There is no such thing as an easy divorce. By societal standards, my divorce was as easy as they come. But a lot of work went into having a healthy divorce.
I am grateful everyday that my kids' father and I did everything we could to understand why we had come together and why we needed to come apart. We both loved being parents to our children, so we wanted to remain a family in every way possible while living in two homes.
Parents provide the floor under their children's feet and divorce often pulls that floor out from underneath them — it can leave a child feeling rootless and terrified. I know those feelings well from my own childhood: from the age of four, my mother wasn't able to care for us. I grew up on very shaky ground, moving to new homes and cities, with a father who was divorced three times by the end of my teens.
When it came to my own divorce, I wanted a different experience. A child's universe does not need to be decimated just because the two adults in charge of them are changing the form of their relationship.
My ex-husband was equally committed to keeping the foundation intact under our children's feet. Despite our personal views about our relationship and why it was ending, we put our children first. We were ending our marriage, not ending our family.
Our formula for a healthy divorce required certain steps … Below are eight tips for all couples ending their marriage who don't wish to end their family:
1. Really understand your marriage (and divorce) before you pull the trigger.
It's essential to understand your marriage with your partner — whether in couple's therapy or elsewhere. Try getting a sense of perspective by talking to others about their experiences (friends or through social media platforms like Splitsville). From there, you'll be better able to dig deep into the impact of divorce before moving out.
This process will help you figure out how best to communicate the emotional message to your kids, in addition to the seismic logistical shifts.
2. Explore and try out alternative ways of structuring your new family system before making any final decisions.
My ex-husband and I tried a four-month period of what we called "nesting" to discover what a separation really felt like before making a final decision to divorce. Of course, this will help you and your partner; but it will also make the shift more gradual for your children.
3. Stay as close as possible to each other while maintaining appropriate boundaries.
My ex-husband and I kept our homes four blocks from each other as another way to make the change more gradual. We did this to avoid creating a feeling of real "distance" to our children.
4. Put effort into the details to create cozy environments for everyone.
We were committed to ensuring that both homes were properly set up and comfortable for the kids. This included furniture, toys, bedding and blankets they liked to sleep with at night and so on.
5. Create and maintain clear, consistent boundaries.
While my ex-husband and I chose to live close by to one another, we also created and agreed upon a very clear and consistent parenting schedule. Boundaries are important to keep consistency — both for us as parents, and for our children. To this day, we are painstakingly vigilant about maintaining a consistent rhythm in our children's lives so there is never the question of "Who's house am I staying at tonight?"
6. Transcend yourself for the bigger picture (well, at least for a few days a year).
We sacrifice individually-desired vacation plans for the sake of our children. How? We have tried one vacation rental in August and split the time staying there. This allows us to have necessary separation from one another, while allowing our kids stability: they stay there the whole month, and we rotate.
7. Share one credit card for all expenses to help with transparency and accountability.
We share one credit card for all kid-related expenses — but with a limit on what one can spend without running it past the other.
Divorced couples often argue about expenses and create more work for themselves with receipts, canceled checks and bank statements. I actually find it baffling why more co-parents don't do this: it's the easiest way to keep an itemized list of all expenses.
8. Set up a system that cuts down on the day-to-day communication that might incite emotional drama.
We adopted a Google calendar system to invite each other to any task or event that relates to the kids. This allows us to avoid missed emails, forgetfulness and miscommunications about logistics, which often cause friction. We're all busy. Juggling kids is hard enough when married and living in the same house! Keep it simple.
I have learned that "family" is a place in our hearts, not a street address. As co-parents of these precious kids that we chose to bring into the world, it's imperative that we keep expanding our definition of family, and love, so our kids feel at home no matter where they go.
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