There’s something about divorce that you never quite recover from. The grief is the same as losing a loved one or having something you valued greatly ripped away from you. Even if you are the one who wants the divorce, you will still feel it hit you at some point.
I don’t think anyone truly recovers from the impact. Shattered dreams, broken vows, making a new life for yourself. Add a couple of kids to the mix and then you are really out of sorts. It’s not an easy road. Years after the dust has settled, you will still think back to that time and wander if you could have done it a little differently. Maybe even if you hadn’t done it all.
I have never regretted getting married the first time. Even if there were a lot of trying times, there were also a lot of really good ones. I have tried hard to always look past the anger or hurt and see the man I married. There was a day that I loved him so deeply I wanted to be his wife, a mother to our children, and would never have considered giving up on him. I try really hard to never forget that when we have our low points trying to navigate co-parenting for our kids.
Even if I don't regret getting married, there have been many times that I have regretted getting divorced. Just as with any break-up, time tends to wash away negative memories and you forget the reasons why you were so mad or ended things. Thank God that time does that though. It would be exhausting to hold on to so much negative junk. The regret isn't consuming and it hasn't prevented me from falling in love again or moving on with my life. It just lingers at times, especially when I think about my children and not knowing how the divorce impacted them.
Of course you read studies and do research that says kids are “adaptable” and “resilient,” but those statistics don’t overshadow the glaringly obvious fact that kids from loving, two-parent, in-tact homes, don’t have that trauma of divorce. They never have to know what it’s like to leave one house for another or the burden of having to learn how to navigate new step-parents or siblings. They don’t have two sets of household rules or worse yet, parents who fight over them constantly. Those kids never have to know that stuff and that makes them pretty darn lucky.
Co-parenting with an ex is challenging. When you get divorced you aren’t prepared for all the things that you still have to work out with this person. Only now the stakes seem even higher. Now you still have these children together and the pressure is on you not to screw them up even more than you already did with divorce.
And the personalities of you and your ex still exist. That never changed. Now, you might be tempted to make the mistake that you don’t have an obligation to be friendly or nice to your ex anymore. Oh, that’s the worst mistake you can make for your kids. You think you don’t have to work together anymore or give in to things sometimes. Wrong! As a matter of fact, this is when you might have to give in even more at times, because whenever you fight with your children’s other parent, you send a message to your kids.
When adults come to me for therapy, I never hear them say, “My parents loved me so much they were always fighting over me.” What I hear instead is what they don’t say or see; On-going issues with low self-esteem, a damaged sense of self-worth, and a diminished overall value. Why weren’t they worth it for their parents to get their act together enough to stop fighting and learn how to parent? That’s what a lot of children from high-conflict divorces walk away with.
I have heard the argument that the reason there is fighting, is because the kids are worth it. In some cases, certainly there are justifiable reasons to go to bat. But I have learned that there is an art to picking your battles. You have to always be mindful that you aren’t allowing yourself to get so entrenched in the battlefield that you lose all sense of flexibility and compromise.
There are ways to co-parent peacefully. There’s a new vow parents need to make with each other when they separate or divorce. It starts the day they decide to end their relationship. The new vow should be that they promise to honor and respect each other as parents and do all that they can to shelter their children from their adult issues. They should have to swear to that vow in front of their children when they separate, just like they swear to the judge to get divorced. I’m not sure why it isn’t part of that process, but it should be.
Maybe I live in a Polly-Anna world thinking that co-parents can do these things, but I also think there’s so much help available out there these days, that there’s really no excuse not to! Nowadays its more common than not to be a kid from a split up home. Lucky for me, five years after my divorce, things feel good with my co-parent. It wasn't easy and I know there's going to continue to be bumps. There would be even if we were still living under the same roof. But the key is to never give up, and to never stop trying. The harder something is, the greater the reward. The reward in this case is having your children grow up with the least amount of residual damage. You owe them that much.
Heather Oller is a licensed Orlando therapist at Orlando Thrive Therapy, Coaching & Counseling who specializes in counseling Orlando couples, individuals, and families who are seeking changes in their lives. She has been a mental health professional for over 17 years and is a practicing Orlando counselor that specializes in conflict resolution for couples. You can contact her for an appointment or call 407-592-8997 for more information.