Statistics show that 100% of all divorces start with marriage. – anonymous
I’ve been on Team ‘Rent now going on 13 years. In my time I’ve seen all forms of parenting and all forms of situations. One of which I speak often about is the D word. Divorce, American style.
As many of my readers know, my parents went through a devastating divorce in the mid 80′s that lasted all the way till 1990. The divorce itself took but a quick year, however, the child custody case went on seemingly forever. Trapping me, the “child” squarely in the middle of it.
As a parent myself now, I’ve managed to look at the situations that played out in the 80′s differently. I have the benefit of time and small amount of my own burgeoning wisdom as an adult and also as a parent to view what occurred in a more civilised light and possibly impart some of that wisdom to other parents and the children that always seem to be in the middle.
Should you find yourself in this predicament, know that you are not alone. A large percentage of marriages tend to end in divorce, in my experience the bulk of those are tragic. But they didn’t have to be.
First things first, I’m not a mental health therapist. Do not expect deep thorough answers to the troubles that have beset you. If you find that you need counseling or guidance, go seek out professional help. Sure, there are a bunch of quacks out there, but there are a few that can generally help and really try their best to do so. Put it another way; if you break your leg you go to the doctor to have it set right? Well, the same can be said for your brain. If its not working optimally, then you go see a mental health specialist. There is no shame attached to it, no matter what you may think.
Secondly, I’m not overly concerned with the soon to be Divorcees The reasons for your divorce are yours and yours alone. I’m really interested here in how to best shield children from the silliness that’s about to happen or is currently happening. Basically I’m sorry this is happening to you, and I while I have empathy for you, its not why I wrote this post.
Thirdly, this post is for parents at war with each other. If your divorce is amicable and there are but a few minor issues, then this post will seem like a worst case scenario that you only see or hear about on Lifetime. By the way, those of us that lived or are living the Lifetime version of events applaud you, that’s how divorce is supposed to be done!
Below are some guidelines, rules if you will, based on my own experiences in dealing with Doctors, Judges, Orders, and parents that are hostile to each other. I’ve separated them out to the parent first, then children. they are in no particular order of importance and none should be implied. I simply thought them up and committed them to paper, if you will.
When dealing with the kids and your divorce , its been my experience that the phrase “First, do no harm” applies to every situation when kids are involved.
1. As a parent your first duty is to your children. What do I mean by that? Well, you brought them into this world and until your little bundle of joy reaches the age of majority, everything you do, everything you say, has direct impact on them. Every effort should be made by both individuals acting as parents to shield the children from unpleasantness. You wish to scream and yell at your soon to be ex, then there are places to do that that aren’t the family household. In all probability the Judge in your divorce proceedings is going to require mediation anyway, go yell there, not in front of the kids.
2. Its OK that things didn’t work out between you and the soon to be Ex. Shit happens. Move on with your life. In most cases this is but a single moment in your life and happiness will return. Maybe not in the form it was in before, but it will come back. Though it seems that way now, life is not just divorce. Sometimes there are taxes to pay too!
3. If you’re aware that your previous spouse is having difficulties with any form of substance abuse do not let it go. You can not afford to have your kids involved in that, it will screw them up for a long, long time. Do whatever it takes, whatever is necessary to get the children away from that. There’s a line from the “Untouchables” that my friend Marc is fond of saying and it applies here as well: “What are you prepared to do? And then what are you prepared to do!”
4. Same for abuse, more so if combined with intoxicants. Never allow anyone to get in your way of ensuring your child’s safety, including Judges, find a way around them! Of course I understand that sometimes this is hard to prove, of course I understand you come off looking like the bitter ex, none of that matters because rule one overrides every other rule.
5. Girlfriends, boyfriends and whatnot: My parents were, uh, prolific daters post divorce. Thats cool. No issues there. Everyone’s entitled to a little happiness or at least the pursuit thereof. That said, do the kids a favor, unless this is the “one”, for the most part the kids are cool with their existing amount of parental units. Adding temporary Mommies and Daddies does nothing but fuel confusion in an 8 year old and abject rejection in a 15 year old. Again, I’m not saying not to date, but, it won’t kill you to keep it on the downlow for a bit, would it?
6. Visitation Rights, part 1. You have a legal and moral obligation to hand the kids over on the date and time your Ex is designated to have them. Do not in anyway purposely screw with that unless points 2 and 3 are present, then by all means, screw with it! The other party loves the kids as much as you do and wants to see them just as much as you do. Even if that Witch of a girlfriend or Bastard of a boyfriend is present at the Ex’s house. You don’t have to hang out there, the kids do.
7. Visitation rights, part 2: Bring the children back at the designated time, date, and place. It goes a long way to engendering good relations with the Ex and if you did say; want an extra day or two, its hard to argue if so far you’ve kept up your end of the bargain. Failure to do so regularly just shows you’re a spiteful ass or grossly incompetent, sometimes both.
