Divorce, on paper anyway, is the legal dissolution of a marriage -- nothing more, nothing less. Of course here in the real world, it is much more complex.
Divorce has inspired as much music, art and literature as love for a reason. It's hard, downright consuming at times for the mind, body and spirit, especially when children are involved. But if you once loved someone enough to promise forever and create a new life, then you have what it takes to redesign the vision.
Yes, I get it -- you had a forever plan. So did we. You were building your emotional dream house, a relationship retirement villa, designed to last until death do you part. The wedding was closing day. I had already pictured my future children coming down the stairs on Christmas morning in footy pajamas long before I said I do, but I never created a plan for I don't.
Yet here we were. And now it wasn't just us. There were two beautiful, hilarious, witty young children who had joined the dream and expected this house built on sand to stand. I resigned myself to the fact I would serve my time until the kids were adults. After all, I took a vow and I believed my life was no longer my own. My heart and soul are my son and my daughter, so how could I even think of disrupting their universe? I considered it the definition of selfishness.
A close friend listened compassionately as I explained my plan to "do the right thing" and stick it out no matter how I felt. She then asked a question that would change my life: "Do you truly think an unhappy mother can raise happy children?" No. I didn't. And I don't.
My ex-husband wanted to share custody. It shredded my soul to even consider being a half-time mother, but I knew he deserved something better than an every other weekend, Disney Dad gig. So did our children.
It required a new family blueprint, one redesigned to make everyone feel safe and secure. A happy divorce, like a happy marriage, takes two people who are committed to building something that will last a lifetime. Is it ideal? Of course not, but like other life plans sometimes your idea of perfect has to evolve.
What worked for us was a constant focus on the fact we would always be bound, not by law, but by love for our children and friendship. I often hear divorced friends say they can't wait to be done with the other parent when the kids grow up. It doesn't work that way, or rather it shouldn't. Wife or husband status may change; parenting is permanent.
Clearly there is no magic, blissful blueprint for redesigning a family after divorce and it isn't all rainbows and unicorns. We do however have two happy, healthy, funny, witty, honor roll children ages eight and nine who count on the fact we will never forget who we really are -- Mommy and Daddy.
Every situation is unique, but the following is a short list of advice I can offer based on what has worked for us:
- If possible, make it 50/50. We don't pay each other child support, we just support our kids. We live three blocks apart and our children spend equal time with both of us.
- Get over it. Yes, divorce is tough, but you have a job to do. It may sound harsh, but I have no patience for people who spend their time playing victim when their kids need them to be sheroes and heroes.
- Never speak negatively about each other to your children. Period. Need to vent? That is what your friends are for, not your kids. You also have to forbid friends and family members from doing it.
- Redefine your roles: It doesn't really matter who did what before. This is a new covenant.
- Have a sense of humor. We continue to laugh together about our children and at ourselves. As my grandmother used to say, "You can laugh or cry about it, which sounds like more fun?"
- Be consistent. Our kids know their schedule and they count on it. We don't alter it unless it is completely unavoidable. Daddy has Monday and Tuesday; Mommy has Wednesday and Thursday; Friday through Sunday alternate. Not a day goes by we don't both talk to our kids and tell them goodnight, regardless of which house they are sleeping in.
- No revolving door. Your kids do not need to meet everyone you date. If there is someone special, introduce him or her as your friend and leave it at that.
Design your own divorce one day at a time until you create one that fits. One size does not fit all.