What I Wish I Did Differently With My Kids During My Divorce
A dozen dads discuss the different approach they would’ve taken if they could rewind the clock.
Divorce is a foundation-shaking event. And it’s impossible to do everything right when you’re going through it. When people look back on the end of their marriage — especially those involving children — it’s not uncommon to realize that, while the end result would likely be the same, the steps to get there could’ve been different. Right and wrong are blurred, but the benefit of hindsight allows people to see what, at the very least, they could’ve done differently. We spoke to 12 dads who have all experienced divorce, and since realized that they missed some opportunities to connect with their kids during the tumultuous time. Whether communicating more effectively, providing some much-needed levity, or avoiding the temptations for drama, they all agree they’d approach things a new way if given a second try. Here’s what they said.
1. I Should Have Communicated More Clearly
“I wish I had been more open and honest when communicating with my kids during my divorce. I think I was trying to protect them from all the nastiness and sadness that was going on, but really all I did was make it harder for us to talk. When my ex and I got divorced, our kids were about 10 and 12. I feel like I may have underestimated their ability to handle conversations at those ages. Looking back, I think I was wrong. I’m not sure how they would have responded to some difficult conversations that may have been had but I should have given them the opportunity, if only to let them know that even in times of sadness and ugliness, it’s OK to be upset and that things will get better.” - Nathan, 51, Texas
2. I Should Have Been More Self-Aware
“Anger and frustration are normal for any couple getting divorced. My ex-wife and I were no exception. When you get divorced it’s very easy to become wrapped up in your own affairs so much that you don’t realize other people are around. And that can include your own kids. Looking back, my wife and I fought a lot and so our kids overheard quite a bit. I think those fights still would have happened, but I would have tried to do a better job keeping the kids away from them. I know it hurt them to hear their parents arguing, and even in the heat of the moment, it would have been easy to press pause, and regroup when they weren’t around.” - Chris, 44, Pennsylvania
I realize now, though, that the unpleasantness of the situation didn’t mean I couldn’t spend time being happy with my kids.
3. I Should Have Stayed Consistent
“Getting divorced put an end to just about every routine we’d come to know as a family. Everything from drop off and pick-ups at school, to playdates with friends, to taking them back and forth to soccer practice suddenly became a very big issue. The routine that they were once so used to could have been comforting. In fact, they could have been comforting for all of us, and given us some much-needed stability while we tried to navigate the situation. Instead, everything became chaotic. Looking back, I realize that sticking to some of our simpler daily routines could’ve provided some much-needed security.” - Seth, 38, Michigan
4. I Should’ve Expressed Unconditional Love
“Throughout my divorce I always told my children how much I love them. But I’m not sure that I said it in a way underscoring that it would forever be unconditional. When kids get caught up in a divorce, they don’t know what to think. Looking back, I would’ve done my best to explain to them what unconditional love really is and to make sure they understood that no matter what happened with me and their mother my unconditional love would be there forever. It’s more than just saying, ‘I love you,’ it’s defining that love in a way that makes them feel safe. I think I could have done that better.” - Darren, 37, Oregon
5. I Should’ve Asked For Help
“I regret not going to therapy during my divorce. I think it could’ve helped me relate the situation to my kids much, much more effectively. During a divorce it’s difficult enough to understand your own thoughts. So, articulating them for other people is almost impossible. And when kids are in the middle of a situation where communication with them can help reassure them and make them feel better, being able to effectively describe feelings, emotions, and the reality of the situation is important. I was not equipped to do that. I didn’t start seeking help until after my divorce, at which point I realized my therapist helped me to be able to organize and articulate my thoughts. It’s a skill that took some practice and it’s a skill that would have been wonderful to have for my kids during such an awful situation.” - Nick, 49, New York
6. I Should’ve Carved Out Quality Time
“Divorce is a lot of work. Everything from meeting with lawyers, to handling living arrangements during a separation, to communicating what’s going on with family and friends takes so much time and energy. It’s unavoidable. Looking back, I wish I would have made myself ignore some of that stuff every once in a while, so that I could spend more quality time with my kids. Before the divorce, and after the divorce are easy compared to ‘during’ the divorce. I had no idea what I was doing, and no real idea how to manage my time. I realize now, though, that the unpleasantness of the situation didn’t mean I couldn’t spend time being happy with my kids.” - Mark, 60, Ohio
7. I Should’ve Listened More
“I wish I would have listened to my kids more. Kids are smart. Kids are honest. And kids bring a very unique perspective to most situations. Divorce is not something that anyone wants to talk about but sometimes we have to. Looking back, I realize that most of those “conversations“ were really me telling the kids what was going on. When they spoke up or offered their own thoughts, I didn’t dismiss them, but I also didn’t give them my full attention. Your mind is such a mess going through divorce that you forget, kindness, compassion, and even wisdom can come from unlikely places. Even your kids.” - Josiah, 45, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
They say they don’t remember a lot about the divorce, but I do. And my impatience is one thing I wish I would have changed.
