No one ever gets married with the belief that one day, their marriage is going to end in divorce. Even in spite of the creation of the “pre-nup”, the legal arrangement pertaining to each spouse’s belongings, which basically starts a marriage off in the condition of “in doubt,” the marriage still commences.
But sadly, things happen. In fact, it is not just one event that is the cause of a divorce, as much as it might just be a “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” Much like trying to find a root cause of an accident or injury (you fell, scraped your knee), you need to investigate what actually led to that accident or injury. Marriage leading to divorce is no different.
It is hard for someone to understand, and easy to judge, who has never been married. And even if someone has been married before, and never divorced, only the two spouses involved in the failed marriage can have any hope of finding the root cause of their divorce. But I assure you, it is not just one particular event.
But when there are more than just husband and wife involved, children, even more factors play into the difficult decision of filing for divorce, ending the marriage, but being careful not to end the parental relationships. Mother will always be mother. Father will always be father.
Dr. Phil often quotes, “it is better to be from a broken home, than to live in one.” And perhaps he is correct. What if it actually better that a marriage ends? Is there anything healthy about a child watching their parents argue continuously? Is there anything healthy about watching one parent berate another? Is there anything healthy about two adults, living in a house with each other, just co-existing, showing no signs of affection or love? Aren’t the parents the role models for their children to show what should be expected in a relationship?
But if we are going to end a marriage, and as mother and father, we are still to be our children’s role models, then we must demonstrate what it takes to continue to be the only mother and the only father the children will ever know.
When a divorce involves children, even discovering the root cause of the divorce really does not matter. Obsessing about the cause of the divorce, or perhaps a final event in the marriage, only keeps the direction of the divorce from moving forward and will most likely result in even more animosity and hostility. But what does this benefit the children? It does not.
Here is the fact. I will be the father of my children forever. Their mother will be their mother for the rest of their lives. From a legal perspective, my estranged wife and I will remain in a legal position of authority until each child turns 18. But from a family perspective, while we may not be husband and wife any longer, we will have family connection until the very end. Whatever our daughters chose to do with their futures, get married, go to college, have children, my estranged wife and I will always be involved as mother and father. No legal dissolution of our marriage will ever take away from each other, our responsibilities to our daughters.
Our daughters are fairly resilient. They are known for adapting to change quite easily because neither of us taught our daughters to be afraid of change. Whether it was changing daycares, moving to new grades in school, or attending a party of a new friend, our daughters have always just rolled with whatever came their way.
And as long as their mother and I continue to let our daughters be who they are, and how they respond, our daughters will adjust fine with the divorce knowing that they are loved by both of us. But if at any time, they are made to feel that they must choose, prove loyalty, or be blatantly placed between either of us, then all bets are off. Each of us can only promise to do what is best for our daughters, and then actually follow through on that promise.
As a child of divorce, no none understands what my children are going through, more than I do. I know what it is like to have one parent here, one parent there. I know what it feels like to be worried about having fun with one parent, while another parent might not be having fun. I know what it feels like to be worried that one parent might be feeling lonely or betrayed because I willingly choose to be with one or the other parent. I know what it feels like to think I might be the cause of my parents’ divorce. And let me state clearly, just as I have reminded our daughters, they had absolutely nothing to do with the ending of our marriage.
Both of us will always be the parents of our daughters. That will never change.
The true irony is that we are expected to get along as a divorce couple. The true irony is that we are expected to cooperate through the divorce process. And there is the irony, if we can manage both of these skills, would we still be facing divorce? But at this point, it is no longer an issue of us as husband and wife. Even while we wait for a piece of paper that says “Final Divorce Decree,” we are no longer husband and wife.
But we are still mother and father. And our goals, just as when we were husband and wife, the best interests of our children, should not have changed. We should still want the best for our children. And that does not mean denying things or each other from our children. Our children deserve to have both parents in their lives. Our children deserve not to hear mean and explicit conversations about the other parent. Our children deserve to be encouraged to approve and accept someone else in each of our lives if those moments should arise. The bottom line is, what is the best interest of the children? It is simple. The best interest of the child is to allow the child to have unrestricted time with each parent as the child desires. It is in the best interest of the child, for the child to know that either parent can be counted on, at any given moment. It is in the best interest of the child, to be left to being a child, happy, and innocent.
My estranged wife and I both possessed different skills as parents. I often referred to it as our daughters having the best of both worlds. And as divorced husband and wife, nothing should change for our daughters having the best of both worlds. We each have different parenting styles, and our daughters reacted to each, and decided at each moment, what and when they needed.
The bottom line is this, we are both going to be counted on by our daughters. And it is important that we never forget what is important to them and in their best interests. The children have this right, and it is a legal right to be with either or both parents. And to keep a child from one parent for any reason is not only illegal, but immoral.
As time goes on, things can change. The first year of divorce and custody, just as the first year of college, a job, a marriage, is all about a learning curve. And perhaps adjustments need to be made. They definitely need to be made when it is in the best interest of the children. Perhaps the children want to spend more time with the non-custodial parent. Perhaps as teenagers, they want to spend less time with either parent. Ideally, it should not take a court order to “tweak” arrangements, but in a situation where one parent will dig their heels in defiance, would rather have a judge make an order than to be perceived as having given in and weak. But really, think about it, what a novel concept that would be, for two parents to agree, “hey, it is no big deal that you want to stop by and say ‘hi’ to our daughters” or perhaps, it might be possible to grant an extra visit without having to go through a court order. But then again, there is the irony. If parents could get along and make that decision without a court order…