Children After Divorce

By | December 22, 2010

This is a question I often hear: “We are getting a divorce. We have joint custody of our children, but we live in different towns. What can we do to minimize the impact on them?”

The next time I’m asked, this might be my answer: “Rather than structuring your lives so that your children come to spend time with each of you, I suggest you explore ways to give your children a single place to live. Stability of place can be psychologically and emotionally grounding to children whose solid rock—their parents—has been fractured. The comfort of a familiar bedroom and the established routine of a household can mean so much. Additionally, the more stability they can maintain with friends, school, and other involvements, the better. The best scenarios that I’ve seen are where each parent lives in a separate apartment in the same building, or where parents maintain separate bedrooms in the same house.

Mind you, these were exceptional cases where jealousy, anger, or other volatile issues did not create the divisiveness that turns so many divorces into gut-wrenching battles. The more stable your children’s lives, the more time and energy you should have to work on the emotional issues that come up with your changing family dynamic. Repairing and strengthening your relationship with your ex-spouse will show your children by example that the two of you are not abandoning the relationship you have as parents, and that their stability comes first.


3 Comments

Nan on December 30, 2010 at 2:38 pm.

Sure. I read somewhere (probably in Rolling Stone) that after “Sweaty Uncle Teddy” and his wife split, they gave the house to their children, and then each bought another house and took turns staying with the kids. Years later at the time of my own breakup, I remembered that and pitched it to my ex. Owning three houses between us was not an option, so we fashioned a creative alternative.

In Nugent’s case, the arrangement ended after three years when his ex-wife was killed in a car accident. We made it five years, when my ex left because (he said) his new mate objected. And while that is true, it’s also true that he wanted out. He had been a good at-home dad during layoffs while we were married, but he strongly disliked the daily grind that single parenting requires, even on a part-time basis, and he did not like living in two places.

I, too, had trouble going back and forth between two homes. The act of stepping in and out of the flow of different households was strenuous, and occasionally confusing. I also found it extremely difficult to let of the domestic reins, giving him space to make his own householding and childrearing decisions.

The biggest issue was money. Even with our creative solution and frugal natures, it was still more expensive than a traditional divorce arrangement. A complicating factor was his insistence that if he agreed to 50/50 physical placement, I had to agree to a 50/50 financial arrangement, even though he made much more money and I put in much more time.

Despite the hardships, I loved the setup. I also was in another relationship, and thought I had the best of all worlds – time alone with my children, time alone with my new mate, and the ability to bring them together in a low-key, non-threatening manner (blended families are tricky at best).

The benefits to our children were phenomenal – they were so much better adjusted than their friends who were going back and forth between parents, or left with only one. Their counselor said they “bounced back” more quickly than other children of divorce. Our kids had equal time with both parents for five years after we split. Despite the animosity between us, he was present in their daily lives on a regular basis and not just someone they visited every other weekend. I had help parenting, and while I was definitely part of the single moms living in poverty statistic, I didn’t suffer the intense burnout that is usually our lot.

If there are other questions, I’d be happy to answer them. The point I wish to make is that even in a gut-wrenching divisive scenario, it is possible to come together and meet your children’s needs. Some ex-mate relationships are irreparable, but even those of us who are not capable of rising above jealousy and anger can find ways to do what’s best for our kids.

Reply

Nan on December 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm.

We did this. Got the idea from Ted Nugent. Didn’t have his financial resources, and at the time we weren’t capable of living in the same town, let alone the same apartment building, but:

We continued to co-own the home, and maintained a joint checking account for home & household expenses. We rotated in and out, each taking two weekdays and alternating three-day weekends. It was confusing, but guaranteed we each never had less than two days nor more than five with or away from our children. That lessened the stress of single parenting and also provided consistency so we could continue participating in their extracurriculars (scouting, etc.).

My ex-mate bought a duplex and rented half of it to cover expenses. I moved in with a friend part-time, paying partial rent there.

It worked for five years, and gave the kids a strong foundation from which to ride out the turmoil of our difficult break-up.

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Tamarack on December 27, 2010 at 8:18 pm.

Are you sure your inspiration wasn’t Mick Jagger, rock ‘n roll’s #1 family man? The Nuge, a gun totin’ guitar-hero primitivist, has been impossible to pigeonhole–he’s been full of surprises over the years. He’s also a supremely practical person, so I can see him coming up with a child-centered home arrangement. Do you remember the particulars?

I like the win-win-win situation the two of you worked out for your children and each other. You had the foresight to set up an arrangement that would reduce the single-parent burnout factor, which only adds stress to what is usually already a tightrope walk. What unexpected situations did you encounter, and were you able to work them out?

If you don’t mind, I’d like to use your story as an example for others in similar situations.

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