The (beginning of the) end of summer signals the start of new schedules for children whose parents don't live together. Before we get sucked into the full swing of hectic back-to-school schedules, I thought I'd share some lessons to help all of different variations of families navigate - again - the often-complex terrain of post-split family life.
1. A Bill of Rights for Children of Split Families: Listen up, Parents - Our Kids Have Rights, Too
Children are being parented by (former) children of divorce at record levels these days. Those of us whose parents pioneered the art of tearing their marriage asunder taught us a lot about what works and what doesn't. Now our children should benefit from our wisdom and experience, right? Those of us who came from "broken homes" know how hard it can be, and we know all the ways parents can make it easier, more humane, even positive. So, I think it's time we set up some ground rules. In that spirit, I offer this Bill of Rights for our children. Read it with your kids or grandkids. You may be surprised at the terrific, honest conversations you will have.
Check out: A Bill of 33 Rights for Children of Divorce
2. A Bill of Rights for Ex-Wives
(RIP Nora Ephron: "Marriages come and go, but divorce is forever.")
Nora Ephron was the original Ex-Wife. The brilliant author and screenwriter was really the best, funniest and most courageous writer to pull back the curtain and reveal the indignities and horrors of being cheated on by your husband, of navigating the uncertain aftermath of post-split-with-children life. Ms. Ephron's recent death offers the chance for us all to think about our roles as ex-wives and/or first wives and how we might be our best selves in spite of whatever tough cards we got dealt.
In honor of Nora Ephron, and ex-wives everywhere:
3. Nobody Told Me Sharing Custody Meant Sharing My Daughter
(I agreed to 'joint physical custody' on paper. Now her Dad's at the door.)
They're gone now. Probably in his car on their way to his new apartment. Their new apartment.
This is the right thing. And so very wrong. I write about divorce but rarely the details of my own. Our communal experiences are all similar enough that I can raise general themes without revealing too much or invading my own family's privacy, or at least that's what I try to do. But today is a very specific day in our family's life and I don't know how to write around it. So I won't. In a shattering twist of whatever, my marriage ended the same week as the death of my younger brother. We were living in Oregon and I had to get back home to Chicago. Though our marriage was ending, my (then) husband's and my friendship - and most importantly - our new parenting partnership was just beginning.
Read What Happened Next: Divorce Diaries: Nobody Told Me Sharing Custody Meant Sharing My Daughter
4. Parenting After Divorce? Expert Says You Must Listen to Your Children's Pain
(Divorced Kids Lose Advocate: Dr. Judith Wallerstein, first expert to study long-term impact of divorce on kids, dies at 90)
One of the saddest and yet most comforting things my daughter ever said to me when her dad and I broke up her family was this: "It's terrible. But I guess I'm lucky because I have a mom whose parents got divorced, too, so you understand how I feel."
If you are a divorced parent, you know the absolute worst part of tearing your marriage asunder is that you knowingly, willingly shatter your kids' lives. You may be absolutely right to do so. You may know (or desperately hope) the short-term pain will result in a far better life. Or, your ex may have left you no choice but to get out. One of the wisest advocates for children of divorce was Dr. Judith Wallerstein. Her death this summer was a chance for me to introduce her wisdom and great lessons:
5. Getting a Divorce? Expert Says Ask Your Children How to Parent
(Divorce Revolution: Ask the kids about custody)
Deciding to end your marriage and then making that decision a reality are two of the hardest, saddest choices you can make if you have children. Dividing "assets" like a home or your wedding china are a bummer. But "dividing" our greatest marital bond - our children - is heart wrenching. Thankfully, despite how hard splitting up can be, today most parents find a way to come up with their own custody arrangements, as defined in their co-written "parenting plan." If you can work together to make it work, that is no small miracle. And mercifully, most of us get there, somehow.
For those who can't, you place your family's future in the hands of a family court judge. In the harshest cases, when there is a bruising custody battle, the children are forced essentially to choose one parent over another. The judge decides and that is that. Most parents stick to those schedules until their kids "age out" of the divorce plan at 18. Then, the system assumes, they become the deciders. Because it's so stressful and dredges up so much, most parents don't revisit the issue of custody, even if the kids were toddlers when they split and may have entirely different needs and preferences as tweens or teens. The entire family remains held hostage by the original decision, which may - or may not - still reflect the best interests of the children and the parents.
Read an Excellent Solution Here: Getting a Divorce? Expert Says Ask Your Children How to Parent
Interested in more from The Divorce Diaries?