Wendy Paris is a journalist and essayist whose work on marriage, relationships, and contemporary culture has appeared in the New York Times, Psychology Today, Glamour, Brides, QZ.com, Salon.com, Travel & Leisure, Essence, and Marketplace radio. She also blogs about the good divorce at WendyParis.com and PsychologyToday.com. Her new book, Splitopia: Dispatches From Today’s Good Divorce And How To Part Well is on sale now from our sister company, Simon & Schuster.
While we may feel that kids need two married parents living together, forty years of research on childhood adjustment shows that marriage isn’t what matters so much, but rather a loving relationship with parents who aren’t embroiled in conflict, and a decent home life. As one scholar I interviewed put it: the mere fact that 75- to 80-percent of children raised in divorced families are well-adjusted undercuts the argument that children “need” to be raised in traditional families. “These process factors, rather than family structure, affect adjustment in both traditional and non-traditional families,” said University of Cambridge’s Michael Lamb, who authored the single most comprehensive overview of child development in the new millennium.
There are a lot of reason to be optimistic about our children’s future—including the fact that we can take control of many aspects of our home life that lead to joy and success.
Because we now know that conflict between the parents is one of the most damaging experiences for children, we can foster cooperation with our co-parent, and work to quash conflict. We can use the communication skills we may have learned while married, draw on experts help, and even use technological co-parenting apps and online calendars to help. Many people find it easy to get along, once separated, because they only have to agree on specific issues rather than on every aspect of life, and they spend less time with an ex. Not living together also makes it far easier to avoid fighting in front of children; if you have a flare up, you can go home, calm down, and reopen the conversation later.
Be Your Best Parent
Without a spouse around to blame for, well, everything, we can let divorce challenge us to be better parents. This includes tapping into your unique strengths and skills to create the kind of home life you desire and shape the social world in which your kids live.
Because we know that children benefit from stability, we can focus on establishing new routines that work in our newly structured lives. You might let a younger child help you create a monthly calendar of Mommy nights and Daddy nights. Many people find themselves better able to establish and maintain cherished routines in their own home because they no longer have to contend with the input of a resistant, residential spouse.
Create Positive Moments
Happiness in divorce doesn’t just mean the absence of fighting and chaos, but also the presence of truly enjoyable, light, uplifting activities and interactions. We can create positive moments for our children, as we do for ourselves, and foster engagement in outside activities and with other supportive adults.
Because we understand that being present for our children rests on our own emotional recuperation, we can prioritize taking care of ourselves—while still making the best choices possible for our children and their other parent.