- Joellen Monson
No one goes into a marriage imagining that divorce would really happen to them. Most couples are optimistic, willing to work and share together and in some cases, hoping that eventually those nagging qualities you hate will get better. There are those who think that having a baby will make everything that's isn't working now better once they have a baby to share. They don't realize that in addition to warm and loving feelings, an infant also means sleep deprivation, decreased privacy and a lot of coordination between parents. There are those who say that two parents are better than one - no matter what. They believe sticking together until the children are grown and out of the house is in the children's best interests. But if children grow up watching adults treat each other disrespectfully, scream or abuse one another it is not a good model for how loving relationships work out problems or how people should treat one another. No, most people have the best of intentions, think divorce will happen to someone else not them but slowly come to realize that life can certainly teach hard lessons.
A lawyer will give you all the legalities, on paper, of how to separate from the person you once loved. But one of the most difficult things to do is to successfully separate your personal feelings for the parent of your child while remembering to keep a child's best interests in the forefront. Because no matter what a piece of paper says, no matter how far away you live, that other person will always be your child's parent - always. Except in cases of abuse, neglect or other criminal activity, allowing your child to continue to experience their own relationship with their other parent is crucial for their future development.
Yet, in many cases, by the time a couple decides to divorce, the process of keeping an adult's animosity, frustration - end of the rope feelings separate from decisions about what is best for a child can become nearly impossible. "In the best interest of the child" is a term used frequently by judges and children's advocates, yet there is often debate about what that means. Any therapists will attest to the irony that if most couples could: a) communicate clearly about their goals for their children (long and short term), b) arrive at a reasonable and workable plan for each other and the children, and c) follow through in consistent, respectful ways - then they might not have needed to divorce in the first place. But these are the very things that need to happen to minimize some of the emotional impact that divorce has on children. The loss of an important relationship can be difficult enough without a child having to witness their parent's behaving in bullying, bickering, argumentative ways. No one wins in situations like those.
Let your child continue to love their other parent, refuse to speak negatively about your ex-spouse in front of your kids or allow them to overhear you on the phone running them down to others. Know that you don't need to make excuses for your ex-partner's behavior or build them up unrealistically. Allow your child to be happy, excited, at the chances to see their other parent or even sad if the other parent let's them down. In these ways, your child will come to develop their own relationship with their parents, as individuals, not through the eyes of someone else but through their own experiences and feelings.
Just because you become divorced does not mean your children become disconnected from someone else who still loves them. If those needs of your child are put in the forefront of your actions, if (minimally) civility permeates your interactions and mutual respect is the guide for time spent together - then you will have shown your child that even when things in life don't turn out as you dreamed, you can still be happy again in time. There really can be enough love to go around, and what a feeling of success and accomplishment you all will have, in time.