What Your Coping Strategies Are Teaching Your Kids
Josh was in my 2013 co parenting class for divorced parents. He shared with the group that, when he was young, his dad worked from home and his mom worked in an office. “I always thought it was kinda weird that my dad worked at home and my mom went to an office. I didn’t know any other kid whose dad did this and I got teased a lot.” Josh continued: “my dad was always in a good mood until about 3pm, which was a couple of hours before my mom would arrive home. But, over the next two hours, I could see my dad’s mood changing. The closer it got to 5pm, the angrier my dad became. He’d continually enter and exit the TV room where I was, all the while mumbling something about my mom. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but I knew he was angry. I’d move to other rooms in the house just to avoid being exposed to my dad’s anger. Eventually, I just stopped coming home after school … anything to keep from being in the same room with my dad at 3pm.”
After experiencing his dad’s anger for so many years, it seemed Josh took on the same behaviors. “As a teenager, I had only two moods – sullen or angry. If the teacher challenged me for a “more complete answer”, I’d either shut down or blow up. That’s what I witnessed from my dad, so that’s what I did.”
Josh added that, for the first three years following the divorce, he continued to have difficulty handling his anger, especially when it came to the kids. Meetings with his ex-wife were a major trigger for him. And, as the meeting time neared – he’d begin preparing for an argument, thinking, “I’ll be ready for her negative attitude and blaming me for everything.”
Josh told the class that – with therapy – he’d finally realized that his pre-planned anger was unwarranted, and that the disagreements he’d prepared for never really happened. He ended his story with, “I just wish my dad had taught me a better way to cope with my frustrations without getting angry.”
Divorce can be painful, frustrating and scary. But as parents, we should be mindful that our divorce is also a teachable moment – an opportunity to model healthy ways for handling disappointment, frustration and anger. As you work through your divorce emotions, make every effort to:
- Mind your mood – so your child learns healthy ways of expressing frustration or anger. Being sullen and passive aggressive is no substitute for effective communication; and,
- Hold your tongue – your child may not understand why you’re angry, but they’ll always remember how your anger made them feel. Words matter.