One of the hardest decisions any person makes is the decision to divorce. That decision brings final acceptance that you and your partner were unable to create the future you planned for when you got married, which was to face life’s challenges and celebrations together, forever. The decision is even harder when children are involved. Divorcing parents often spend countless nights lying awake with worry, concerned about how to keep their children safe and happy despite the divorce.
As an attorney assisting these parents through their difficult journey, this blog aims to provide the information I have learned over the past two decades so parents have the tools they need to make the best decisions for their kids and to create the best possible future for themselves in this process.
The longitudinal studies of children and divorce show two important things. First, divorce itself does not doom your child to a life that is any less rich or rewarding than children growing up in intact families. Second, children with easy and frequent access to both parents after a divorce fare far better than children who experience limited access to a parent or, worse yet, no access at all. This is true even when the other parent is far less than an “ideal.”
What does harm a child is her parents ongoing and embroiled conflict, not only before and during a divorce, but afterwards as well. When a divorce doesn’t end the fighting it was designed to escape, the child may never learn how to resolve conflict and could face life without effective problem solving skills and the transformative power of an apology is never experienced. As a parent, you can take steps to learn how to manage and mitigate conflict with the other parent, even when they seem unwilling to do the same. Your attorney can help provide tools or direct you to resources to maneuver through these issues.
When a child loses access to a parent, the wound is deep and often permanent. Too often, the child believes he did or said something that caused his parent to leave and so he blames himself and carries guilt for something over which he had no control.
As a result, divorcing parents wanting to create the best life for their children must plan their future in a different way than they had hoped. For their children’s sake, the challenges and celebrations which were meant to be shared “together” by spouses will now be shared by ex-spouses “side-by-side.”
What does “side by side” mean in real life?
“Side by side” simply means doing the following:
It means putting aside your differences and your current quarrel to peacefully and cheerfully attend your child’s kindergarten graduation, side by side.
It means not automatically blaming the other parent for the choice your son made when he cheated on his Chemistry test and instead meeting with his teacher to formulate a joint plan for accountability in both households, side by side, so your son learns the valuable lesson of facing meaningful consequences for his own bad choices.
It means hiding your disappointment when your daughter shares the fun she had when her mom took her to see Hamilton, whom she’s been studying in her 5th grade history class.
It means agreeing to switch “your” weekend when your son asked to attend his annual Boy Scout camp out with his dad, which he’s done every year with the same kids and their dads since he was in Cub Scouts.
Effective co-parenting is not easy, even when both parents are focused on their children. So what can a parent do when the other parent is incapable of sitting side by side? That is the subject of my next blog, “I only control me.”
Until then, take good care of yourself so that you can take good care of your kids!
This post was written by Anita C. Savage.