8. Custody: yeah, this is a fun one! Up till the child(ren) is/ are say 13 or so, I would suggest you don’t allow them to pick favorites. The Judge in my parents case did and boy did I go wild with that one! Clean my room? Well, my room at Daddy’s is clean! See Ya! I’m out! Clearly not a good idea in my case. But, each situation is different and sometimes kids need more Mommy time than Daddy time and vice versa. Work it out. But remember, they’re not in charge, you are.
9. Using the kids to get even with the Ex: the Nuclear Option. You don’t do this. Ever. This is what animals do. This is the pathway to a world of pain, hate, and suffering. Not for you of course, but the kids and the EX will suffer. Want to sacrifice your kid’s childhood real fast? This is a great way to do it. Do whatever you can to avoid this and should you be in the receiving end of this, make it known to whoever will listen that its going on.
Lastly a word of warning stemming from my last point, there is a Thermo-Nuclear option that comes after simply “getting even”, called Parental Alienation Syndrome. So far, since its description in the early 80′s its been debated about widely as to its existence, its been declared by feminists as biased towards the mother, and its its not on the DSM IV or V. That said I witnessed it in mother, understood back then what was going on, and I can tell you without a doubt it exists. When this thing rears its ugly head, scorched Earth doesn’t even begin to describe its tactics. It is a horrible, painful thing to endure, and one that all parties will suffer from for years after the fact. Take this seriously, and heed all the warnings.
1. Your job is to be a kid. Just because Mommy and Daddy don’t get along doesn’t mean you have to have a bad day. Play with your friends, get out of the house, do things. Don’t let them spoil your fun.
2. Avoid playing favorites. I know its kinda fun, but they figure it out after a while and the fun goes away, leaving you with a lot of explaining to do, usually in the Judge’s chamber…not fun.
3. If you need to, are ordered to, or otherwise made to go to the Doctor, don’t be afraid. Generally they are trying to help you, they are on your side and not your parents, even if your parents are paying him/ her. More often than not I was made to go because a Judge thought there was some weirdness going on with me and they couldn’t put their thumb on just what it was, so off to the Dr. I went.. Ultimately, it doesn’t hurt to talk to someone about what’s going on in your life. But, should you find yourself uncomfortable, you need to tell your parents, if they don’t listen, tell them again and again till they do!
4. Its really important to remember that your parents do really love you, they just don’t like each other very much. I know thats a difficult idea to understand, but believe me they do love you.
5. Its also really important to understand you did nothing to cause this, you have no blame in what’s going on, and other than where you live during the week and where you go every other weekend and Tuesday’s and Thursdays, none of this has anything to do with you.
6. Girlfriends, boyfriends and whatnot: Yep, they are not your parent. You are correct. They are just someone dating Mommy or Daddy. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Most of the time they are more frightened of you then you are of them! If you like them, great! If you don’t, simply keep your distance. More often than not they seem to go away on their own!
7: Girlfriends, boyfriends and whatnot that stay: This happens, and sometimes its good thing! No they still aren’t your parents, but believe me, they mean you no harm and aren’t looking to be your parents. However, if they try that stuff with you, thats what you have the Doctor for. I’ve had a whole bunch of temporary Mommies and Daddies, guess what? Your parents will generally fix that issue without you having to lift a finger.
8. Step parents: From time to time parents get remarried, this is also usually a good thing. By now everything should be calmed down at home and sometimes this is good because it will just add to you, even if it doesn’t seem that way now. Again, your parents should be allowed to be happy, not at your expense, but happy nonetheless.
9. They’re only human: Your parents are going to make mistakes. Its only natural, no one is perfect. Do your best to forgive and forget, its just not worth it to go through life with a chip on your shoulder.
These are just a few of the things I encountered during the unpleasantness that was 1980′s. This doesn’t mean that any of you reading this will have encountered anything like it or discounting that you’ve possibly had it worse. Everyone’s experience with divorce is predicated on the situation, the people involved, and how events were handled. Similar to babies, no two divorces are alike and they cause different amounts of dirty diapers. My parents divorce and subsequent child custody cases was a game ender and used up friendships, money, good faith, and many more casualties of war. And war is what it was.
I’m not an expert in any of this insofar as I just experienced the events. I can say what I say with the knowledge of having lived through them, nothing more.
In the South Florida / Coral Springs area I can recommend a family therapist, if you’re looking for one. Private Message me and I’ll happily forward the number to you. I don’t recomend group therapy, I have not experienced great results there and the process seems to be very slow. Not nearly fast enough to follow my first piece of advice which is “First, do no harm”. Delaying getting help is almost as bad as no help at all. The longer you delay, the longer the problems exist or the longer the problems take to be dealt with. Some problems will never go away, just a fact of the process.
There is no way to happy way tie this post up other than to say I’ve married for 12 years this May 4th with three children. Its been my experience that the children of divorce, no matter what they said in the 80′s, are not more likely to get divorced, we’re less so. And for the most part we’re happy!