Divorce doesn’t bring out the best in people. To start with, breaking up isn’t a situation that most of us are comfortable or familiar with. That can mean we don’t always know how to behave,and that can lead to reactions that are reflexive, knee-jerks. Then, the legal process of dividing everything means that instead of thinking about what’s best for us as a couple we have to shift to thinking about what’s best for us as an individual. That often means competing interests. It’s no wonder it can get ugly.
INRIS, my current guest and his wife are committed parents. Their relationship blossomed because they both wanted to be parents. Doing what’s best for their children became their guiding principle. It guided them through their divorce and beyond and INRIS believes it helped avoid at least some of the ugliness that can happen with divorce. Here’s INRIS:
There were several times where I think the divorce could have gotten derailed or ugly that I think just focusing on, “How is this going to affect the kids?” kept us focused on not dwelling on the little things and instead focusing on the big picture.
That question works on so many levels.
We pursued our relationship as far as we did partially because we both knew we wanted to have kids. We both knew we wanted to have lots of kids and this has nothing to do with religious predisposition or anything like that. It was just an innate sense of “I am parent of lots of kids and I want to have kids and this is how it’s going to be.”
It’s awesome when you find somebody else who you have a lot of common ground with, who, among other things also wants to have lots of kids. So, that was nice. She’s an awesome mom. I would like to think I’m a good dad.
We were both very, very involved in every aspect of the pregnancy and the delivery and the kids—raising the kids. Unfortunately, she ended up having to have an emergency C-section with the first child, so I ended up changing all of the diapers really pretty much for not only the recuperation period, but then even after that and it was totally fine. I don’t understand why people have a problem changing diapers.
I mention all of this, because a lot of times, it doesn’t work out that way. A lot of the changing diapers and other chores end up falling to the mom. I viewed it as, “Hey, it’s quality time I get with the kid. The kid breastfeeds with their mom, at least we get a little bit of opportunity to establish me as a trusted figure in the kid’s life.”
Starting with that philosophy, we reach a point where, alright, we’ve had three kids. They’re all very young. We got along, we were friends. There was no intimacy in the marriage and I don’t know why. I did what I could and I tried many, many things.
I’m realizing this marriage is killing both of us. I know it’s killing me and my first foray into this was, “I’m going to a marriage counselor, you can come with me or not.” She says, “Alright, well we’ll do that.”
The very first session she says, “I don’t believe in staying together just for the kids. I think that can be more damaging. Sometimes it is better to part and that would be better for the kids,” and the counselor actually very much agreed with that. The counselor had the same philosophy.
A lot of people stay in a marriage that is fundamentally broken, thinking that that’s better for the kids. I started asking friends of mine who were children of divorce, “When did your parents get divorced? How did that affect you,” and inevitably the friends of mine whose parents divorced when they were younger came through it much better with a lot less animosity, bitterness or other issues than the ones whose parents waited until their kids were old enough to go to college. It was a universal response. The ones whose parents waited, there was a lot of anger and a lot of resentment. So, everything that Penny said about that completely resonated with me.
The decision to get divorced was partially based on taking into consideration “How will this affect the kids?”
Then, as we’re going through the process, I was very mad at the mediator. I agreed to give a little bit more money than I had originally budgeted for, but in the long run there’s no point in being angry at anybody, except the mediator, because I know that this is ultimately going to make her house more comfortable for her and the kids.
When it comes time for one of us wanting to move or buy a house or some other thing like that, the issue of kids does fundamentally change how those decisions might go.
I had to replace a vehicle and when I’m buying a new vehicle, on the one hand I have to take into account that when I have the kids I’m as single father with multiple kids. We do influence each other’s decisions just by the fact that we exist, but that would be true also if we were still married. It’s like, “Oh well, since she has a car that can do this, I don’t have to get a car that is exactly the same to accommodate all of those issues. However, it’s still inappropriate for me to get a two-seater.” Things like that.
Maybe once in a while one of us has said, “Are you sure that’s in the best interest of the kids.” However, I don’t think it’s ever been invalid.
Maybe this is an important thing. I said some things grudgingly that may not necessarily paint Penny in the best light. The worst does not bring out the best in anybody, but Penny is an awesome mom. I would like to think that I’m not such a bad person.
Making a commitment to doing what’s best for your children is very helpful especially in seeing the big picture and not getting caught up in the tit-for-tat, nickle-and-dine, he-said she-said, reactive behaviors.
But, just saying you’ll do what’s in your child’s best interest isn’t enough.
It’s not enough because the term “child’s best interest” is thrown around and used in arguments to make someone’s position seem more noble, more beneficial. And both parents can use it to support arguments that are diametrically opposed. Too often the phrase is used to mask entrenched self-interests and alienating behaviors.
If you’re going to argue that something is in your child’s best interests, you have to genuinely mean it.
I think that starts with being willing to put your child’s needs ahead of your own. For example, if you think the proposed parenting schedule is too choppy and your child needs more stability, it means creating a different schedule even if it means giving up your parenting time.
It means being prepared to truly listen to your child and hear their needs.
It means having a conversation with your STBX, about what “child’s best interests” really looks like. What are the behaviors that support that? As a starting point, take a look at New Jersey’s Bill of Rights For Children in Divorce and Dissolution Actions. How much of this could you and your STBX commit to?
What do you think embraces ‘child’s best interest?’
INRIS blogged about his divorce while it was in progress over at It Never Rains In Seattle … that’s how I first connected with him. It’s definitely worth visiting and looking through the archives.
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