Finding Joy in Parenting After a Divorce

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Keith Harrington learned to find joy in parenting after a divorce.

Keith Harrington loves a good laugh, always has. Now he’s learning to pass on his laugh on to his children – even after a divorce. As Keith says, once a dad, always a dad. Discover how Keith keeps a Mommipop state of mind for the “greater good” of his children.

Q: What gives you a Mommipop state of mind (joy in parenting)?

Hearing my kids laugh and be silly. Learning their little quirks. Making them pancakes and bacon. Hearing my daughter recite Red Sox players’ numbers and hearing my son tell jokes.

Q: Describe your parenting style in three words.

Firm but fun

Q: What’s the best parenting advice you ever received?

‘The key to parenting is don’t overthink it. Because overthinking leads to … what were we talking about?’ – Homer Simpson

Q: What’s your favorite memory of your parents?

Going to Disney World as a family and the random funny stories that happened there. Like the time we had a camcorder and were filming ourselves eating breakfast. As we were all saying “hi” to the camera, some woman at another table asked if we wanted her leftover muffin. I have no idea why we all thought that was funny, but it still makes me laugh.

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Keith with his two kids in tow.

A Big Nod to Co-Parenting

By Keith Harrington

My kids have big, giant heads. My four-year-old son is already wearing adult-size winter hats. When my seven-year-old daughter was a baby and the doctor did the head measurements, they kinda stopped after they got past 100th percentile and came to the medical opinion that she just had a large dome. At first doctors thought it was cause for concern until they saw me and realized that I, too, had a giant head. When I was younger and skinnier, I looked like a human bobblehead. My best friend in college called me “the big-headed kid” when we first met. Most everyone in my family has a large noggin. It’s just the way it is. Kids can be the best and the worst of you. My kids also have my blue eyes, my sharp wit, my stubbornness, my silliness, my love of old-school hip hop and Boston sports, and my shaky handwriting. We laugh, we get upset, we learn, and (most importantly) we love life together.

I start with this because I am a divorced dad. I am on a visitation schedule with their mom and see them most weekends. Sure it’s only weekends, but the kids aren’t in school or daycare so they are spending the full time with me and my family. For the most part, it works. Are there hiccups? Sure. Is there juggling of schedules? Yes. Do holidays become a little tense? Absolutely. Do you get into fights with your ex… excuse me, co-parent? Yes. You got divorced. There are reasons for that. That said, it is possible to get along. Thousands of divorced couples have accomplished this and get along swimmingly. Though, despite this, there will always be bumps in the road. You disagree about the schedule for Christmas or Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day or some random third weekend in May. Sometimes old wounds resurface and that is never fun and can get flat out ugly.

“I figure that, while their mother and I are not together, the more love they can have in their lives, the better.”

As hairy as it can get sometimes though, you have to try your best to do what is best for your kids. Sure you might have moved on from your ex. Maybe you are in a fantastic relationship. Maybe things in your life are incredible. Maybe that person you were with was holding you back either financially, emotionally, spiritually, or whatever. However, at one point, for reasons that sometimes may escape you right now given your relationship with them now, you had children together. Guess what? They still need you to be mom and dad regardless of whatever caused you two to split up. Sometimes you need to suck it up, look in the mirror and say, “You need to put your wants, needs and differences on the back burner. You need to be responsible. Cut the selfishness. You are the guiding force for those kids.”

This is why I bring up my kids’ gargantuan craniums. Some parents may feel that if their ex moves on and that the new person in their lives is now in the kids’ lives that their role of mother or father is under attack. In some cases, for various reasons, this happens. In my case, I have no doubt about my current role in my kids’ lives. I am dad. I will always be dad. I look at them, see them grow, and know every moment I am with them that I am their father and that hasn’t changed no matter what has happened since the divorce.

I want what’s best for them and their mother does too. Sure we may not see eye to eye on some things, but when they are with me, I sort of run my own race. I make sure that they are going to bed when I say it’s time. I try and get them to eat the foods I want them to. I try and do things to help their development mentally and physically. If my ways differ from their mom, then so be it. I usually do not question a lot of things that go on a daily basis with the kids. Now don’t get me wrong. When it comes to decisions like education, medical and dental treatments, and some discipline, I try and be on the same page with their mom and present a united front. Those are the important decisions. Things like bedtime and meals I feel are kind of at your own discretion. If you don’t like what your kid is eating when they are with your ex, you need to make sure they are eating what you feel is appropriate when they are with you. You also need to pick your battles sometimes.

“I am dad. I will always be dad. I look at them, see them grow, and know every moment I am with them that I am their father and that hasn’t changed no matter what has happened since the divorce.”

What you can’t do, however, is try and get your kids to pick sides. It doesn’t work and, in the long run, could bite you in the keister. Imagine if you are the kids. Would you want one of your parent’s saying awful things about the other one? Would you want to be interrogated if your mom or dad had a new person in their lives? Would you want to hear awful things about the people in your life who cared about you and loved you just because mommy or daddy didn’t like them? Remember, kids will eventually figure it out. If you are feeding them misinformation about people because you feel hurt or challenged or spiteful, your kids could one day learn to mistrust you.

I choose to take the road that is sometimes hard to take. The high road. When I have my kids, when the issue of their mom comes up, I back up any decision she makes. If I disagree with it, I contact her away from the kids and try and talk it out. If one of my former in-laws come from out of town, I always ask the kids about how much fun they had and the visit. When it comes to their mother’s fiancé, I rarely talk about him, but if I do, it’s positive. When I see him at drop-offs, I am cordial. You have to be. I think he is a good guy. I am not going to hang out with him anytime soon, but the kids like him, and that is enough for me. Sometimes if I am out with the kids and a friend of their mom comes to say “hi” to the kids, I am polite and nice. They are in the kids’ lives. The more love the better. I know that they have probably heard all the bad things about my marriage and that’s fine. I actually enjoy the confusion in their face when they meet me and realize that I am somewhat normal. I figure that, while their mother and I are not together, the more love they can have in their lives, the better.

“You could dislike your ex with the heat of 1,000 suns. You just have to always remember your kids. They come first, second, third. Always.”

Again, you have to run your own race. You can only control the own crazy in your life. You could dislike your ex with the heat of 1,000 suns. You just have to always remember your kids. They come first, second, third. Always. Without question. Sure, your marriage may have hit the skids. It happens. But your drama is not your kids’ drama. They probably saw the two of you at your worst. You can’t unring that bell. What you can do is realize that from the ashes of your inferno of a relationship came these children who are still going to call you mom and dad for the rest of your lives. You have to get that thought put into that big brain in their oversized heads that the two people who brought them into this world will do whatever it takes for them. Even if that means doing that one thing that you couldn’t do when they were together… get along with each other for the greater good.

Keith Harrington is a former writer/producer at CNN, HLN and WMUR. He is the father of two and currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts, and around Fenway Park.  You can reach him at productionstvk@gmail.com

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