8. I Should’ve Educated Myself
“I wish I had spent more time learning about the effects of divorce on kids. My divorce happened very quickly, and so I didn’t have much time between ending one chapter of my life and beginning another. I regret not being able to anticipate what my kids would have needed before, during, and after everything that happened. And finding time to read a book or two, possibly talk to a therapist, or even just ask for advice from family and friends, could have been a great way to ensure that my kids knew they would be safe, loved and taken care of in a way that I’m not sure I did.” - Matt, 42, Arizona
9. I Should’ve Been More Patient
“When it was clear that my ex-wife and I would not be able to patch things up, I became incredibly impatient. At that point, I just wanted to be done with everything. I was impatient with my wife, the divorce process itself, and unfortunately, my kids. I found myself more irritable than usual, and it breaks my heart to think that they may have thought my impatience was a reflection of them. They are grown up now, and everything for the most part is fine. They say they don’t remember a lot about the divorce, but I do. And my impatience is one thing I wish I would have changed.” - Michael, 58, South Carolina
10. I Should’ve Kept My Mouth Shut
“I’m sure a lot of divorce dads have this regret, but I wish I would have avoided bad mouthing my ex-wife in front of our kids. We were both guilty of doing this, but that’s no excuse. Even though emotions were high and things weren’t great I wish I would have given more thought to the fact that one day this divorce will be over, and even though we will be broken up my ex-wife is still their mother. The things I would say about her definitely influenced their opinion of her just like the things she said about me, influenced their opinion of me. It was wrong on just about every level, and I regret that my kids had to suffer because of my immaturity.” - Dane, 34, Florida
I don’t blame myself for the headspace I was in during that time, but I know I could have tried harder
11. I Should’ve Made More Jokes
“I was always the one who could make my kids laugh. When my divorce was happening, I got really depressed and sort of forgot how to do that. It wasn’t like I forgot how to tell jokes or be silly, but I was so devastated that I couldn’t really remember how much joy it always brought me. When I did tell jokes, or try to lighten the mood, I was only going through the motions. I had some genuine opportunities to strengthen my bond with my kids through our natural connection of laughing together. I don’t blame myself for the headspace I was in during that time, but I know I could have tried harder.” - John, 39, California
12. I Should’ve Been A Better Friend
“I think I could’ve done a better job acting as a friend to my kids, rather than strictly a parent, during my divorce. My wife and I split when they were 17, 19, and 20. Basically, they were all adults. My instinct was to try and protect them from everything going on, and I don’t think I gave enough credit to the strength of our relationships as friends. I may have been weary of putting them in an awkward situation, but I think we could have leaned on each other more. I am proud of my friendships with my kids, but I know I could have been a better friend to them when they needed one during the divorce.” - Kevin, 52, Colorado