Divorce. The action of legally dissolving a marriage. The fall of great expectations of what once was hoped to be an ever-lasting love becomes even more complicated when children are involved.
Jennifer Weiner (Fly Away Home):
Divorce isn’t such a tragedy. A tragedy is staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love.
“What’s your plan now?” I heard the words coming out of me although I knew that my recently divorced friend would rather have me let him continue living through his escapist phase. With two minor children, an ex-wife and a new girlfriend, he felt like the best way for him was to avoid facing the realities of what has suddenly become his life. He looked at the Manhattan skyline over a long breath, pausing for a moment.
“It’s not like it happened overnight. Why then it suddenly feels like I found myself at the bottom of a deep, dark hole?” His question was not rhetorical.
“Although I knew that divorce was imminent, I could not say I opened the bottle of Moet to celebrate the day it was all over. Being a father is not something I feel successful about and my ex does not stop reminding me of it”, my friend said.
Co-parenting after divorce concerns an involvement of ex-spouses on issues related to their children. However, the real life evidence suggests that parental dispute does not end with divorce. Bitterness, broken promises, and years of past dissatisfaction can provide a toxic battlefield for using children as the most lethal weapon. As Pat Conroy once said:
When mom and dad went to war the only prisoners they took were the children.
When love dies, what is the best course of action kids considered?
Positive Outcomes of Divorce
The pace of life, economic pressures and the unmitigated pursuit of happiness in the modern world, made us all not wanting to settle for less than we deserve. Though relationships and marriages may fizzle out, there is still a great stigma facing the question of divorce.
In the book We’re Still Family, Ahrons challenges the myth that children of divorced parents are troubled, drug abusing, academically challenged, and unable to form healthy relationships. Her study provides evidence that the legacy of divorce is not as shattering as we usually think. In fact, there is no evidence to support the idea that divorce has to be detrimental to children’s lives. According to Ahrons’ research, more than half of surveyed children felt that their relationships with their fathers actually improved after the divorce.
While their new families of stepparents and half-siblings may be different from other families, the majority of these young adults-the study shows-feel connected to the family members who encompass their world. Ahrons advises that former spouses need to be comforted by the truth about divorce and not feel threatened by the worst-case scenarios. Once the marriage is legally dissolved, what is the right formula then, for former spouses to relate to each other?
Setting up the Boundaries: Parents, but No Longer Partners
In the study Divorced Families, Ahrons and Rodgers suggest that in order to reduce the contamination of parental roles by spousal conflicts, the roles between partners and parents must be separated after divorce. In that respect, establishing the right sets of bounders is the core stone of co-parenting within a post-divorce dynamics.
Though former spouses are still parents, they no longer are the partners. They can both be in new marriages or relationships. As such, they both need to take a responsible approach as to what story they are telling to their children. The story that has to be told is that leaving the marriage does not mean abandonment of the children. Divorce means divorcing from each other but not from the children. It is the foremost responsibility of two adults to make sure to offer reassurance to children that the love for their children is unconditional. The relationship between former spouses can be a powerful influence on many aspects of post-divorce child adjustment.
Resolving Co-Parenting Conflict
Children should maintain relationships with both parents after divorce and in order for this to happen, former spouses have to put their disputes aside and cooperate for the sake of their children.
When it comes to potential harms for parents of infants, a study found that co-parenting conflict predicts child aggression 3 years later (McHale & Rasmussen, 1998). Ex-spouses should understand that kids suffer if the conflict prolongs. They need to put aside all the baggage from their past and do everything they can to facilitate a normal and healthy life of their children. It is all about letting go of past grievances and embracing the new. It is all about being a greater person and serving something higher than themselves. What do the children need? What can we do to facilitate loving relationship with children? are the questions around which the conversation should revolve.
February is the month of love, but Valentine’s Day is not only about couples. It’s about loving behaviors. For divorced families, it is a great opportunity to rethink love they have for their children.