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Amy Arndt Headshot

The Best Gift Divorced Parents Can Give Their Kids

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I've always had a Hollywood movie vision of divorce. In post-divorce scenarios, I picture the parents sitting together at soccer games, cheering on their kids in unison. I imagine birthday parties where the kid is blowing out candles and both parents are present -- perhaps with new spouses or partners -- and everyone is smiling. It's never awkward, and everyone gets along famously.

Considering that the relationships in my life impacted by divorce have not gone so smoothly, I'm not sure why I have this Pollyanna view of things. My parents divorced when I was eight and had very little communication through the years. At school events and piano recitals, I was greeted by a familiar knot in my stomach alerting me that both sets of my parents were in the same room. That same feeling returned when I married a man with children, and school events felt just as uncomfortable for my stepchildren, who bounced awkwardly back and forth between parents, posing for photos, forcing smiles.

The people I know who are able to divorce amicably impress my socks off. One of my friends separated from her husband when their son was just two years old, and the divorce was finalized as the boy turned three. With the exception of single parenting -- a feat that only the strongest can survive unscathed -- going through a divorce while raising a toddler has to be one of the hardest things imaginable. Just thinking about going through that makes me need a martini and a nap.

As divorces go, my friend's divorce was as painful as the next one, but perhaps even more difficult because her son was so young when her marriage ended. During counseling and separation, my friend and her son's father did everything they could to make the marriage work, but in the end, they were simply not a good fit. They experienced the normal feelings of guilt because their marriage dissolved, and wondered how their decision would impact their son. I'm sure they felt that they did everything wrong. But somehow, they did one thing right. Knowing that they couldn't save their marriage, they decided to put their child first.

My friend and her son's father are doing a bang-up job of co-parenting. As a result, my friend's Facebook posts are much like the Hollywood movie divorce I imagine: The birthday party with both parents present, events where my friend posts pictures of her son, but also tags the boy's father, benefiting friends and family on both sides. At one point, I even wondered if they were back together when I saw a status update where the three of them were together on a camping trip. Nope, still divorced. But they're so darned nice about it at all. It's really refreshing.

The best thing about it is that the kid in the pictures is always smiling. Is he confused because his parents don't live in the same house anymore? Probably. Is it hard for my friend, who isn't there to put her son to sleep every night? Absolutely. Yet, because his parents have made a conscious decision to get along for their son's benefit, the little boy is going to be okay. In fact, they're all going to be okay.

A about a year after my daughter was born, my mom and dad bumped into each other in Target. At that point, my parents had been divorced well over 20 years, and because they lived in neighboring towns, they rarely saw each other, even in passing. My mom and dad could have spotted each other and gone in opposite directions, but they didn't. There, somewhere near the towel aisle at Target, my mother and father had a conversation. They talked about my daughter, their first biological grandchild. The conversation wasn't long, but it was pleasant. Everybody survived unscathed.

My mom called me after she spoke with my dad, and it was big news. I wanted every detail. It was weird to think of my parents standing the middle of Target, talking about their grandchild, but it made me happy. My parents' ability to engage in a positive conversation untied the knot in my stomach, and even though it took two decades, it still felt great.

For most people who go through divorce, it's not easy to get along for the sake of the children, because if it were easy, they might not have gotten a divorce in the first place. Yet, I'm convinced that the couples who divorce who make a conscious decision to be amicable partners in co-parenting have happier kids as a result.

If you are separated, newly divorced or you've been divorced for years, I'm going to throw something out there for you to consider. If you're riddled with guilt over the potential negative impact of your divorce on your kids, why not consider making the time when you are all together -- no matter how brief -- pleasant together time? If you avoid conversations with your former spouse, or you choose to badmouth that parent in front of your children, you're only choosing to hurt your kids. On the other hand, if your primary goal is to protect your children from pain, by simply handling situations with your former spouse in a positive manner, the children reap the benefits.