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After My Divorce, This Moment Made Me Realize Things Would Be Okay

And it helped my ex-wife and I understand that we'd be okay at this whole co-parenting thing.

fatherly logo Great Moments in Parenting

This last year, my ex-wife and I separated. My oldest son, Ethan, also entered the 4th grade. It was a new experience for him: he was now living in two separate houses, with two different living arrangements. Luckily, he still remained at the same school and was around his friends, but we were just learning how to figure out our new dynamic.

My ex-wife and I were co-parenting and making sure the kids were put first. We tried to really instill that, if any of the kids ever had questions or, especially Ethan, that he could ask. We thought the divorce would affect his life more than his brother and sister, who we call the ‘littles.’ He has a 7-year-old brother and a 5-year-old sister, so he’s always helped us out and he’s always been the big brother. He has probably taken on more roles than he needed to. But he was always prompt and willing.

Welcome to Great Moments in Parenting, a series in which fathers explain a parenting hurdle they faced and the unique way they overcame it. Here, Ben, a 37-year-old newly single dad of three from Wichita, Kansas, talks about his oldest son winning a citizenship award at his school the same year that he and his wife got a divorce.

So, we were curious as to how the divorce was going to affect his personality, if there’d be outbursts or things of that nature. You always worry about how your kids are actually going to behave when you’re not around. You always hope that they are doing better, actually, than they are behaving in your presence. None of that is easy. Being a parent, I get backlash all the time from my kids.

But luckily, through reassuring our son, he proved that he truly picked up on the message that we’ve been teaching him: to put others first, to be responsible and caring. And it really meant a lot. Divorce is always a tough road. It’s never an experience you want. But I am happy that my kid came out on the other side a little bit better, and wasn’t really too affected by it in that degree.

Which is what made it extra special when we were notified by his teacher that there would be an end of the year assembly as our school year wrapped up and that Ethan would be receiving an award. What the award was ended up being pretty vague. There was no more information. I attended the ceremony. About nine students that received awards, and he was one of two in his class.

The award he won is called a ‘Citizenship Award.’ It’s a way for the school to reward good attitudes. Not to brag on Ethan, but he’s good at math. He’s about a grade and a half above where he should be. The kids sit in clusters of four desks to a pod. When he’d finish his assignments, he would help out his fellow classmates if they had any needs or if he saw anyone struggling. He’d ask them if they needed help. The award is not purely academic — it was about him reaching out if someone needed something. He was that kid.

Ethan is very shy. He takes after his mother in being pretty introverted. He keeps a lot pretty close to the chest. So to know that he’s outgoing in the classroom, that’s one of those things I got excited about. That he continues to be outgoing when he’s not around me, because he’s obviously very comfortable with us and his siblings, so for him to show that side of himself in the classroom, was also a win for us, as parents.

My ex-wife and I have great conversations about our kids. We talk as much as if we were married. I reached out to her and let her know that she’s a great mom and that our co-parenting efforts are really paying off. That’s what it felt like when he got that award, and I think his mom and I both saw the fruits of our labor.

We want to make sure that we’re raising kids who are respectful to others, and that they’re also genuine. We want to make sure they are courteous and that they respect others. It’s a huge thing to have a kid who is 10 years old and is just thankful to his teachers and his classmates. I know there’s been a lot of bullying in schools, you want to make sure you’re raising a kid who is doing the right thing, and walking the straight and narrow in that regard.