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The kids are all right


After a divorce and loss, one mother shares her wisdom on how to parent together

By Trina Hartlen

When I was a young parent of two children I thought, “I got this! How hard could it be, right?” Divorce changed my views on that. My two boys were very young when their father and I decided to get divorced.

I always thought it would be hardest on my oldest. At a little more than 3 1/2 years old, I thought he would remember more of the trauma we were all going through. That might have been true at the time, but now many years later he seems “okay.”

He has lived the life of a typical child of divorce and doesn’t seem to have turned out awful. He didn’t become a recluse. He graduated high school when he was supposed to. He dented and wrecked a couple of vehicles. Had the typical girlfriend heartbreaks. He had part-time jobs and job losses. Now he is on to community college. Who knew?

My youngest, on the other hand, was just a year old when the big “D” took place. Due to circumstances at the time, I was the parent to move out. I had visitation every other weekend. The most difficult thing to deal with was the fact that the kids’ father and I were not overly kind to one another.

Being the weekend parent made it tough to be a parent. He and I had different ideas on how to discipline. We both had different routines. I was the “Santa Claus” parent. Fun and treats often made things easier when the children were with me for their visit.

Giant spitball fights (in the house) probably weren’t the best choice I made. Late bedtimes only made it difficult to pack them up the next day. Going to the store meant candy. Two kids, no sleep on a candy high: perfect!

What kid in their right mind wants to go home to rules, three meals a day, healthy snacks and an early bedtime? Yeah, right! I would barely have them dropped off with their father and the phone calls would start. Ignore them? Sure, I tried, but the mother in me would come out and I would think I could rationally justify myself. I can tell you right now that is not, and never was, the case.

Without proper communication skills, we were failing miserably at parenting. After a weekend with me, the kids would be out of whack and almost uncontrollable. I wanted to believe I was a great parent and would get very defensive.

So after 14 years of behaviour, the children were often made to feel like they had to take sides. When I look back, I now see that the parent who has primary custody has to be able to have rules and boundaries for the weekend parent. So many years of stress takes its toll on a person and my kids are prime examples of this.

My kids are good kids though; don't get me wrong. I just know there could have been a lot more quality visits if we all could have been on the same page. And my youngest child and I would probably have a better bond than we do now.

He was so young and every child deep down needs the security of a routine and rules. We still, to this day, have battles about me as a parent. He knew his father was right the majority of the time and he never let’s me forget that.

In time I will be able to rebuild a better relationship with my boy. They lost their father due to health complications a little over two years ago.

Losing a parent has got to be devastating especially at such a young age. The parent who looked after them every day was now gone and the parent who caused so many upsets was still here. I am sure there is a lot of animosity toward me, but how do you make up for all the bad parenting?

The worst part in all this is the fact that two people, who made a decision together to have children, couldn’t get past the I-am-right-you-are-wrong debate. I obviously can’t take all the blame; we divorced for a reason. We grew apart and had issues with each other, but we both loved our children. But loving your children isn’t enough to make things work; you actually have to put in a greater effort into making it work.

Anger and resentment was on my doorstep every day. Then there were times when there would actually be a glimmer of hope things would get better. When the kids got older I thought they would want to come with me more often. Well, one did and the other didn’t. My oldest seemed like he was taking heat for wanting to come more. My youngest may have wanted to come more often but a line had been drawn and now he didn’t want to upset his father.

Eventually we just sort of became numb to the problems. Now that they are older it is harder and harder to spend time with them. I cherish every moment with them but it’s never enough. I missed a lot in their lives. I missed a lot of first times; first day of school, first lost tooth, all because their father and I couldn’t parent together.

So the moral of my little story is this: Hostilities between divorcing parents need to be put aside for the sake of the children.

It’s pretty simple to see that now so many years later. My kids love me, despite the battles they witnessed. Their father was no saint nor was I but those are the adult issues that we had to deal with. Not something our children should have been witness to. Period.

Trina Hartlen is a self-described not-so perfect parent to two wonderful boys. She is learning from her mistakes. 


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