each other.
I am learning to reside in the middle, at neutral and not to be only a Giver attracting only Receivers. Once again we learn how to Give, Receive or reside in the middle by our families of origin, by our parents. Our attachment patterns when we were younger provide a framework for us to connect with others. When we become aware of our own patterns, we can be more fluid in how we reach out or accept others who might be reaching out to us. We can feel comfortable that by residing in neutral position we can still connect with others in a more flexible way.
My family and I just moved to a very small town in the mountains of Idaho. In the past I would have been very motivated to connect with others by being extra friendly and outgoing even though my core personality is more on the introverted side. I now understand this knee-jerk reaction that I have and am free to choose how I will connect and with whom to connect. Being friendly is still very important to me as I have figured out that with a smile and a hello to a passerby I am BOTH giving and receiving. I am in neutral and within the bell-shaped curve. But I can choose to be friendly to strangers AND choose to connect with those that are important to me – like my family. These two concepts are separate. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It is healthier to reside in the gray area.
I went trail running yesterday and about six women in their mid-forties came racing down the mountain on bikes. As each one went by me they had big smiles and said “Hello”. Wow. It felt so good to be the receiver of friendliness. I, of course, smiled and said, “Hello,” back. Later I passed another woman mountain biking where I was the one who smiled and waved. She didn’t smile or say hello. I smiled again.
This weekend my girls and I saw the Disneynature movie Chimpanzee. It is a documentary on the beginnings of a baby chimpanzee named Oscar, deep in the tropical rain forests of Africa. The story starts out as Oscar begins chimpanzee “preschool” with his mom learning how to find food, use tools and bond with other chimpanzees through grooming. Towards the middle of the movie Oscar’s mother is killed and he is left bewildered on what happened to her. He searches for her, tries to find food, tries to remember what she has taught him but he begins to lose weight and lose grasp of his happy life that he once had among his tribe of chimpanzees. The other mothers and young were hostile towards him now that he didn’t have a mother to protect him. It looked bleak for Oscar. There was one last chimpazee that Oscar hadn’t asked for help and that was the alpha male and head of the tribe. The most unlikely chimpanzee as he had never paid any attention to the young, his job was to protect the territory and his members. He was good at it. Oscar started to follow him around and copy everything he did from opening nuts to scanning his fur for bugs. The alpha male took notice and started to give him food and allow him to snuggle close. By the end of the movie little Oscar rode atop of this giant alpha male’s back just as he had with his mother. Oscar was going to be fine.
My mother left us when I was four and my brother just one year old. There were several stepmothers who should have taken me under their wing to show me how the world worked, how to make friends, bond with others and how to be in a family but somehow couldn’t. I can remember following my dad everywhere, watching his every move. He was very young himself, only 25 years old at the time but seemed to be far more adept at caring and bonding with his children than our mother ever could have.
My dad was dependable, consistent, and resourceful. He was not perfect but he showed up. Everyday. Like Oscar, I didn’t get the millions of moments of love that only a mother can fulfill BUT I did fully experience all the millions of moments that only dads can give. Luckily, I have a very keen ability to watch and learn as well as an innate curiosity of life. I have filled many of those cracks that were started when my mother left by watching others, reading, experiencing life, relationships with family and friends and most importantly by being a mom to my three girls. God has filled my life with a wonderful husband, three beautiful girls and a dad. I am going to be fine.