I used to think no one entered into divorce lightly. No one severed his or her family unit without months, and possibly years, of thought and effort spent trying to avoid this end.
I mean, parents were, of course, aware that divorce is the least favorable outcome, right? They'd read the research showing how deeply children could be affected by divorce, and would only proceed out of absolute necessity, right? After all, Psychology Today had this to say about the affect of divorce on children:
“Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a boy or girl no matter what the age. Witnessing loss of love between parents, having parents break their marriage commitment, adjusting to going back and forth between two different households, and the daily absence of one parent while living with the other, all create a challenging new family circumstance in which to live. In the personal history of the boy or girl, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before.”
And yet, as I’ve watched various cycles of coupling and uncoupling over the years, it’s become clear to me: We are naïve about divorce, especially as it relates to children. We have no idea how difficult it’s truly going to be.
I fully recognize there are those tragic instances when divorce is inescapable, when issues of abuse or safety mean divorce is simply the only viable option. I also realize both partners are not always allowed a vote in the ending of a marriage. These are not the situations I am discussing today.
What we're pausing to evaluate are those marriages where “love has been lost” or “the magic has died." We're considering the folks who wonder if perhaps the grass the might be greener elsewhere, and the time has come to divorce.
I am divorced, and remarried. The various reasons for my choice to initiate divorce aren’t appropriate for discussion here. However, what I can tell you is that I was totally unprepared for the difficulty of this transition.
If you're contemplating divorce, here are five reasons you may want to reconsider:
Depending on the structure of your co-parenting agreement, you may miss half (or even more!) of your child’s life.
I'll never forget the day I put my son on the school bus for his first day of the third grade. He was looking grown up, feeling brave, and filled with wonder. As his tiny face – equal parts apprehensive and excited – disappeared onto the bus, the realization hit me that I'd miss exactly half of his life that year.
I would not greet him at the bus stop after school and ask how his day had been – for exactly half of the days of this school year. I would not check his backpack and go over school papers, teacher notes, and invitations to parties – exactly half of these days. I would miss exactly half of his good days and bad days. I would miss half of his bedtime stories, bath times, and overflowing bowls of cereal.
I started sobbing right there at the bus stop. And I continued crying throughout the day, even as I welcomed my own group of incoming freshman to my classroom. Funny, I thought, I'll see these students more days of the upcoming year than I'll see my own.
Can I tell you how heartbreaking it will be as that first Christmas or birthday rolls around when you begin to fire back emails or texts negotiating who gets Christmas morning or eve?
Can I tell you how much your heart will ache when you wake up without your child on that first birthday and your social news feeds fill with notifications that your mutual friends have all “liked” the pictures of your child eating their birthday breakfast with your ex-spouse?
That first Christmas Eve when you go to sleep in a silent house with no children, without partaking in any of those special holiday traditions which were once so special to you, you may find yourself wondering if your spouse was really that bad. Could anything be worse than the gaping hole in your chest eating you alive at this very moment?
The first time your child tells you about mommy or daddy’s “new friend” – and all the time they now spend with them – you’ll become suddenly aware of how little control you have over their lives outside of your home. What if they don’t like mommy’s “new friend?” Will mommy listen?
I once ran into friends at a gathering whose home my son stayed at on weekends with his dad. They shared a “funny” story with me about how they’d walked into the kitchen to find my eight-year old son standing on their kitchen table crying, terrified of their two yapping dogs. They laughed. Tears escaped the corners of my eyes without my permission. My son was scared. He needed me and I wasn’t there.
Before you divorce, consider all the people who'll have access to your child, all the moments in which you'll have no control.
This divide of time, of homes, this loss of ritual makes the cultivation of relationship harder for everyone.
Your children can’t go to the birthday party of the friend at school because they will be at dad’s house that weekend. Grandma and Grandpa could swear they haven’t seen the kids in a year. (It’s been a month.)
You have one week of vacation time in the summer with your child. Should you visit extended family or make memories with your own family unit?
Oh, and now that dad has married his new friend, your child has another mom. So, how will you remain relevant in your child’s life when they are away? How do you stay close to your kids when you are missing so much of their lives?
Maybe you feel you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse will have an amicable divorce and the litigation will be minimal. For your children’s sake, I hope this is the case.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe it will be. Emotions run too high when we fear losing access to our children, when things feel unfair, and perhaps our relational hurts begin to play into our decisions in the mediation room. Litigation becomes costly in every sense of the word.
Our emotions are a tangled exhausted mess. Our children feel this tension. We have little to offer our children financially, emotionally, or relationally.
If you are approaching divorce, you're about to enter into a world of stress like you’ve never known. And so is your child. Your awareness of this reality is of crucial importance during this undeniably difficult, and often fully heartbreaking, transition.
If you're going through a separation, divorce, or co-parenting situation, don’t try to do it alone. Find resources and support. Start here:Help Guide Good Therapy Smart Stepfamilies