What My Divorce Taught Me About Raising Boys
Words: Nic Cober
“Your sons should not be a proxy for your boo” and other lessons learned from parenting through a divorce.
Divorce is a bitch, and when you have children—I have two sons—it’s so much more intense.
You’re experiencing change, they’re experiencing change. You’re experiencing loss and fear, they’re experiencing loss and fear. I was constantly faced with the balance of processing my own feelings while encouraging and enabling my sons to feel their own.
Sometimes I entangled my emotional needs with theirs. Other times, I relied on them to be strong so that I could focus on all the divorce administrative responsibilities that I needed to handle. It made things easier for me. But my oldest son recently shared how my need for him to “soldier on” caused him to bottle up his emotions.
We are having honest, in-depth discussions about the emotional roles, dynamics, and feelings that exist around divorce for me as their mother and them as my sons. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you.
1. Boys want to be strong for their moms.
I think everyone can agree that our society doesn’t allow men and boys to express their sadness or fears as easily as it does girls. (We know it’s wrong, but it happens anyway.)
The process of divorce should, in theory, allow a person—both parents and their children—to feel the natural emotions of loss and then rebuild and develop resiliency skills. Be careful to allow your children, especially your sons, to process those feelings genuinely, rather than feel a burden of being strong for you.
Also, always state clearly to him that being a strong human being means expressing, not suppressing, genuine emotions.
Further, make sure you have your own support system so that you can allow for your son’s natural feelings to come out. It’s difficult, but you have to heal so that he can be vulnerable enough to follow suit. Allow him to own his own feelings and his own process.
2. Boys want to defend their moms.
Boys may feel the need to step into an adult male’s role and defend his mother, but please don’t let him do that. It’s not appropriate to push a child into an adult’s role and handle “grown-folks business.”
It’s challenging, but as an adult, it’s your responsibility to handle your business by defending yourself with professionals’ assistance (i.e. attorneys, accountants, pastors, or law enforcement if necessary), and not having your children fight those battles on any front.
And you must do it for three reasons:
First, when we don’t, we short circuit our sons’ childhood and may be manipulating their natural desire to defend us for our own selfish needs.
Second, you need to regain control of your own life and re-establish confidence in your own abilities and strength that you may have lost during the divorce.
And finally, it will likely strengthen your faith by trusting God to defend you, not your sons. That was my experience.
3. Boys are not men, and they are absolutely not YOUR men.
Ladies, I am the first one to admit that being a single mother is exhausting. You’re working to be both provider, protector, and nurturer. I’ve been one step from welfare trying to be a rebuild my life for my children. I was tired of doing all the caregiving and being the sole financial provider. I was needy and wanted help and love.
However, while it is appropriate to give your children chores and responsibilities, your sons should not be a proxy for your boo. They should not feel that they have to go out and work and give money into the household so that you will struggle less, and they also shouldn’t be your emotional surrogates.
I know some people disagree with me, but I think the best thing that children can do is be children. During a divorce, they should be able to believe that mom is going to be alright and so will they. There will be changes and adjustments, but we will recover as a family.
Moms, you need adult support systems such as friends, coworkers, and family and church members you can confide in. The children should not be on that shortlist.
And finally, your son is NOT the man of the house! He is the boy of the house. When he pays the bills in his own house, he'll become the man of a house—but never your house. Making those lines very clear can help your son get through the divorce as healthily as possible.
4. Boys need to know that you're genuinely ok.
After my last failed marriage, I went to a counselor who told me words that I will always remember: “As the mother heals, so heals the child.”
From that moment on, I took that to heart and really started focusing on myself, my well-being, and knowing that I was good enough. Once I did that, I really did start to feel better and parent differently.
Slowly, I let go of my shame and sadness. I also became strong enough to handle all of the feelings from the boys. It was a long and hard process for them. Once they were able to be honest with me, they shared how hard it was for them to feel like they had to pick a side and bottle up their emotions.
I explained to them that I didn’t need them to be happy or strong or to defend or protect me or my feelings. It required me to do some difficult work in order to be independent and whole.
When you live (and parent) from a position of personal strength and not weakness, you can be someone your children can authentically emulate.
Nic Cober, Esquire is the principal managing partner of Cober Johnson & Romney, a law firm which is based in Washington D.C. Nic is the author of CEO Of My Soul, a memoir about her self-love journey as a small-business owner. The book can be purchased on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. For more information, visit her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin.