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Dr. Ronald Ricker and Dr. Venus Nicolino Headshot

"We Really Must Talk"

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The often brutal process of a divorce brings a family stress and pain equal to a death of a close family member, affecting everyone, but nobody more deeply, traumatically and irreversibly than the children. Divorce, while sometimes necessary, is rarely the hoped for panacea it's often built up to be, especially when children are involved. Divorce does not mean divesting ourselves of contacts with each other, but rather, modifying the relationship so that our children can still feel supported and loved by parents who can no longer support and love each other.

The most important part is never to put nurturing feelings of anger or hatred before nurturing the kids. Sadly, this is often not the case.

Many divorces are maelstroms of explosive rage, mutual recrimination, and even emotional or physical abuse. A couple that at once saw themselves growing old together can barely stand the thought of one more night in the same house. Love and devotion have fermented irreversibly into loathing and resentment, a terrifying transformation for a child to witness.

For the children it's as if an unfixable crack has opened in reality, devouring everything they know, leaving behind only confusion and despair. Don't kid yourself into thinking there's any way to not put the kids "in the middle". They are and will be in the middle for the rest of their lives, by the very nature of the situation. What can be affected is whether the middle is a place of pain and turmoil, or a neutral ground, a sanctuary of calm, the one place where the weapons are put away and decency and empathy can exist.

The only way to facilitate a neutral and calming middle is to agree that children come before the anger, the resentment, and the who-did-what-to-who. Dragging your kids into the battle crosses the line from simply being a person with a failed marriage to being a failed parent. It's not their fight and is tragically hateful to make them pick up the banner for either of you.

Agreeing that kids come first is just that, an agreement--an agreement that must come from the divorcing parents. And just that one single agreement can serve as a singular, vestigial, shared interest: the good of the children. Regardless of the circumstances of divorce, set them aside to figure out how to get your kids through this. Or must the kids come in a close second to self-righteousness?

Communication, the Holy Grail of our children's salvation from divorce, with a soon-to-be or current ex-spouse can be problematic, frustrating, and often next-to-impossible. The whole point of the divorce was to disconnect from an emotional circuit that was not functioning. Why continue to expect something that's proved itself unworkable to work?

Yet, we will have to fight and conquer the very demons that have torn us apart. Our anger and exasperation may have become such familiar companions that we're not sure how to be us without them anymore? At some point our yelling has become yelling for yelling's sake. We may not still be husband and wife, but we are forever Mom and Dad

We must talk. Peacefully. As Adults. Privately? Or with an agreed upon advocate for our children and us, be they a friend, relative, counselor, etc. We must agree that we love our kids and want to hurt them as little as possible. It may be the dawning of a new era for the parents, but for the kids it's the End of Days.

Courts and lawyers are most often useless and often destructive in this, the most important and delicate and saddest result of divorce. The guide for this enormous task will not come from any judge, attorney, or decree. If anything, your children may register in a litigator's mind as one other item to be won, along with the house, the car, the antique silverware received as a wedding gift. The only genuine and worthwhile solace and guidance for our children will come from the parents, and them alone. It is your God given duty to guide your children through this nightmare.

You must put aside your own self-interest and pledge to each other, "I promise never to do anything to hurt our children or to keep them from you. I will never speak ill of you in their presence. I will not blame you to them or around them. I will respect you and your family".

What's closer to your heart? Your anger, your hurt feelings, your need to be right, your need to win...or your kids? The answer should be self-evident, the question utterly unnecessary.