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Parenting After Divorce

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Parenting changes after divorce. Often it's harder. In a good marriage -- yes, there are some of those -- parenting is nourished by the sexual intimacy, the pillow talk, the support of the extended families, and the presence of the kids who keep things humming. But it's different after divorce when Mom is frazzled from trying to make it financially, take care of her children, and at the same time, make new friends, and -- with any luck -- find a new partner who can provide some of the sex and excitement she has been missing. It's also different for Dad, who wants to spend time with his children, go to the gym or the ball game and also wants to meet a new woman who will make him feel like he used to feel or wants to feel. And to top it off, the kids are only there part of the time and you have no idea what goes on when they visit the other parent, unless they kindly decide to tell you. It's an altogether different scenario. You don't believe how tired and cranky you are and how short your temper is with the kids, who are just as bewildered as you and just as cranky.

Of course, if you welcomed the divorce and already have a great job that brings you into contact with men and women in your age group and pays well, life can be much more relaxed. Or if you have a committed ex who really helps, or an available Mom or sister who can willingly provide hands-on help, then you are blessed. But if you are feeling overwhelmed like most divorced parents, then you need to take some deep breaths and prepare for a big transition. This is what they don't talk about. Attorneys will tell you about property division, if you happen to still have any. Mediators and counselors will talk about making nice with your ex. But what is most important for your children is to maintain your parenting.

At the start, have a heart-to-heart talk with your children. Tell them that things are going to be pretty confused for a while but that you are trying your best to straighten them out and get the family running smoothly. Tell them you will need their help and they are going to have to be brave so you can help each other.

Then be very specific about what needs to be done and who will do it. Include your own responsibilities. Write it down and hang it in the kitchen. In one scenario, you will look for a place to live. In another, you may need to work some evenings or even weekends. While you look for a new place, the kids need to keep the home neat. There are household chores to be divided, meal preparation and clean up, laundry, feeding the dog, etc. Don't forget to include nights off for mama -- very important. Also include rewards. Plan holidays out with movies and special prizes for everyone. The same advice holds for Dad, especially if joint custody is awarded. Like much of parenting, it's not easy but the rewards are worth it. Eventually it gets easier.

For detailed advice about how to parent during and after divorce, see Judith Wallerstein & Sandra Blakeslees' "What About the Kids? Raising Your Children Before, During and After Divorce" (2003) Hyperion. New York