Your kids are learning about life from how you behave, not how you tell them to behave. So behave honorably. Be respectful of your former partner. And love them with all of your heart when they are with you.
The rest is negotiation, navigation, and nurture. We've both got work ahead of us. We are always in a state of becoming. But today, I have my lifetime cheerleader beside me. And I'm always ready joyfully embrace her in all of her flaws and misdirections. We've all got them.
I will be in the process of recalibrating my life in relationship to my ex-wife probably for the rest of my life. Even after the kids are off and doing their own lives, there are always collective contributions that need to be made, adult advice that needs to be given, and we will never fully separate from the relationship.
That's how the first home base became a hostile environment for both of us. We labored to keep the kids out of the fray and we began couples counseling two very different perspectives.
I'm watching my kids grow up from a distance, and it's painful. Sure, I have the standard possession order, the simple divorce equation for 80% of dads. But we're getting the raw end of the deal. Actually, divorce is the rawest end of the deal, but once that's determined, the only thing you can do is hope for maximizing your time with your kids. Still, it's not enough.
Still, I'm not sure where her playful person went. I was offering new ideas while I was also trying to accommodate her "clean house" and "stable bank account" requirements. But I don't think she ever put a LOVE LIST together.
Today, at this moment as a divorced father, I know I am not repeating my father's mistakes. My son and daughter hear from me all the time how much I see and love them. I try to meet them on their level, rather than making them adapt to mine.
And I am happy for the healing in my family that has come from flipping all the negatives of divorce on their ass and finding the way back to love. Everything in my life is about love. And the love and support of my kids comes before all of my own needs and goals.