Anyone who is divorced with children knows exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you more fortunate among us who have never been tormented so, let me explain… Divorce Guilt doesn’t refer to feeling bad about what you may or may not have done during divorce proceedings. It doesn’t even mean to regret actually being divorced.
I certainly don’t.
I do hate ANY negative outcomes that the kids experience as a result of their parents being divorced. In my mind, Divorce Guilt refers to the instinctual impulse to minimize those residual negatives; it is also trying to counterbalance the negatives with positives. The trick is that there’s a fine line between that sort of cosmic sense of fairness and actually causing even more harm to the kids by overindulging them or leaving them without a firm, strong parent in their lives.
In my case, I’m certainly the more “laid-back” of the 2 parents, but I filled that role even while still married. I’d say that since the divorce my ex-wife has necessarily made great strides at being a much less frenetic parent than she ever would have as a married, stay-at-home mom. In fact, I’d say this is one of the most beneficial outcomes of the divorce and it’s something that only I can see. But she’s always been more “in your face” that I am.
Funny though, even at a young age the kids obeyed me more readily than their Mom. I don’t give 2nd chances or negotiate. Granted, the “freedom to make mistakes pendulum” swings wider in my case, but if a line is crossed, the trap door drops. Case closed.
I am also accused of being the fun Dad, but 3 things about that.
1) It’s primarily her move that set up the situation where I only have the kids 2 weekends a month and during the Summer. That means she has ALL the homework and chauffeuring during the school year. When we lived 2 miles or even 20 miles apart I shared that. With me they don’t have homework, friends’ houses, school or church activities to schedule around. There’s nothing left but fun. Am I supposed to intentionally NOT do fun things?
2) The kids don’t care which parent is doing what! When we first got divorced I felt like I needed equal time and opportunity to do everything with the kids until I realized that they don’t care a lot of the time. We’re raising kids, not competing for the “Most Present Parent” prize. I was and still am far more “present” in my kids’ lives than most married dads I know. It’s now the custody situation that dictates who does what when, and that schedule says I get them on most of their down times… and I’ve learned to really like it. Yet, if I take them to Disneyland and she works on their science project with them, the kids don’t put 5 stars in my column and only 2 in hers. All they care about is that got a good grade on their project and then they got to go to Disneyland.
3) Lastly fun experiences almost always set up great teaching moments. We have great intimate talks while camping or hiking. It’s also fun to watch them plan, prepare and anticipate fun times. They work together to clean, schedule and pack. “Fun” does not always mean responsibility-free or discipline-free.
I admit that my parenting style tries to provide fewer answers and more life experiences for my children. My ex-wife tends to hyper-Mormonize parenting, and I tend to hope the kids will develop a positive moral compass by being guided to helpful questions rather than by providing them with the “right” answers. I’m more inclined to mirror their questions with a question like, “What do YOU think?” rather than giving them an easy answer.
During my time we visit the library and we read. We watch movies I think they should see. We play together.
But it still sucks for the kids to have to travel 4 hours each way 2 weekends a month. They don’t get to see their friends during those weekends nor while they are here for the Summer. They have to shift gears with 2 separate sets of rules at 2 separate homes.
I just felt Divorce Guilt today and this is what it looks like. It is my baby girl’s birthday. We had already previously celebrated her birthday with presents and a cake over here, but today is the actual day and she’s with her mother. She actually gets 2 sets of presents, 2 cakes, 2 family parties… 2 birthdays essentially. Today, it took me until 4 pm to call and I felt guilty that it wasn’t the very first thing I did today. It’s irrational and she gave no hint that she thought I should have called earlier.
What Divorce Guilt does do to me is really make me second-guess myself even when I’ve arranged to put everything in the most positive of lights. One time I drove 4 hours each way one weekend just to go to a daddy-daughter event with my 9 year old at a church where I didn’t know anyone else and where I get dry heaves just driving by the building. I sat through a tortuous 20 minutes lesson on fatherhood by someone who probably barely remembers his 9 children’s names. I endured the communal singing of Happy Birthday to “The Prophet” who wasn’t even there. But I still felt bad that it wasn’t enough for this one daughter, the middle child, who can get lost in the shuffle.