“It is not enough to be well-intentioned: one must strive to put those intentions into action in a capable way. One must consider the effect his actions will have on others. Looked at like this, to persist in ignorance is itself dishonorable.” Andrew Cohen
I’ve started to see a theme amongst the men and women with whom I speak post-divorce. It’s interesting. I’m seeing this more in people who have been divorced for a few years now, rather than those who have recently divorced. Life has started to settle down. Perhaps the drama and the emotion tied to the divorce has quieted. Affairs have ended. People have moved on. Perhaps they have remarried. Addictions are under control. The fuel is off the fire, and the erratic and often selfish behavior has ceased.
It’s at this point that I’m hearing men and women reflect and say, “I just want my kids to be proud of me.” Wow. What a sentiment. I think at our core we all strive to make those we care most about in our lives proud of us. My parents used to encourage me to “make us proud” when I was a teen. I knew what that meant. It meant to make good decisions and wise choices. It meant to be kind to others. It meant to treat people the way I would want to be treated. It meant not cheating, stealing or lying to get ahead. It meant honoring the morals and values on which I was raised. It goes without saying that we want our parents, our spouses, our friends, and of course, our kids, to be proud of us. The opposite of pride is shame. I can’t imagine anyone taking pleasure in being shamed or in feeling that our loved ones are ashamed of us.
Which brings me back to the sentiment I keep hearing: “I just want my kids to be proud of me.” A few years post-divorce, when things have quieted down, there appears to be a growing awareness and more reflection that begins to occur. It’s a rear-view mirror kind of thing – you know, hindsight is 20:20.
I believe that many of these moms and dads are finally able to look past their selfish behavior, some of which may have served as accelerators, if not actual causes, of the demise of their marriage, and view that behavior through a different lens. Suddenly it’s no longer a matter of “I’ll do what I want, with who I want, when I want,” and more a matter of “Oh no, I don’t want my kids to know about that.”
Unfortunately, the behavior that might now produce shame, and certainly not pride, is over and done. It’s a thing in your past. It’s in your rear-view mirror. I’ve spoken with dads who regret engaging in affairs as a way to end their marriages. I’ve spoken with women who regret becoming dating fanatics and having their kids see different men at the breakfast table on Saturday mornings. I’ve spoken with people who realize their addictions have become a part of the “story” that defines the lives of their kids. In talking about these years, kids talk matter-of-factly about having to “get dad off the floor and into his bed when he passed out drunk again,” or talking about how “creepy it was to have a man we didn’t know show up at the breakfast table, or remembering how “dad wasted all of our money and we had to move into an apartment.”
People tell me, “I only look forward; I don’t believe in looking backward,” as a means to justify what may have occurred in the past. You know, “Let bygones be bygones. There’s nothing I can do about it now.” BUT, what if back whenever said behavior was occurring, these same people followed their own mantra of “I only look forward; I don’t believe in looking backward?” Is it possible that in looking forward they would realize that they don’t one day want to be ashamed of their present-day actions? Is it possible that they might think, “I want to make my kids proud … and this isn’t the way to do that?” Is it possible that they might rethink the behavior which was about occur and instead take a higher road?
Mahatma Gandhi summed this up in three simple words: “Action expresses priorities.” If your priorities are your kids, and making them proud, then be sure that your actions are in line with what you deem to be pride-inducing, not shame creating.
Author Monique A. Honaman wrote “The High Road Has Less Traffic: honest advice on the path through love and divorce” (2010) in response to a need for a book that provided honest, real, and raw advice about how to survive and thrive through one of life’s toughest journeys, and “The High Road Has Less Traffic … and a better view” (2013) to provide perspectives on love, marriage, divorce and everything in between. The books are available on Amazon.com. Learn more at www.HighRoadLessTraffic.com.