Sometimes, no matter how hard they try, couples can't make things work.
Sometimes, no matter how hard they try, couples can't make things work. They're left with the uneasy business of splitting possessions, property and often friends. ("Well, you've always been closer to the Wilsons, but I'd like to keep Joe across the street. He's got the NFL package.")
And then there's co-parenting.
Negotiating who keeps Joe's satellite dish is much easier than working out this issue. But co-parenting is the most important - not one of the most important, but THE most important - part of making a divorce successful.
Clients often ask what to consider when negotiating parenting agreements. Which parent should have the kids on weeknights? Is it OK to buy your kid a phone if your ex says no? How soon should you wait to introduce the kids to a new girlfriend/boyfriend? (That's a column all by itself.) But there are only three absolutes if you want to help kids deal with divorce and still become well-adjusted, happy adults.
Absolute No. 1: Except in cases of abuse or neglect, your kids need both of you. Period. They don't need a little of one of you and a lot more of the other. They don't only need you once in a while. They don't need expensive gifts or lavish vacations. They just need you, and they need your ex.
That's tricky, of course. You're stuck between your feelings about your ex and your children's need to see them. You may feel bitter, hateful, angry or sad. You may need to see a therapist to help you through the transition. But you need to make sure your kids have both of you, even when you don't really want to do that.
Absolute No. 2: No badmouthing your ex to your kids. Or to other people when the kids might hear you. Or in Facebook posts that other adults could mention within earshot of your kids' friends. Don't let relatives or friends say bad things about your ex around the kids, and absolutely don't "explain" to children what your ex did to "cause" the divorce. (You can feel how you feel; you just can't say it.) You need to support your ex with the kids whenever possible. And if you really can't say anything positive, don't say anything.
Absolute No. 3: You're not a friend to your children, even if you feel a void without your ex. Kids need parents to be in charge, to create rules and boundaries, and to make them do the right thing. That helps kids deal with the stress and uncertainty of divorce - the idea that parents will still be parents no matter what.
Now, those things are easy to say and not always easy to do. I'm divorced myself, so I know it can feel overwhelming. But if you really want your kids to end up happy and well-adjusted, these are the things you need to do.
Just three simple things that can feel like the hardest things to do in the world.
- Carl Grody, LISW-S, is a licensed independent social worker who works with families at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington.