Modeling Integrity as a Person and as a Parent
So how do we keep improving the quality of our relationships (especially with our exes) in an extended family when it didn’t work under the same roof?
1. Practice Integrity
Integrity is defined as: “being of sound moral principle; upright, honest, and sincere.” So you do what you say you’re going to do and you are fair and consistent. If there are agreements, you stick by them; changes, you negotiate them; and insults, you rise above them.
This is a simple principle. However, living by it isn’t always easy. Integrity takes time to develop. It requires us to recognize when we’ve done something well (like reaching an agreement in a conversation with our ex when it might otherwise have become ugly) and to consciously repeat that success. It requires us to be aware when there are opportunities to learn (like times when we have been unfair or critical) and to consider and practice an alternative approach next time.
2. Trust the Truth
The old sayings are the best ones and “The truth will set you free” is simple yet massively powerful. Keeping “versions” of stories in your head to tell one to yourself, one to your ex, and one to your children is a real juggling act. It sucks up energy that could otherwise be channeled for creativity and progress. Keeping “versions” or secrets is exhausting and potentially dangerous. Ultimately, only the truth being out there will take the stress away and allow you to deal with a situation with transparency and maturity.
Telling the truth when we know we’ll likely get an earful is a tough one, though (even as a grown up!). Think of it from a parent to a child; if you teach your son or daughter that telling the truth is the right thing, you must allow them to act on those principles without fear. So when they tell you about “the crystal they broke,” “the boyfriend they kissed,” or the “wacky-backy they smoked,” you must acknowledge them for the boldness and honesty they developed to talk to you about it in the first place. If you bawl them out when they’ve actually done the right thing (hard though it was for them to say and for you to hear)—how will that encourage them to be truthful next time? (I’m not saying don’t reprimand here, I’m saying don’t overreact.)
It’s the same principle with your ex. If you want your ex to be reasonable and honest about access, finances, and decision-making, you’ve got to be careful not to react in a limiting way. If you have to wait twenty-four hours to respond to an aggressive email calmly, do it. If you have to take a deep breath before completely ignoring a rude remark, do it. If you need to step away from the sharp kitchen implements—I’m kidding!
3. Lean on LOVE
I am not talking about the romantic, flowery, heart-balloon, truffles kind of love here. I’m talking about the real, tough, unconditional, connects-us-to-the-core-of-mankind sort of LOVE that changes lives in a dramatic way.
In my experience developing this sort of love for the people you really do love, and want to love, and choose to love is a quality piece of learning (and much of it is intuitive). Using this love for the people you’d prefer never to be in contact with again is mega-off-the-scale, post-graduate, plus, plus kind of learning (and much of it is practiced and developed over time … and I mean lifelong!).
What I’ve learned though is this. Big LOVE as a founding principle is a winning formula for change. Talk with it, behave with it, give it, receive it, develop it, be inspired by it and watch the people around you (even the exes—God love ’em!) respond with positivity, respect and love in return.
LOVE is the stuff of miracles. (And that’s a whole other article.)