Divorce is an action that affects a whole family and one that can have repercussions which last well into the future. It can affect us financially and scar us emotionally if left to run its course with no supervision or help. If handled well, divorce can become one last hurdle before reaching a happy compromise; for others it can be a complete release from a nightmarish past. Whatever the reason for divorce, it is an action that requires help, assistance and care.
This Community entry, in the form of mainly personal anecdotes, offers some gentle advice on how to minimise the potential pain of divorce.
Think of the Children
While I have smooth-running living arrangements, my parents really don't get on. It seems to get a lot chillier whenever they see each other!
A consistent message seems to be that couples shouldn't stay together 'just for the children' - it isn't going to work. You get cross and unhappy and the children realise this. They can't help but pick up on the unhappy vibe. In a child's mind this can mean that they are to blame for you being unhappy, that it's their fault, etc:
Definitely don't stay together for the children! I'm speaking from direct experience of being in that situation! My parents got divorced three years ago and I have horrible memories of lying in bed, listening to my parents argue and shout at each other when they thought that we were asleep. Not nice!
I won't go into all the detail of what happened to me, but the issue is not only the divorce; its what happens in the following years, and I think you just have to make it clear to the children when they say how bad they feel about it, how much worse it would be if the parents were still together.
It's also really important that the kids know that both parents, regardless of their feelings towards one another, will always love their children. The ideal situation seems to be where the parents can still communicate, to still be able to talk about things like 'Mikey has a cold this week, and Jane needs to do more homework'. No matter how trivial it sounds, if they can't do this then the kids are made to feel as if anything that goes on with dad can't be talked about in front of mum, and vice versa. They need to feel allowed to talk about the other parent whenever they want. Building up these foundations when the divorce first happens will ensure the ongoing happiness and sanity of everyone involved.
Here are a couple of points from an enlightened parent...
One thing I would say is always explain to your children what's happening and reassure them that it's not their fault. Don't use them as 'spies' to find out what's going on in your ex-partner's life, especially if they're seeing someone else. It just isn't fair on the kids. I was quite lucky in that my parents remained friendly after the divorce, but even if you can't manage that, try and remain civil, at least in front of the kids.
Also, if you don't get full-time custody of your kids, and only see them on certain occasions, make an effort to be there on time, or at all! You don't necessarily have to make each visit into a big event, but let the kids know that you're happy to see them.
Organisation and keeping on good terms are themes that repeatedly seem to crop up in conversations about how best to deal with life after divorce. For instance, you've got to be really organised if your child lives in two houses:
I've a three-year-old son. He spends three days per week with me and four with his mum and he very quickly figured out what goes where. The only thing to remember is that the toys are his. If he wants to take a toy that one parent has bought him to his other parent's house, that's his choice, not the parent's.
Having said that, you've got to be on good enough terms with your ex to be able to ring them up at a moment's notice. A typical request is 'Help I've run out of cough medicine for him!' or 'OK I know he's got at least two dozen pairs of shorts, but I haven't got any here! Any chance that you can bring some round? I'll swap you for the three dozen jumpers I've got here.'
It can work, and I think its the best solution for the child - OK, I know the best solution is not to have made a mistake in marrying that person in the first place, but the kids come first!
And here's a child's positive view...
Mmmm... I don't think divorce, in the long run, is that bad for children. If the divorce is civilised, that is. My parents getting divorced when I was five and then my mother divorcing again when I was fourteen has actually helped me grow much more quickly as a person. You stop being so wrapped up in yourself and stop taking things for granted. Besides, divorce is much more common nowadays - it is something that, one day, almost all children will have to deal with. I can tell you one thing, it is a hell of a lot more pleasant than living with two people who are sick to death of one another. (Plus, an extended family means more presents at Xmas - hee hee! - and also it teaches you to be tolerant, in living with new siblings.)
A word of warning...
