The open door – with the other parent on the other side

The Open Door

Cobie Odendaal


Dinosaurs Divorce”. With this book by Laurie Krasny Brown on my lap, surrounded by my pre-schoolers we sat cross-legged on the carpet – I had decided to start a new chapter in my life.


A divorced woman (swear word). A bad mother. Guilt feelings and freedom competing with each other.


Looking back, I realise that the wisdom in this booklet paved the way for us, dealing with the challenges accompanying divorce. The children were armed with knowledge and were prepared for situations which might arise. It was just another story from a beautifully illustrated book. Satisfied. The most important task at hand was preparing the children for divorce and to reassure them that they were not the reason for our problems and the subsequent termination of our marriage. We had to reassure them that both Mom and Dad loved them VERY MUCH (and Dad must know that, should he undermine this commitment, he would be in huge trouble!)


Be sure to plan the children’s visits to their father carefully and thoroughly. Balance their school activities meticulously around Daddy’s diary (yes, ask for insight in his diary). Keep him updated on everything that happens in the children’s lives. This is important – for the kids, but also for yourself. Being a single mother asks for tough guts. When the children go and visit Dad and you are alone at home, use the time wisely: for introspection, planning, cleaning house, starting new friendship relationships and good wine. Make sure that the children have all they might need for the weekend or holiday. For a child to visit Dad and find that the suitcase lacks necessities can be very humiliating. If you find alone weekends a challenge, make a packing list on your “better / stronger” days so that preparing the children’s luggage will consist of ticking off the items to be packed – from shoes to hats, toothpaste to sunblock.


Ensure that the kids have as much as possible contact with their dad – even if the only reason is that he keeps on loving them enough to one day pay for their university education. Also, should another person become part of his life in future, children under their feet might come as a reality shock. Let’s face it, children are mostly cute to their parents only! (As vengeance comes in various forms, you might consider buying whistles or battery driven melodicas for the kids before visiting their father, or you might request that they stay with Dad for a while during their teenage ‘brainstorm’ years!)


On a more serious note though, a daughter needs a good relationship with her father in order to serve as a guide-line when she will one day choose her husband.


A son also needs to have a steady relationship with his dad in order to prepare him to become the man that he would like to be.


Whether your ex is a good or bad father, that remains your viewpoint – keep it to yourself. Only talk positively about him and bless him in front of the children. In this way you will also bless your daughter’s future marriage and enhance your son’s future manhood.


Each girl adores her dad and he is normally the first man she falls in love with. Respect her feelings and share in her joy. For each boy there is a stage where Dad is his hero. Respect his adoration and share in his pride.


Step back from your own loss and broken relationship and take an observing position. Make sure that your child becomes accustomed to sharing his or her feelings, sadness and joy with you without any negative reaction from your side. This will keep the channels for communication open and invite clarity between you.


As the years proceed, another important aspect emerges – the kids have to learn that they must not allow the divorce situation to control them: each person holds the steering wheel of his or her life in his or her own hands. I still remember the dialogue between myself and our most emotionally vulnerable child. With tears in the big, round eyes the following remark caught me unawares:


“But I struggle because you and Dad are divorced”. Take a couple of deep breaths (oxygen helps one to think rationally). “I believe you, my dear, but even so you are in a better position than 99% of the world’s children.” I have often seen how children manipulate their divorced parents. Children with huge potential can turn into little monsters who demand and demand, “because my parents are divorced.” In each such situation, try to think what your answer would be in a ‘normal’ situation – and stick to that. Keep your eyes on your goal, namely to raise responsible adults, despite your own guilt feelings.


For the single mother every decision is her problem and hers only.  Each pain is yours alone and every moment of joy you experience by yourself – there is nobody else with whom you can share this. And yet in a way this is not so difficult because you can follow your own mind and put your children first. One of your toughest challenges will be whether you should allow another parent to be added to this already complicated dispensation. Another question would be whether there is still a chance of turning back.


Now, 20 years later, I can look back with wisdom – wisdom and knowledge that came forth from pain and suffering, joy and laughter – because without humour your soul will not survive a divorce, not even mentioning a reconstituted family.


A question that is often put to me is: If you now had the opportunity to go back and make your choice again, drawing on the wisdom of these 20 years, would you choose this route again?


Frankly, I do not know. Maybe ask me this question again tomorrow.


“Mom as the Gateway” is the route that each mother should choose, especially if Dad is not living in the home, because the relationship between a child and his/her father is extremely precious and gives a child a boost in life when growing into adulthood. To our author, who managed this: “Well done!” For every mother out there: Choose to keep the door open! ED


This article was first published in My Child and I, Summer 2015


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