When you find yourself facing a divorce or separation, you also suddenly find yourself managing an onslaught of brand new stresses and fears.
You’re being asked to find all kinds of documents and information, developing a budget for your totally unknown future, and attempting to keep everything as “normal” as possible for your kids as you sit under a cloud of uncertainty — contemplating how on earth you’ll go for any number of days without seeing their precious faces. After all, your soon-to-be-ex-spouse is requesting a 50/50 shared parenting schedule, while you don’t want to give up even one single overnight if you don’t absolutely have to.
It all feels crazy, pressured, and overwhelming.
How do people ever make this all work?
You’re not alone in feeling this way, and you won’t be alone when you make your way through it all, because people can and they do.
Here are 3 crucial points to keep in mind as you make your way through the maze we know as divorce.
1. Divorce dissolves the romantic and legal partnership for you and your spouse, but it doesn’t have to dissolve the sense of family for your kids.
Let’s get down to business. You may have contacted an attorney to help you know what to do and to find out your rights. Good. Smart. Hire an attorney who cares as much about your children’s sense of family as he or she cares about winning. Winning is over-rated if the spoils of the war-of-divorce leave your children’s family ravaged from the litigation process. Consider a collaborative divorce, mediation, or other non-adversarial dispute resolution process in place of a traditional court-driven process.
Be sure you and your attorney think through the long-term impact on your children and their relationship with each of their parents when considering every motion, action, and evaluation you request. This is your responsibility: assess, consider, and think through before agreeing to any action that isn’t necessary and family preserving. Decisions you and your soon-to-be-ex make today as you dismantle your legal and romantic partnership will have a life-long impact on your children. Keep them in the number one position. Don’t put your family through a paper shredder.
2. You and your ex will be co-parents for the rest of your life — whether you like it or not.
The questions isn’t whether you’ll co-parent your children, the questions is how skillfully and cooperatively will you co-parent your children? Unless one of you gives up your parental rights, your kids have two parents — two people who will always hold half of their hearts, two people who mean the world to them. Even when things aren’t going well with one parent, kids hope for and imagine a time they’ll be loved and cared for by both parents.
Your anger, upset, and sense of betrayal is certainly understandable, and it also doesn’t belong to your children. Your job is to keep them safe and allow them to have the best relationship possible with each of their parents. That starts right now with every interaction and each transition. Treating each other with respect and civility, the problem-solving together, and approaching issues from a child-centered perspective must start now.
Working with an experienced and highly recommended co-parenting coach will assist you both to build a smooth co-parenting process accompanying your children between their two homes. In addition to the basic parenting skills you already come to the table with, you’ll need an additional set of practices and protocols to iron out the inevitable wrinkles as you transition to a two-home family life for kids.
3. Remember that what’s in the “best interests” of the kids is to have two good-enough parents loving and caring for them with every fiber of their being.
What’s “good enough”?
Good enough is the occasional bowl of goldfish crackers — even when they’re not organic. Good enough is sometimes giving them permission to stay up past bedtime. It’s the occasional extra hour of screen time, and the occasional skipped shower. Good enough is recognizing that our children are so lucky to have two parents, that they have amazing opportunities in their schools and activities, access to enough decent food, and they will learn many things from each of us: some good, some not-so-good.
Parental love, time, attention, and experiences teach us many things. A strong, engaged relationship with each parent lowers the risk of kids making poor choices, falling through the cracks, and spending a lifetime wondering if they’re loveable.
In short, fighting for your parental rights should be best understood as fighting together for what’s right for your kids.
That means doing the following:
- Choosing expert, family-centered guidance to help navigate the difficult emotional terrain of divorce while preserving your children’s sense of family.
- Building a skillful co-parenting relationship in which you are able to separate the emotional and financial lingering between the two of you from parenting decisions and your commitment to your children to be the best parents you each can be.
- Recognizing the irreplaceable value each of you offer your children’s lives. The other parent will not be perfect, and may not always do what seems right in your eyes, but you must each respect the other’s ability to be good enough to allow the love-light to continue to flow toward your children from each of you, and back.
Wishing you respectful resolutions as you restructure your family and begin the journey into a new future.
Karen Bonnell is the author of “The Co-Parents’ Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted, Resilient and Resourceful Kids in a Two-Home Family from Little Ones to Young Adults” an Amazon BEST SELLER and “The Parenting Plan Handbook: Four Coaching Seminars Devoted to Building a Strong, Child-Centered Parenting Plan.” Her private practice is dedicated to working with couples across the spectrum from pre-marital preparation, strengthening partnerships, navigating divorce and parenting plan development, co-parenting in two homes to remarriage and launching successful step-family.