How to Connect With Your Child During a Divorce, Part I
Divorce is an all-consuming, emotionally-exhausting process. It’s incredibly hard to even function at times, much less take the wants and needs of another individual into account. No, we’re not talking about empathizing with your spouse (that’s a goal for the most highly-evolved human beings to shoot for and still miss) — we’re talking about connecting with your child.
Making a genuine connection with a child is hard enough for your everyday hard-working parents who barely have time to squeeze homework in between the end of work and the start of making dinner. Doing it when you’re dealing with being suddenly partnerless and going through a divorce is like asking a chicken to lay an ostrich egg. Yet, your child needs it, and you can do it. Here’s how.
The Most Important Thing: Take an Interest
The number one thing you can do to connect with any other human being is to take an interest in them. English speakers often use the term “get interested” in something, but that is a verbal glitch — it makes interest sound like a disease, a condition you have no control over. The fact is that interest is something you actively take.
So how do you take an interest in something? Start by recognizing that literally any time you find something uninteresting, it’s because you aren’t actually paying attention to that thing. You’ve created a mental construct that represents that thing, and your ideas about that mental construct are vague, or include the uninformed decision that the thing in question is boring. The reality is always more complex, nuanced, and fascinating than your mental construct.
Empty Your Teacup
There’s a classic story about a man who comes to a Zen teacher, demanding to be taught enlightenment. The Zen teacher hands the man a teacup and starts to pour tea…and then doesn’t stop. After a moment of getting spilled all over, the man leaps to his feet and says “Stop! Stop! It’s full!”
The Zen master replies, “Like your teacup, you, too, are full. I can no more pour enlightenment into you than I can pour tea into a full cup. Return when your mind is empty.”
Seeking the Interesting
Look at the nearest wall. If you’re sitting in my home office, it’s white drywall; just about the most straightforward thing on Earth. It’s literally more boring than watching paint dry, because the paint is already dry.
And yet, if you get close to it, you’ll see that it’s covered in tiny signs of the living that has happened here. There’s a small dent where someone kicked the wall in frustration one night. There’s a series of tack holes up by the ceiling where, long long ago, someone hung a tapestry of La Belle Dame Sans Merci by J.W. Waterhouse. And there are at least three layers of slightly-differently-colored “white” paint over the drywall from at least three different rearrangements of the house.
Putting it All Together
If the wall behind my computer has several stories to tell, you can be 100% certain that your child, a living breathing being who likely has several hours of experiences every day that you are not privy to, has a vast supply of tales untold. All you have to do is empty your mind of your preconceptions about what and who your child is, and seek the interesting.
(As a completely unrelated aside, one of my employees assures me this is also excellent dating advice.)
We’re not done yet, though. This was the most important part, but hardly the only part — come back later this week for more!
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