I had hoped for much more than the small window of time I had with my children each week — two short days to pour peace, faith and truth into their lives. Only the weekend to hold them, play with them and teach them about our Savior.
After 10 years of marriage, I had been served with divorce papers and asked to leave my home. My three children were still relatively young, and while I was awarded joint custody, I was only given visitation on the weekends. The new man in my ex-wife's life would be the father figure in my children's lives during the week. In addition to other emotions, I felt an excruciating pain in losing the daily interaction with my kids.
At first, our weekends together were chaotic and stress-filled. The kids were confused, angry and scared. It was difficult to give them the freedom to be angry without adding fuel to their fire, but I did my best to keep quiet and not add to what they were already trying to process.
As the years passed, weekends fell into a rhythm. First hour: detox from the other home. Second hour: reconnect. Third hour: play. I kept things simple and consistent. We cooked, read stories, played games around the house and said bedtime prayers together. Every Sunday we went to church.
As the kids got older, it was tougher to stay consistent. By the time they were teens, they had lives of their own on the weekends. I remember wrestling with what I should do. I could demand that they spend the whole weekend with me, or I could free them to enjoy overnights with their friends and to participate in sporting events. I knew it was best for them to spread their wings, but that meant my limited time of influence became even smaller.
Seven years after the divorce, my ex-wife wanted to move out of town with the kids. I fought for them. When they told the judge that they wanted to live with me, my heart melted. The years of praying, guarding my tongue, holding on and letting go — all those mixed emotions and painful choices — had led me to this point. My kids had chosen structure and consistency, faith and peace. They had chosen my home, and I had the opportunity as a full-custody parent to be considerate of my ex-wife's new role in the settlement. Regardless of where she chooses to live, it's important that her relationship with our children be as healthy as possible.
I've now been granted the privilege of parenting on a daily basis, and although our time together includes day-to-day problems, it also includes lasting joys. Because of all I've been through, I realize the precious gift I've been given in sharing both the good and the bad with my kids while they're still at home.
Single Parent Tool Kit
Keep it simple: Avoid filling your time with too many activities and distractions. Your children need simple and reliable interaction with you.
Be consistent: Discipline the children in the same way you would if you had full custody. Resist the temptation to let them get away with inappropriate behavior.
Hold your tongue: Refrain from speaking poorly about your ex — especially if you feel she is not parenting well. Your ex will always be your child's other parent.
Consider what's best for your kids: That may mean letting them connect with appropriate friends or participate in sporting events on the weekends. This is not the time to be selfish about your time with them.
Offer a safe haven: Give your kids the freedom to express their concerns, fears or frustrations. They need to know you will listen and love them without lecturing or becoming angry.
Pray: Be that spiritual example your kids need — praying both for them and with them. They will learn to call upon the Lord in their times of need (Hebrews 4:16) if you model your own commitment to prayer.
Enjoy: As with all children, the time you have to parent them will pass quickly. Don't let the angst you feel over not having more time with them keep you from cherishing every moment you do have.
This article first appeared in the November/December, 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2010 by Elsa Kok Colopy. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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