What is so happy about divorce? Well, depending on your circumstances divorce can make you happy. But for many of us, divorce is anything but a happy experience. Especially when we start to think about the impact it may have on our children.
We all want our children to be happy. And one way to do that is to be happy ourselves. One way to make ourselves happy is to make others happy. That’s a lot of happiness in one paragraph, so let’s unpack it.
You may have fallen into an ugly dance with your partner. You may have gotten good and practiced at taking imperfect steps. Now the music has died, and the dance is over. It’s time to go home and no one is happy. To complicate matters, out of your marital not-always-bliss came one or more mini-yous who will forever link your past and your present to the one who was there from their beginning- the other parent.
He is no longer your husband he is your “children’s father”. She is no longer your wife she is your “children’s mother”. Ready or not it’s time to learn a new dance called co-parenting. What a perfect time to implement a new strategy.
If we look for them, life gives us opportunities to re-set. The Victorian-era writer George Eliot wrote: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” What better time is there to re-set than at the beginning of a new relationship with your children’s other parent?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”
Charlie Chaplin said, “life salutes you when you make others happy.”
P.T. Barnum proclaimed, “the noblest art is that of making others happy.”
Getting the picture?
Simply put, we make ourselves happy by making others happy. And that happy energy spreads. It spreads to our children at this critical time when they need to know that if mom and dad can be okay, then they can too.
During mediation, preparing a parenting plan, and working out custody arrangements and exchanges, don’t wait for your former dance partner to initiate. You go first. Have the courage to make the first move toward a type of peacemaking that will hearten and cheer your children. Present yourself with an open heart and an open hand. Generosity and goodwill will go a long way toward a more pleasant new normal. The goal is for everyone to get to a happier place sooner rather than later.
If discord has left you with a soured heart this might seems like an impossible task. Take time to practice in a safe place with safe people. Be the first to smile at a stranger. Be the first to initiate pleasantries with the cashier. Be the first to say, “good job” and “thank you.” Be the first to hold open the door, to ask who needs help, to pour a cup of coffee for a co-worker. Be the first to give credit where credit is due.
Now bump up your game with friends and family. Be the first to call to say, “I love you.” Be the first to send a greeting card. Be the first to set a dinner date. Be the first to offer a ride, pick up groceries, or pick up the tab.
Once you’ve gotten into this mindset of going first to make others happy endeavor to take that new mindset into your divorce and custody negotiations.
Going first in generosity puts you in the driver’s seat because you are setting the tone.
It reduces regrets. Think about the consequences of your decisions one year from now. Then five and ten years down the road. After the emotions have settled will you have wished you had been more gracious? Going first in looking for peace will put you in a better place to not have regrets in the future.
When you go first, it creates a window for new possibilities to occur. Your ex might surprise you and let his or her defenses down as a result. They might become more cooperative.
Your new mindset sets the stage for a new dance to begin. Out with the old and the ugly. In with the kindness and respect. Your children will thank you for it and you will be happier in the long run.
Read and ponder the following words of wisdom. Consider adopting one per week as a mantra.
“Charity is a universal remedy against discord and a holy cement for mankind.”
— Founding Father William Penn
“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”
— Maya Angelou
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr
“If you haven’t got charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
— Bob Hope
“Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.”
— Dalai Lama.
“You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force.”
— First century playwright Publilius Syrus.
“As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
— philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer
“And finally, these immortal words: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.”
— The Lorax, Dr. Seuss
One final, but critical, piece of the happiness puzzle
See taking the first step as a gift with no expectation of reciprocity. No strings attached means you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get back what you think you deserve. Leave all your expectations behind and see your actions as gifts to yourself and your children. You can only control yourself and going into negotiations and co-parenting with this realization will help set you up for happy success.