As a therapist with over fifteen years experience, I hear a lot about divorce, particularly divorces where children are involved. While most of what I hear relates to the trauma and pain of divorcing, I have noticed a surprising sentiment among many divorces: people secretly like their time off from parenting.
A newly divorced client in her forties puts it this way:
"I feel terrible admitting this, but I cherish my down-time each week. It rejuvenates me and leads to a great amount of patience and positivity when I am with my kids. I totally lacked this in the past. I sometimes wonder if what my ex and I really needed was more help with the kids, more down time, and more romance."
A divorced dad in his thirties echoes this sentiment, admitting:
"It wasn't until we separated that I truly invested in quality time with my kids. When we were married it was as if we were stuck on this gruesome, endless treadmill of chores, meals and obligations. I was just trying to get through the day. I'd read books to my kids and have no idea of the plot, because I was thinking about what I would say in the emails I needed to send when I finished. Now, my time with the kids is limited and precious and I make the most of it. I listen to them and I'm totally in the moment."
If you dig past the pain and disappointment that devastates those who divorce, many will admit that they recharge during their time away from their children and become--albeit in time-limited doses--the parent they always wanted to be.
Obviously, many divorces are necessary and occur for reasons far more complicated than a lack of down-time, and divorces where one parent fears for her child's safety or well-being are fundamentally different.
But for divorced parents who have at least a modicum of respect for their ex's parenting abilities, it is remarkably common how frequently they view their weekly break from the children as a little slice of heaven within the hellish pie of divorce.
This appears to be a sentiment heard mostly behind closed doors. In a culture that encourages helicopter parenting and over-scheduled childhoods, perhaps parents are unwilling or ashamed to admit that (while they may miss their children terribly) they sometimes enjoy being separated from both their ex-spouses and their children.
A divorced stay-at-home-dad, whose ex-wife has a demanding career, confesses:
"Our parenting responsibilities are more balanced now. It's like my kids finally have a mom. She spends quality time with them and they look forward to being with her. Sure, I miss my kids, and that's what I tell my friends. But the truth is that, in large part because of the weekly break from the pressures of parenting, I've never been happier or more relaxed. I just wish we could have achieved this balance when we were together."
What are the implications of Divorce's Dirty Secret?
For couples who have already divorced, building on any improvement in their parenting is vital, as children obviously suffer tremendously in the ongoing aftermath of divorce.
For couples who are still together, yet struggling, the implications are especially significant. Perhaps, if parents gave themselves some more time off, they might improve both their marriages and their parenting. Indeed, I make a point to share this secret with my couples clients and urge them to prioritize down-time.
When two people love each other and love their kids, there is nothing better than family time. But there is also a cost to family time. It can be draining to an individual and a couple. So married couples should look for opportunities to take a break from parenthood in order to recharge, both individually and romantically.
I also ask my clients to promise that, once we end therapy, the money they have budgeted to pay me will then be directed into a dating fund. After all, babysitting is cheaper than therapy, and astronomically cheaper than divorce!
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