I just want to add my note of warning, in several cases I have come across kids that can play parents off against each other to get things they want. And if they don't stop this type of behaviour by communicating sensibly, the children end up as spoilt manipulative brats.
How Divorce Affects Adult Children
This is an interesting (and particularly heart-felt) perspective from the viewpoint of a young adult:
This subject is of personal interest to me, as my parents divorced four years ago, when I was 26. I think divorce may be just a bit harder for the adult children. This is because when you are an adult, your parents feel you are ready and can handle the really messy stuff (the reasons why they got divorced) that small children are by-and-large protected from. And a child of any age does not want to hear about infidelities. I certainly was not ready to handle knowledge of a parent's outside romances. Nor could I handle it very well. I did not speak with that particular parent for about two years. Call me immature, but I think people who are considering divorce should probably handle some of their personal demons themselves, and not place that burden on their children - at whatever age. It's one thing to share your hopes and fears with a child, it's another to share your sex life.
Getting Used to a New Parent
One of the most difficult things for children is for them to get used the new lovers in their parents' lives:
My parents divorced and I was expecting it but I didn't like it at all. They had been separated before and I have a big sister who stayed with my dad and my little sister, and I stayed with my mom. I remember the night that my mom told my sisters and I that they were going to get divorced. We were at a diner and she said she was going to get remarried. That was about a year and a half ago and on the 27th my mom was remarried.
It was a little too quick and I wish I had time to get over the divorce before I had to deal with this other person who is now my stepfather. I get along with him now, but it takes time to get it through your head that after one parent remarries, your parents will never be together again like they were. I know my mom is much happier now and I understand why my mom divorced my dad, but it hurts.
My advice to someone (with kids) getting a divorce is to give the kids some breathing room to get over the shock and then gradually bring in a new person.
My advice to the kids is to understand the parents' view and to be open to new people because a lot of the time the step-parent(s) will understand how you feel and won't try to take over the spot of your biological parent. Hey, I'm fine. I lived. Sure I hate him sometimes and I know he's not my dad and so does he. Just give people a chance, then if you still hate them then talk to your mom or dad.
How to Divide up Belongings
The Ex-husband's View...
Tell her you'll sort her stuff out and that you will let her know when she's allowed to come and collect it. When she rings because she's not heard from you for weeks, break the news triumphantly that you've thrown it all in the skip because you didn't hear from her. (This is the ideal way for the ex-husband to allow his feelings of guilt, regret and loneliness find a permanent place in his soul to lodge themselves and burn away at him for the rest of his life.)
The Ex-wife's View
Get everything out immediately if not sooner!!! Because when he realises his ex-wife has a valid point about moving forward and staying friends for the mutual good and spiritual health of both parties, and that his apologies and suggestions to rectify years of unhappiness will not win back control of the situation, his last resort will inevitably be to childishly lash out in the most immature way you can possibly imagine.
Do not allow guilt transference; it wasn't working, he tried to make you fit into the shoes of his late mother, you tried for a good few years before you did something positive for both parties and if he solely blames you for his current situation then he has got a serious psychological problem (you were always dimly aware you were providing a free personal psychology service anyway weren't you?)
Before either one of you goes running to a lawyer, do consider that counselling may in some cases save a worthwhile relationship where the children might be saved unnecessary pain for the sake of a few hours of you and your partner talking things over with a trained person. Once a vulture er, sorry... a lawyer has been contacted, you may find it difficult to go back. They have a way of interfering and clouding the issues even to the extent of making any problems bigger or worse than they may really be. Remember the children. Once the flak starts flying, do not try to make the children take sides; as we've seen before in this entry, this will only alienate them when in most cases they probably love both parents and will be in pain and turmoil, maybe even thinking they are somehow to blame. It is up to the parents to be the adults, to protect the children from this unnecessary pain.
So, before you let the lawyers fly in to pick at a possibly saveable marriage, please do consider counselling, at least as a possible option.