No this is not a math problem. Its the dynamics of what happens to the family after divorce. When parents of kids split, there is not two families created. There are at least 6. Some of them are created by how the kids interpret what is going on, and how they decide to handle it, but there are some patterns that I have seen as this has happened in my life. I will use my family as an example throughout, but I have observed this from the sidelines of a lot of families that I interact with. I will touch on each of the six individually, but then I will explain the plus side of this.
The Families Created
Mom’s Family With The Kids
This is an obvious one. Mom interacting with her kids as a mom. Dad is gone, but most times its not a lot different than the life of a family with a dad that that travels for a living. Mom may have to work more than she did before, and fix things around the house she didn’t before, but the care of the children doesn’t change as much. Where it becomes different is when mom needs a dad moment. Does she call dad or does she try to be dad. This choice is critical to how the children handle the split up. Super mom trying to be the dad when he isn’t there makes things hard on the kids. There are really three ways to handle this. Moms are much more likely to hover and supervise than fathers. Its is harder for the kids to get some freedom to grow up in a mothers house.
- Mom tries to fill the role of the dad. This is problematic because she isn’t masculine. There is more to being a dad than acting like a dad. Dads are better at it, because they are masculine, and the things that need a dad truly need the masculinity. This is the case in comforting and disciplining. Dads and moms are different.
- Mom explains to the children that she is not the dad, and she is not willing to be the dad, because their dad does that for them. She can then go on to allow them to call their dad, or tell them to wait until they see their dad,
- Mom can call their dad and ask him to come over to help or take the child to him. If mom and dad are really working for the best interest of their children, they will figure out how to do this for any big issue. Big being defined by the child’s emotional state and age at the time as much as the issue itself.
Dad’s Family With The Kids
This is similar to the one above, but it is different. Its different in the fact there are a lot of things dad may not have done on a daily basis that he does now. This does depend on how involved dad was in the mundane things of their kids life before. I pass no judgement on what worked in the marriage partnership to parent. I am sorry that the courts do. Dads are much less likely to try to be mom. They have the same resolutions as stated above. Dads will tend to play more with their kids, and encourage independence as they grow older. Dads do less to protect their kids from themselves, though they are very protective from others. This is the balance that is lost in a split household, and the parents working together to ensure that when one is not resident, they are not absent. This is hard, and both parents out of pride may struggle with this.
Dad’s Family Without Kids
Dads will tend to find distractions. They go out with friends and work more. They get back into hobbies and sports that they had abandoned for the sake of their marriage. Things that probably weren’t really healthy for the marriage, but the stresses of time management made them think so. Once the kids are a bit older, dads are much more likely to wait for the mother to call if there is something that needs talking about, and to wait for their kids to call if they need or want to talk. Part of this, is they don’t need the constant contact for the closeness to be there. Again we are dealing with the masculine vs the feminine in how things are handled. There is often a renewed connection to the dad’s family(parents, brothers, sisters, etc). It is al too common that a married couple spends more time with the wife’s family than the husband’s this is often the case, because she is the one that is scheduling things, not some evil plot.
Mom’s Family Without Kids
I don’t have the insight for mom’s family that is required to go into great detail. What my experience tells me from being the dad with the kids on the other end. She calls me two to three times a day. In the morning to check on the kids. During the day about school stuff. After school about activities. The only necessary call is the last. She may or may not call them during these times. There is a part of the mom that can’t let go of the things she used to own in the marriage as the care giver. She knows that she doesn’t have the control over these things, nor does she have the right to try, but she has to touch base with it. I think this will become less as time goes on, but I doubt it will completely go away. Moms are much more likely to make extra contacts to the school when she doesn’t have the kids as well.
Mom Has The Kids At An Event Dad Is At
There is a tendency for the mother to hold tight. To keep them close. Its almost like they are afraid at some baser level that the father will take them away from her. There is also a tendency to return to requesting the father to do things that she would have expected when they were married. In the more mild cases, it is just things for the kids, but in more extreme cases it is things that he would have done for his wife not his kids. The Dad has a tendency to absolve himself of disciplining the kids. In his mind they are in her care, and whether its a detachment or avoiding stepping on her toes, I don’t know. I am intentional about not being her husband, but being their father, so the balance works out for me without too much stress or inconsistency for the kids.
Dad Has The Kids At an Event Mom Is At
There is a tendency to let mom take over parenting at these things, which often leaves the kids without a parent, because mom thinks she is there to just see the event and get some hugs from the other kids. Again I am intentional about not letting this happen. Little kids are drawn to their mothers anytime she is around, so its easy for a dad to let them go and absolve himself of responsibility. The situation tends to resolve itself as the kids get older. The kids are more autonomous, and it is easier for the dad to assert his rules.
Increasing The Multiples
There are many things that can increase the multiples. Stepparents with kids can change things a lot. Imagine that sometimes the step-siblings are there together and other times they are not. The dynamics of whose house it was if the family moves into a house one of them owned already.
One child has special emotional needs that has them living with one parent or the other or following a different schedule than the other kids. This can create distance and closeness that doesn’t exist for the other kids. And affect how the kids respond to each other.
God forbid that a parent get married more than once again, because this just continues to extend the family and its complicated interconnections.
The Effects On The Children
Its stressful. Their little minds are not mature. Their emotions aren’t in check with their logic centers. They are going to be stressed by even the best situations They don’t like change. Children do better when the parents stay together, even in the worst marriages. People can judge the break-up all they want, and whether it was good or not. Many will use the children as the filter. The problem is that it is too late for that. The decisions are made, and action has already been taken. I hate the argument that children are resilient. They really aren’t. They are pliable, and it takes time to bend around their new world. Much longer than it takes an adult. Part of this is the adult has much more control over what is happening than the child does. The best the parents can do along the way is ensure to the kids that their mom or dad is not being replaced or leaving, and neither are they. Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce this idea to them all the time. Their dad, even a bad dad, is their dad, and is irreplaceable. Their mom, even a bad mom, is their mom, and is irreplaceable. Don’t let your feelings get in the way of whatever relationship the kids can have with them. If they are flakes, then be their to catch them, and cry with them. Save your tears for them that are tainted by your anger and hurt until they are out of sight.