“Thanks Mom & Dad – You Just Ruined My Life.”
Would you rather: hear that sentence and know it is false? Or never hear that sentence, yet know it is true?
That is a choice parents face all the time. Whether it comes to allowing kids to attend certain parties or concerts, paying more for the label on a piece of clothing, or monitoring the amount and content of their screen time. Parents know that just because their decisions are what is best for the child does not always mean the child sees it that way.
And so that’s how it is with the decision to divorce. We all want what is best for our children. Until recently societal mores in America dictated that what was best for children was a two-parent home, regardless of the dynamic between those two parents. What we have come to learn, as a culture is that children who grow up in a hostile environment are more likely to be hostile, depressed, or anti-social adults.
The reason that governments put divorce laws in place is not to encourage single-parent households, but to improve the quality of individual marriages. It is in the best interest of our country for the people who live in it to raise their children in relatively happy, healthy households. If that can be accomplished with two parents in the house; that’s great. But if the choice is between the number of people in a household and the mental health of the people in a household (quality vs. quantity), we have chosen mental health and well being as the more important factor.
Children, particularly adolescents and teenagers, are always looking for the most “normal” persona. The thing that allows them to feel the most “like everybody else.” If they feel that having two parents living in their home makes them more likely to fit in with the crowd (like going to the party “everyone else is going to,” wearing the same clothes, or watching the same movies as “everybody else”), then the idea of a divorce may feel socially devastating to them.
So it is part of the job of responsible adults to decide in advance whether their children are better off being raised in the family that exists, or making changes that are designed to improve their children’s lives; even if those changes include some painful aspects. Another part of that job is being conscious of how the children will perceive the decision. One angry and tearful parent announcing that the family is now abandoned might leave a different impression than two calm adults laying out the future plans.
Two adults who can work together to formulate a divorce plan have a chance at keeping their children on an even keel during – and (more importantly) after – the divorce process. No matter how hurt, annoyed, fed-up, or furious you may feel is not the child’s fault or domain. Give that part to your therapist, family, or strangers on a bus. Wait and tell your children what precise plans the two of you are making to maintain what is good and improve what is bad in everyone’s lives.
Examples include, “Daddy’s new apartment building has a pool and you can invite your friends there,” “We will both still be at every baseball game/dance recital/poetry reading,” “We both believe that things are going to get a lot calmer around here.” Obviously, you can also explain the details of the parenting plan if you have one – weekly dinners and alternate weekends is a popular visitation structure. Or, you can just promise to let them know as things develop. “We don’t know the details yet, but as we do, we promise to tell you together,” frequently works well.
What We Love: It is easy for a parent to know that your children deserve the best choices you can make. It is trickier to know that it is true whether the kids like it or not.