Much better ways to see your challenge
Separation and divorce are almost always times of intense pressure, hurt, and confusion.
Unfortunately, clear thinking–a parent's best protection from heartache and expense–can be in dangerously low supply in these times.
Here are 10 Clear Thoughts that have helped many parents better serve themselves and their children.
And here is a Printable Summary you can use as you go along.
1. In most cases, parents either win together or lose together.
No one “wins” in divorce, and any crusade for “victory” will actually cause more conflict, expense, and damage to children.
Every common interest you had before you separated (protecting your children, saving your resources, solving problems rather than living in blame) —you have double today.
In most cases, a good result is possible only for the parent who works for a good result for the entire family, including the other parent.
2. Protecting your children can be your light out of hurt and fear.
There is a guiding light almost all separated and divorced parents can use: parents who build peace for their children will also do best for themselves.
What an unspeakable tragedy that so many parents can be lured into thinking they must fight.
Parents who build peace, courtesy, and cooperation for their children can channel their money and emotions into building a better future rather than arguing the past.
The peace you build for your children will be the peace you too can live in.
3. You and your co-parent need a plan.
No sensible person thinks of fixing a house, financing a car, or even getting a cat without a plan. Yet millions of American parents try literally stumbling through one of life's toughest challenges—raising children between two homes.
Children's needs increase dramatically when parents separate. Now that there will be some considerable physical and emotional distance between you and your co-parent, sharing information and making important parenting decisions will require that you have a plan.
You can start this roadmap using our Parenting Plan Worksheet.
4. Consider if divorce is right for you.
In the shock, hurt, and confusion of it all, many parents—and even many family lawyers and judges—wrongly assume a marriage is over as soon as a couple separates or files for divorce. The truth for many couples is quite different. In fact, some studies show that almost half the couples who file for divorce report making at least one serious attempt at reconciliation. And some succeed!
We're not here to advocate that any particular marriage be saved. But we do encourage all parents to make a thoughtful assessment of their actual circumstances. In divorce, parents must divide assets and double many expenses. Added to this financial burden are the even greater emotional costs to every member of the family.
If there is no emergency and if it would be a safe course, you may wish to use counseling and other resources to see if your relationship can be redefined and your marriage saved.
And remember, the child-focused goodwill you build at this critical time will help you and your children, whether or not you divorce.
5. Parent conflict can be gravely dangerous to children.
Children have no defense against their parents' anger, and they experience attacks between their parents as attacks on them. Period.
Everyone makes mistakes in separation and divorce, so forgive yourself for the ones you've made. And as soon as you do, reconnect with the hero in you who will do anything to give your children a safe and peaceful childhood.
Because a child is depending on you for just that.
6. Unless there's a safety issue, children need the best possible relationship with both parents.
Although it can be hard to remember, you have a vital interest in your children's best possible relationship with their other parent. The best mom still isn't a dad, and the best dad still isn't a mom.
Consider supporting whatever safe relationship the children can have with each of you.
7. Whatever anyone else does, courtesy never goes out of fashion—and parents almost always help themselves by being courteous.
What do we tell our children about the courtesy they should use, even toward peers they are angry with?
Wouldn't those lessons be worth our study as well?
Someone needs to be the hero first, and that someone could be you.
Think back on the heroic things you've already done to save someone's one and only childhood. The time you bit your lip so a child wouldn't have to hear something negative about her other parent. The time you defended your co-parent to your child.
These little acts of protecting a child's heart are pure heroism. Honor yourself for these—and build on them by making courtesy the consistent theme of your relationship with your co-parent.
8. Little good can be expected from most legal battles.
Some divorces have elements of danger making court involvement necessary. But be careful. Like surgery, court can help when it's necessary, but it hurts when it's used unnecessarily. Make sure you understand:
- Most issues families face aren't really legal issues and have no legal answers.
- While your cooperation can build better alternatives, a judge can only pick from the bad alternatives available in the middle of parent conflict.
- Going to court often creates hurt, fear, distrust, and financial costs far outweighing any benefits (if, in fact, there are any benefits).
Literally thousands of American courtrooms are filled every day with warring couples. Yet—perhaps not a single couple anywhere has emerged from that experience feeling better about each other or parrenting better together. Almost always the opposite is true.
Some people think a good outcome in a divorce involves winning a fight. It rarely does. A good outcome means ending a fight.
9. Carefully consider using any counseling and other help to handle this transition successfully.
For much the same reason you and your co-parent need a Parenting Plan, you should consider some counseling to steer through this foggy storm.
Too many people (parents and professionals) think divorce is about filing a legal document, arguing over legal positions, and having a judge declare that the marriage is over. Ask yourself whether you think these legal trappings are what divorce is really about.
The real divorce involves challenges only you can meet:
- Remembering, in all your hurt, that cooperative co-parenting is essential for your children.
- Dealing honestly with your grief.
- Setting aside your hurt to truly consider your children's needs.
- Recovering your sense of personal competence.
See Better Use of Your Energies—Some things to do instead of battling.
10. Be careful where you get your advice.
Another challenge in separation and divorce is that there seems no end to the forces and people who can mislead you into thinking this is supposed to be a war.
It's easy, after all, for onlookers to think this. It will be you and your children left to live in the aftermath of the battle that once seemed like such a good idea.
It's your responsibility to create a peaceful world for you and your children.
A final thought
There you have them: 10 Clear Thoughts that have helped many parents do better for themselves and their children.
And we hope you won't mind our repeating that making your children the centerpiece of you decisions will likely be the best guide on all the parenting and legal tasks before you.
Download a Printable Summary of these thoughts.
We wish you and your family the very best.
Charlie and Barb Asher