Two former coworkers who are suddenly facing divorce called me recently, wanting to get together for a drink, a shoulder to cry on and advice.
"What's it like on the other side?" they wanted to know. If nothing else, as a twice-divorced woman, I'm not a bad person to ask.
I looked at them -- two attractive, fit, smart and youngish men -- and thought, for you guys, it will probably be okay, especially when it comes to finding love again. There aren't too many available attractive, fit and smart 30- and 40-something men out there for all those available attractive, fit and smart 30- and 40-something women.
They were happy to hear that as they kicked back their scotch, but as the words came out of my mouth I realized there's one thing that probably won't be that okay: their kids are all under the age of 8, and while there may not be a good time to get divorced, there may be better times.
Most experts agree that one of the toughest times for parents to split is when children are young, like the age of my two former coworkers' children -- 3, 5 and 8. Kids need a lot of hands-on parenting at that age and divorce can send a stay-at-home mom or dad back into the workforce full time. Well, if you work 40-plus hours a week and have young kids, you know just how exhausting -- emotionally and physically -- that can be. It isn't much easier for those moms who have been working full time all along and may have a great support and childcare network; divorce guilt can add a lot of pressure on whatever guilt a working mom already has, and like it or not, most working moms feel guilty.
And yet, that's rarely foremost on a divorcing couple's mind. When the economy and housing market tanked, the media was filled with stories about how many would-be divorced couples were staying together for the sake of the house -- neither could afford to live in it solo and no one else could afford to buy it. It's interesting how many divorcing couples pay closer attention to the timing of selling the family home than the timing of their kids' developmental stage.
But I can't say my kids were better off when their dad and I divorced; they were 9 and 12, old enough to not only know what was going on but also to feel really pissed off about it. Especially my 12-year-old, who was trying to sort out his own hormonally fueled adolescence while pushing the boundaries and grasping for independence. He didn't really want to deal with his mom's and dad's stuff; he had enough of his own. Needless to say, there wasn't much "Kumbaya" singing around my house in those days.
You'd think it would be safe if you wait until you become empty-nesters to split, which is what so many middle-aged couples do. After decades of raising kids together, they find themselves sitting at the breakfast table together living the words from a Talking Heads song -- "This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife." But a friend who divorced when his kids were in their mid- and late-20s and living their own lives away from home didn't have an easier time. Blindsided, his kids began to question their entire childhood and what they thought was "true." Their model of marriage and commitment was shattered. And while my friend has moved on happily, his former wife has not; guess who became her confidantes. And guess which parent they rejected.
So if young kids are too needy, adolescents are too angry and adult kids will snub you, when should you get divorced?
There seems to be only one logical time and, oddly, research backs it up. Some 67 percent of couples say they feel "very unhappy" after a baby is born, according to the findings of Seattle's famed Gottman Institute. So, if you split right after a baby's born not only will your baby be too young to hold that against you or even have memories of it later on, but you were going to be sexually frustrated and emotionally distant in your marriage anyway. Honestly, I just can't think of a better time -- can you?