How Guilt Over Your Divorce Cripples Good Parenting

5 proven ways to get out of the trap!

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by our good friend, and fellow blogger Joel Phillips. Joel blogs regularly at Buildrelationalwealth.com as is the author of the book Building Relational Wealth: A Personal Training Guide. Make sure you check out his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter.

Do you carry around something that you feel terrible about? Maybe you weren’t there for your child at a particular important event. I have that.

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Maybe you feel like your child was robbed of a “normal” family life because of your divorce, or that your marriage isn’t healthy. I have that one too. As a parent who has been through the trauma of divorce, I have carried a lot of guilt. It’s understandable. But the unnecessary weight of guilt can cripple my effective parenting.

Divorce doesn’t have to be your source of guilt -it can be lots of things. I have known people who carry guilt because of physical defects and handicaps that their kids deal with. It can stem from all sorts of places.

Here’s how it typically works…

I don’t have my kids all the time, because they live with their other parent part of the time. I felt guilty about this, yet helpless to do anything about it and possibly even unaware of the guilt I had about it.

So when they came home, I wanted to make sure they have a good experience.

I didn’t enforce the rules much. We played a lot. I did the chores when they were gone so we didn’t waste any time. It was a little bit like the lost boys and I was Peter Pan.

Depending on how your family interacted and expressed love, you might cope with this differently; shower them with attention, buy them things they don’t need, or some other attempt to be their favorite parent.

Remember, you are driven to make sure they have a good experience when they are with you. At least that’s been my favorite excuse.

It comes from a good place, but in reality, it’s a trap. You want your children to feel loved and safe and you don’t want your time with them to be burdened by being a disciplinarian. So you let some things slide. After all, they will be going back to their mom or dad’s house soon, you rationalize, and they can take care of it.

The problem is, this isn’t good parenting, and it doesn’t produce quality kids who are well adjusted and ready for the adult world when it’s time. It produces dysfunction.

Somewhere along the journey and with the help of my wife’s honest approach to me, I pulled it together and became a far better parent.

Now I focus on my primary job as a parent, with as much love and respect for them as possible, but I do not shirk my responsibility to avoid the uncomfortable things like rules, chores, discipline, and structure.

We now have a much healthier home and my children are doing far better with the structure and we still have fun. (Had a squirt gun and water balloon fight with them yesterday).

There’s a way out of the trap!

  1. Face the source of guilt head on. Look at it. It’s ugly. But it isn’t going to change is it? So learn from the serenity prayer, “we accept the things we cannot change” and start to look forward to what you can do. Mine was that I feel guilty that my kids have to deal with the effects of a broken home. People have survived worse. Maybe we can get over that a little and start to move forward?
  2. Check your job description. What is your main job as a parent? My conviction is that my primary job is to prepare them for the adult world in several areas- faith, responsibility, thinking, emotions, relationships, etc. It is not to coddle them, although I express love and pride in their accomplishments regularly.
  3. Create a plan. If my job is to prepare them… how am I doing in the areas mentioned above? How have others done it well? What area can I focus on and start parenting more affectively? In my case, I needed to give better leadership to my kids, clarify my expectations for them, and put some structure around these things.
  4. Communicate. Family meeting time! I explained and owned that I have been too lax with them and that things are tightening up around here, and why. Because I want them to succeed in life and it’s my job to do everything I can to help them do that.
  5. Then Act. I created new chore charts, and explained how and when this is happening, even helping them with the chores the first time.

Keep up the good work!

This isn’t a one and done kind of thing. It’s a strategic plan and requires continued communication and follow up. But it’s totally worth it!

Here’s the phrase that keeps me moving forward with this: “Inspect what you expect!” It keeps me coming back to check on the kids, what I’ve asked them to accomplish, and then give them praise or rewards when they get it right.

Question: Have you faced a similar situation after a divorce or separation? Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • sounds very hard to do everything 100%

  • sylvie

    I read all of this and it did help but I can’t stop feeling guilty for my kids to not have a normal family life. I’ve been divorced for 7 years now and I still cry myself to sleep often for my kids to go through the going back and forth between me and their dad. I have a great relationship with my ex-husband and we help each other out for the kids. The kids can see that we get along and that’s important but why can’t I get over this feeling of being responsible for my kids not having a perfect home life where they don’t have to go back and forth. It breaks my heart for my kids but the divorce was good for me sometimes I feel like I should of just staid in this marriage for the kids even tho I wasn’t happy. I feel that I was being selfish for leaving him because I wasn’t happy and that I hurt my kids in the process… Someone please help me get through this… Am I just losing my mind or is this normal to feel this way. I’m just so emotionally drained and stressed thinking about this all the time. I just want my kids to have a normal life