Chris is the first in a series of incarcerated Dads. These men participated during a time when many feel all is lost. In doing so, they convey hope and demonstrate strength.
Fnding motivation within the walls of an institution likely required a tremendous search. Thinking about your family and your children, can bring great pain and regret. I appreciate their search and the management of any feelings that resulted.
Again I am reminded, regardless of our different situations, were not all that different.
Chris, “If separated, never speak badly of the other parent.” Tip 9
I agree with Chris’ advise regarding the “other parent.” Upholding this suggestion is only possible for those with the most advanced levels of maturity and self-discipline. I held up, barely; not because I was so mature and advanced but because I surrounded myself with mature and advanced people.
I think as parents we do not have the luxury of acting like a jealous, bitter, put-upon victims, if you call that a luxury. I’m responsible for my reaction, and as to who sees it.
In my parenting, rather than bad-mouthing, I used disappointing occurrences as teachable moments, a way to build capacity within Michael, to broaden his perspective, and to develop resiliency. A lot was gained as I attempted to contextualize immaturity and irresponsibility. Michael learned early in life those were unappealing qualities.
If you teach your children to observe others and to critically think, you will not have to bad-mouth anyone. The actions of others will speak louder than negative rhetoric.
In terms of a separation, things are for sure challenging. This period in time sticks forever, for everyone. It’s painful and confusing. Separation reaches our deepest most exposed nerve, maturity is a must. Maturity will minimize the damage.
A friend, a Mom who attempted to shield her children from an absent father, shared some learned wisdom with me. She recommended, I did not have to explain for, lie or make excuses. She was told, by her therapist, “Don’t try and make him out to be a hero. It will cause a great deal of confusion and conflict between you and your son.”
I took that advice. I didn’t speak poorly, even when it was well-earned. It did take my “Meryl Streep Mother Mode” to not flip my lid. I didn’t explain, lie, excuse or make excuses. I did not lose my ‘cool.’
I do not believe parents have the right to lose their ‘cool.’ Children are the priority, your ‘cool’ is second to that. Staying level is especially important when an “adult” is disappointing your kid. It’s our job to model strength and maturity with even more diligence.
I recall my son was waiting at the door, about 3 years old, looking out the window. He waited, peering through the screen.
I remember telling him, “Maybe something happened, we’ll do something fun for now and find out later.” Not to excuse but to extend understanding, for Michael’s benefit. It’s our job to teach our kids to handle disappointment. It’s imperative to do it as soon as possible, before they hit any of life’s major disappointments.
We assign the meaning for our kids. If we subscribe it has little meaning, then they perceive it has little meaning. We show the kids what matters in how we act and react. If we speak harshly, negatively, assigning blame, disgust and demonstrate poor emotional regulation, then that is exactly how disappointment will be managed by our children.
These lessons start with handling our own disappointments with grace and power.
Years later, it did become necessary to explain further. I had to educate my son on dealing with liars and idiots (not in those words). I worked to teach him how to handle difficult and unfair situations. I taught Michael the differences between responsible people and irresponsible people (in those words).
So much depends how we as parents present things. Rather than demonstrate my own disgust, and self-righteous rant, I would act-as-if, it’s no big deal. I would explain, some people have difficult people in their world, in their family. I modelled those individuals were insignificant, and redirected him to something positive.
I taught Michael how to manage and maneuver, rather than fight and excuse it. As long as we stay cool, kids stay calm.
Good luck to anyone coping with this. Seek help, find others and never let them see you sweat.
Thanks Chris! I appreciate the chance to share on this complicated topic.