Emotional baggage is something most of us are carrying around to some degree. After all, we are all shaped by our experiences. But it’s less about what the experiences do to us than what we do with them. We are shaped by what we choose to make those experiences mean about who we are, what we deserve, and what we are capable of.
We make choices all the time, from whether we want tea or coffee, to what we will wear to work. Even what we’re having for dinner. Most of these are easy and quick. The choices can be obvious or not. Sometimes, we decide not to choose. We will simply stick our heads in the sand and resist making any choice at all. But I would argue this is, too, is a choice. This often comes down to a culmination of stress or an institutionalised situation where we’ve lived with something so long we’ve lost all hope of an alternative reality.
Ironically, it’s often when we need most new ideas and options that our creativity and ability to muster those options seem to desert us. That’s perfectly natural, but it’s also dangerous. Of course, when this happens it can be very easy to find other people who are more than willing to make the choice for you. In fact, you need to be vigilant, because other people may try to make your choices for you. This can happen even when you have a clear idea of what you want.
Here are my thoughts on the danger of giving up your choice.
Your Choice Is Yours Alone
“It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you. Nobody wants you to do what you want to do. They want you to go on their trip, but you can do what you want. I did. I went into the woods and read for five years.” – Joseph Campbell
If you don’t choose for yourself, someone else will choose for you. Beware of other people closing down your options or diminishing your possibilities before you have had time to fully explore them for yourself. Remember, other people’s advice is usually a reflection of what they would do (or not do) in the situation, often based on their past experience – not yours.
Their insight may not be what’s best for you. Of course, it’s always wise to seek advice and gather more information. As I mentioned in the previous post, it took a friend’s insight to help me make some important shifts in my own perspective.
That’s very different, however, from letting other people make your choices for you. Take what advice makes sense to you and gives you fresh ideas and leave the rest. Don’t tie any emotion or judgement to those opinions.
Above all, don’t get railroaded. Set your boundaries. We’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating. Remember, this is your life. It’s up to you to set your own boundaries so others can’t manipulate you.
Hard choices are often so because we have to communicate those choices to those we care about, who may or may not understand the reasons. If you can help them understand, do so, but all that matters is that you understand your reasons. Your reasons are good enough.
Find Out More
Are you ready to make your own choices? Need help setting boundaries? My latest book, Your Life Your Way, offers insights, tips and tactics that give you the tools you need to live your life, your way.
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Divorce and kids is always a tricky combination. Although I understand the notion of staying together for the sake of the children, the truth is, it’s not the divorce that screws up the children. It’s the way parents go about their divorce that does it. I have seen children scarred by divorce and I have seen children relieved by it. The divorce isn’t the problem; the hostility and fighting cause the damage. It’s dragging children onto the battlefield that makes them face issues that are intolerable.
When partners aren’t authentic with themselves or with each other, people pick up on that, especially children. They may be younger and not able to articulate what isn’t right, but they will know instinctively that something doesn’t feel right.
The stress of not being yourself or having to put on a brave face for the sake of the children can be exhausting, especially if you do it for years. Children are not stupid. They are also incredibly resilient. I honestly believe the vast majority of children would rather their parents were divorced and happy than married and miserable. So, if this sounds familiar to you right now, here’s how to handle divorce when kids are involved.
Stop Beating Yourself Up
As parents, we always want to do the best by our children, and divorce is not an easy thing to manage – but your children are going to blame you for stuff whether you stayed married or not. That’s what they do! Whether you worked outside the home or you didn’t. Whether you lived in a big house or didn’t. As long as you keep the lines of communication open, remain as honest as possible and encourage your children to stay connected to both parents, you will come out the other side, together.
Aim for a civil relationship with your former partner to make family logistics and planning work smoothly, so the transition is as easy as possible for your children. Remember, they are the most important people in the divorce process, so stay mindful of what your reactions and comments are doing to them.
Don’t Treat Your Kids As Weapons
We’ve all heard about – or even known – parents who used their children as weapons against their partner. Don’t do it! It doesn’t matter how awful you think your ex is, or how justified you think you are based on his or her behaviour, the people you hurt most with this behaviour are your children.
When it comes to divorce when kids are involved – remember, your children will not be children forever. They will find out the truth eventually, and they will resent you for it. Plus, it’s just not fair to them. Whether you like it or not, your children will still love both their mum or dad, regardless of what they have done to each other (within reason, of course). Children are very forgiving.
Denying your children access to their other parent is cruel, selfish and unnecessary unless there is a very good safety reason for it. I know you might be angry, resentful and in constant pain because of the divorce and whatever caused it. But don’t take it out on your children by putting them in the middle and making them choose. They don’t care who did what, they just want to be loved and to feel secure. So, whatever you have to do in order to get that done, do it.
Expect Change In Other Relationships
A separation or divorce doesn’t affect only you, your partner and your children. Other relationships will change too. Your social circle may suddenly get smaller. If someone was your friend before the relationship, they are likely to remain your friend after it. But, if someone was your ex’s friend before the relationship, they are likely to stay your ex’s friend after the break-up.
Those friends you made as a couple are usually the tricky ones. Get ready for friends to decide whose side they are on. Some may decide not to take sides; others may never speak to you again. Don’t take this personally. Stick close to your enduring friendships and weather the storm.
To Sum Up
I hope you’ve found my above tips on how to handle divorce when kids are involved useful. Divorce is a complex topic at the best of times, let alone when you had children in the marriage too. As a therapist and life coach I also want to remind you of the importance of talking things through, not just with your ex-partner, but those who can help too. Sometimes, gaining perspective can really help wounds to heal and give you the coping mechanisms you need to move forward.