Written by Rachel Steinman
Laura Wasser’s podcast is aptly titled “Divorce Sucks!” because, well, it does! But while divorce itself might suck, divorced parents don’t have to. As the daughter of divorced parents myself, I speak from experience. My mom and dad separated in the early 80s during the rise of America’s divorce rate. A time when more than half of my friends’ parents were also divorcing. Some of my now adult friends are still scarred from the experience, but it wasn’t as hard on me because of how my parents handled themselves.
To this day, I see my parents as role models because they taught me the right way to resolve a conflict by not burning bridges. They showed me the ways to co-parent successfully so that I felt loved and supported throughout my childhood.
Divorced Parents Can Still Model A Healthy Relationship
The commonly held belief is that the kids of divorced parents grow up to have commitment problems, poor self-esteem, and trust issues. It’s assumed that because they didn't grow up with two parents living in the same household, that they must not know what a healthy relationship looks like. These misconceptions aren’t necessarily the case. Even though both of my parents have each been married three times, I have been happily married for almost twenty years.
Plus, I have a big family whom I love. I have one full sibling and two half-siblings, two step-siblings, and three ex-step-siblings. I have one mom and two ex-stepmoms. I have one dad, a step-dad and an ex-stepdad. My husband is also the product of divorce, with half-siblings from both sides. This means my daughters have a huge extended family, including an ex-step-grandma they adore. Our non-traditional and blended family is complicated, but it's also beautiful. I’ve become the glue, the matriarch of sorts, who keeps everyone together. I love to host family gatherings, from the big holidays to the smaller get-togethers. I’m showing my daughters what my parents showed me: family is everything.
Laura Wasser, the founder of It’s Over Easy, believes the best family holidays are those spent surrounded by her blended and extended family. When both her parents and their spouses, her current boyfriend and his daughters, and her two sons and their fathers all came together to celebrate, Laura said it was her favorite holiday dinner yet. You can read about it here.
Sometimes Divorce Is The Best Decision
Raising children as divorced parents in a healthy and open-minded way might be difficult, but so is doing so while within an unhappy marriage. Put your children first by navigating the hurdles of anger, blame, and hurt feelings gracefully while in their presence. It might be tough in the moment, but they will one day look back and thank you for it.
Parenting while in a happy, healthy marriage is difficult enough. Doing it with a partner you’re constantly fighting with makes it exponentially harder. I give my parents a lot of credit for understanding this. They separated when I was ten and divorced when I was eleven. Although they fought over an extramarital affair and the substance abuse issues my mom had developed to treat her undiagnosed mental illness, my parents made a concerted effort to never speak poorly about one another in front of my brother or me. They recognized that when kids are involved, there is no such thing as a forever breakup.
Always Put Your Children First
After a divorce, parents will often continue to grapple with schedules, money, and parenting issues, even once their children have grown up and left home. There’s no getting around how divorce often leaves those involved feeling hostile and resentful. It’s not uncommon to want to badmouth your ex behind their back. But before you verbally lash out over a grievance with your ex, remember that your children will end up carrying the emotional baggage of those fights, which can lead to future anxiety, stress, and grief.
My parents worked hard to remain civil with one another, and over time they even became friends again. But it didn’t start that way. Angry words slipped out and arguments were had in front of my brother and me now and then. Despite these moments though, my parents knew that family is forever, and they were intent on maintaining a relationship for my brother, for me, and for the future.
My mom and dad knew their kids were not their confidants. It’s not fair to put children in that position, asking their advice and burdening them with adult issues. Whenever I meet someone with children who is going through a divorce, I always encourage them to do what my parents did. My advice is to try their best to never speak negatively about each other to their kids, as difficult as it might be. I remind my friends going through divorces that they should try to remain civil with their exes, and hopefully even develop a friendship with them in the future, just like my parents did. This will make a huge difference in the long run for their children, who will be grateful for these efforts to remain open-minded and open-hearted. In the end, it benefits everyone.
Put In The Effort, And A Divorce Can Get Better With Time
I will always remember and appreciate how rather than put my dad down, my mom would speak about the positive qualities I inherited from him. Likewise, I value how my dad never trash talked my mom when he so easily could have after some of her poor decisions. On the “Divorce Sucks!” podcast, Kate Hudson discusses how she co-parents with success by remembering that, at the end of the day, the most important thing is to make your kids feel safe and happy. Kate says this is accomplished by doing your best to remain cordial with your ex-spouse, and to never speak poorly about one another to your children. You can hear Laura Wasser interview Kate Hudson here.
I am grateful for my parents’ foresight. When my mom was visiting me recently, I invited my dad over to join us. Their divorce doesn’t erase their history. He’s still her first husband and the father of her children. Almost four decades after their divorce, they sat at my dining room table enjoying each others’ company. They were reminiscing about all of the things they used to do together, discussing their children and grandchildren, and even laughing with one another. It was a true gift to me and my daughters, and proof that their hard work to be good divorced parents had paid off.
Rachel Steinman is the host of the podcast “Dear Family,” a writer, a teacher, and a mental health advocate. Rachel writes and podcasts about her family’s legacy of mental illness, our complicated families, parenting, and achieving mental wellness. Rachel is a lead presenter for NAMI’s “Ending the Silence” program, going into high schools to educate teens about mental health. You can find Rachel Steinman @WriteNowRachel on Medium, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. You can listen to “Dear Family,” wherever you get your podcasts.