The number one question all parents struggle with during a divorce is this: how will our split impact the kids? The short answer is that it all depends on how well the parents handle the whole situation. If you have two child-focused parents that are willing to put aside their anger and disappointment towards each other to work on a parenting plan that minimizes the losses to the kids, then most kids will be just fine. Does this sound too good to be true? Far from it, in fact research shows that less than a third of divorces fall into the category of an “angry divorce.”
According to most studies, and what I have observed as a divorce attorney the past 18 years, most divorcing parents either have a distant or cooperative relationship as co-parents. Obviously, the more you can cooperate the better, but a distant relationship isn’t necessarily bad– as long as they can agree on major issues such as health care, education, religion and a time-sharing schedule, there may not be a need for much interaction. The one thing you definitely don’t want is a situation that exposes the kids to a lot of conflict.
When I divorced a decade ago, after my husband and I grew apart, there wasn’t a lot of anger, but rather as I recall it was mostly a sad realization that we no longer shared the same priorities or vision for our future. But the love we shared for our child made us work together to come up with a schedule that allowed us both to maintain a loving bond with our son, and we never have had a major disagreement on his medical care, education or religious upbringing. Does that mean we’ve always had a “cooperative relationship” or seen eye to eye on everything? Absolutely not.
It’s totally normal for parents to disagree on the food kids should eat, their weekly allowance, chores, discipline, or when their bedtime should be. Many parents, even in intact families, argue about the level of involvement a child should have with extra-curricular activities, attending private vs. public school, the need for tutors, the cost of summer camp, or how much a parent should assist with homework. With a lot of these things, sometimes you just have to agree to disagree, and so most of us come to accept that there will be two sets of rules, as discussed in the book “Mom’s House, Dad’s House.”
Is it easy to co-parent? Of course not, but the alternative is far, far worse. Do you really want to take your chances in court and let a stranger decide your child’s fate? Furthermore, do you truly want to be responsible for distancing or alienating a child from his/her other parent? While this may seem like a good idea to you, there are serious psychological consequences to the child that you need to consider carefully. Speaking as a child, who did not know her father for 38 years, I can tell you there is a huge void created when you don’t know and grow up with both your parents.
Developing the right time-sharing schedule for your family is by far the most important decision you will make, and each family must carefully consider the needs and personalities of their children. Work with a family counselor that understands the various stages of child development, and come up with a plan that promotes the kids’ best interest, while keeping in mind that the “plan” must remain flexible so you can adapt to the changes your family will undoubtedly experience as the years go by.
For those seeking a more in depth discussion of what I’ve just covered, I highly recommend these two wonderful works by Dr. Robert Emery: “Two Homes, One Childhood” and “The Truth About Children and Divorce.” I wish we could make these required readings for all parents splitting up.
Ultimately, if you are splitting up and really want the kids to be okay, the first thing you need to do is get a grip. I’m serious– get a hold of your own inner turmoil so you can spare them as much as possible of any drama or conflict. This is your divorce, not theirs. The kids will always have the same two parents, for better or for worse.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.