Years ago I recall talking with a friend who was in a very unhappy marriage. Each time we met she would tell me how many more years, months, weeks she had to endure her marriage until she could finally get out. She was staying for her daughter. Innocently, I asked, “Don’t you think your daughter would rather see her mom happy and divorced than in a marriage that makes her miserable?” She thought about it and the next time we met she told me she was leaving. I had no idea that my question had so much impact.
My friend, like many others, believed her daughter didn’t know that she and her husband were miserable. But, she came to find out, that a child’s perception often overrules our ability to camouflage. It then occurred to her that although her daughter was merely eight years old; she wanted to provide her with the role model of a strong and happy woman and that was no longer possible while married to her husband. I won’t go into the details, but in time they were divorced, learned to parent together from two households and their daughter has acclimated to the situation.
Curious, having read a recent poll claiming that 82% of those aged 14 to 22 who have endured family breakups would prefer their parents to part if they are unhappy, I asked my friend if she ever talked to her daughter about the differences from then to now. At eleven, her daughter clearly articulated that it was so much better this way. “Everyone is happier.”
That same survey revealed that adults and older children of divorced families say that they realized later on that it was for the best. This does not mean, by any means, that divorce is easy on anyone, but it does somehow attest to the long standing notion that staying together for the children is not the answer.
The answer is (drumroll please)…making divorce and co-parenting work…which again is not always an easy feat, but is certainly possible and leaves open much more opportunity for everyone involved.
If you are in the midst of a divorce or have finally settled, this may be your first New Year’s Eve alone. I am here to tell you that it will all be ok. Actually this can be looked at as a pivotal moment in your life. New Year’s is generally a time of starting over and making resolutions. Begin again. Allow December 31st to be your stepping stone toward a new kind of happiness.
Perhaps you have been invited to parties. Decide if you are ready to attend a party solo and if you are not, then make other plans. Maybe you want to spend the evening with friends; friends who have been one of your greatest resources during your divorce. Maybe you have your children for New Year’s Eve. What a great opportunity to talk about your new family life and how it will look.
Do something fun with your children to bring in the new year with them. Just spending time with the kids at this time of year is a great chance to bond. Maybe you want to make a special meal together, set the table, put out candles and toast to your new lives. Perhaps you want to have a movie or game marathon in your pajamas. If you and your kids have an artsy side try giving the kids a stack of magazines; let them cut out pictures of things they want to see/be/do in the New Year. Or give them a pre-made “resolution” sheet to decorate and write dreams on. Write yours as well. This is another opportunity to talk positively and bond with your children.
The main thing about New Year’s is remembering that this is your new beginning. Declare that this is going to be a better year; a year of change. Remind yourself that divorce; while painful, has given you the chance for this new beginning – a beginning that can be optimistic and bright. Here’s to 2016 and to you!
It is possible that this will be your first holiday without your children. Most likely this is what you agreed to in the parenting plan part of your divorce, but that may not make that impending day(s) any easier. Regardless of financial or marital status we all experience stress around the holidays. Depending on how good the relationship between you and your ex is, children of divorce approach the holidays with feelings ranging from mild uncertainty to absolute dread. As parents, we must learn to focus on the children’s needs and try to put our own sadness aside. Of course, this does not mean denying or ignoring one’s own feelings, but rather learning to deal with them in a way that does not make things more difficult for the children.
The divorced or separated family is generally aware of the pain it has suffered and the holidays may magnify this pain. Reminiscing might be part of the holiday tradition, but instead make it about creating new traditions. Try not to show the children how sad you may be that they will not be at your table this year by assuring them that you have some place to go and that they will have a great time with their mother/father. It will be difficult for them to enjoy themselves if they are envisioning the absent parent alone and sad. The ability of the children to adjust not just to the holiday visitation schedule, but to the divorce in general, is directly affected by how well the parents have learned to adjust to their new roles as co-parents and ex-spouses.
Some families avoid splitting the holidays by alternating times for family meals and traditions. This may be what you and your ex have decided will work best for your family, but most likely alternating major holidays yearly is the plan, therefore it is important to prepare yourself and your children for how the holiday will play out. Perhaps, having a second celebration when your child returns or before she/he leaves will work for you. Remember holidays are about families and good feelings not the day the calendar dictates.
For young children, the decision of where and when to go should be decided by the parents. Having to choose to spend time with one parent, over the other is a tremendous burden for the child, which may result in the child feeling guilty. It also gives the child more power than is appropriate. Remember too that older children are not immune to the stress. Adult children who live on their own may still find it difficult to choose. Young adults returning home for the holidays have the additional stress of wanting to spend time with their friends. Try to make it easier for them by alternating holidays or creating new traditions. Once again, assure them that you will be fine.
Holidays, while fun and festive, can also be stressful. Adding a new divorce or separation to the season can further complicate things; dialing up emotions and ambivalence. Do your best to create and stick to the plan that you and your spouse have created. If there is difficulty in devising a plan, that will make it easier on all involved, particularly the children; consult a parenting coach, who can help you work through things and make the future for your family easier and brighter. None of this is meant to diminish how difficult it may be celebrating those first few holidays without your children, but finding ways to make it palatable and even joyful for yourself, is one that should not involve the children. Keeping busy and spending time with compassionate friends and other family members often helps.
Every once in a while I get a few minutes to page through a magazine and today, in November’s O Magazine, I came across a letter in Lisa Kogan’s column called, “May We Help You?” that made me literally laugh out loud at an issue that rarely has a funny side. A woman wrote in claiming that her boyfriend speaks to his ex-wife almost daily to schedule activities for their three children, but what bothered her is that she often hears them “laughing together instead of arranging carpools.” She goes on to say that he has dinner with the ex-wife and the kids every Tuesday.
While I understand that she may feel left out, and one really has to read Ms. Kogan’s response, as she is candid and comical, the part that struck me was how fabulous for these children. Of course Ms. Kogan addresses all the reasons why the girlfriend needs “let it be,” but my favorite line was when she pointed out that those Tuesday night dinners “might be sacred to the kids.” I have said it before, and I will say it again, a divorce or separation does not preclude anyone who has children from being part of a family. A parent will always be family to a child; therefore if a child’s parents can get along…and even laugh together; so much the better.
Not all parents get along well enough to co-parent with laughter; actually some can barely be in the same room, but this does not preclude anyone from the reality that it can only be easier and healthier for children when there is calm and compatibility particularly in their regard. Not every family is meant to have Tuesday night dinners, but there are multitudes of ways co-parenting can work. Sometimes just learning to have a civil conversation can be an improvement. Parent coaches can help. Remember, you are not just doing this for yourself, but most importantly for the children.
I often give examples to dueling parents that regardless of the fact that they may never want to see each other again they still have graduations and weddings to contend with and there is no doubt that they will be more happy and less stressful occasions if everyone learns to get along. Yes, it is possible to learn such behavior. Parents are forever tied together as long as they have children. And what in life isn’t better than a little laughter?
Although many parents would like to believe that once the papers are signed they will never have anything to do with their ex-spouse again. The truth is that as long as there are children in common this cannot and will not work. However, there are various ways to communicate. Communication is a key to successful co-parenting. A good working relationship between parents can make all the difference, and most importantly, in the lives of the child(ren).
Whether trying to decide on day to day issues, vacation time or health or education decisions, various methods can work. Some parents may prefer to do everything via email, while another may be comfortable sitting and talking with the other parent. An important rule of thumb though is to never use the child(ren) to deliver messages. Try to compartmentalize your issues about your ex-spouse and remember they are your issues and not the child’s. When you have your child tell the other parent something for you, it puts him or her in the middle of your conflict.
Along these same lines it is important to never say negative things about your ex to your child(ren). This can make them feel badly about themselves as they are still related to the other parent. It can also make them feel like they have to choose. Your child has a right to a relationship with his or her other parent that is free of your influence.
Some options for communicating with ex’s can be:
- email (Our Family Wizard is a useful email system geared toward parent communicaiton
- parent coordinators or coaches (who can help both parents work towards better co-parenting and communication)
Some parents may choose to use one of these methods and others a combination of them. The important thing is that the lines of communication remain open in order to successfully co-parent.