Children and Divorce: And Now For Some Really Depressing News

I awoke early Tuesday morning with my throat so swollen and sore I couldn’t swallow, mucous streaming from nearly every orifice above my shoulders. I could not utter a sound that was even recognizable as speech.  My daughter felt much the same.  I knew I needed to call in a sub.  Two days later, most of it spent sleeping and reading (I certainly had no energy for anything else and the reading was pushing my limits), I think I might be well enough to return to work tomorrow.  The book I managed to devour between naps was, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, by Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakeslee.  I’m warning you.  It isn’t a cheery read.  In fact, I had tears streaming down my cheeks at points.

wallersteinbookimage I stumbled across this little find at my local book exchange.  I’m always up for reading some research (yeah, I’m kind of nerdy like that), especially about families of divorce, stepfamilies and how all of this impacts children. (Maybe because it is just a little close to home for me?)  This one billed itself as a landmark study because it was the only one that tracked children of divorce from the time their parents split up until they reached full adulthood. It was a 25-year-study. Since I work with kids and their parents many of them divorced and re-married, and since I myself am the child of divorce as are my own children, I thought this might be an interesting read.  It was indeed interesting, but it was not cheery. Wallerstein’s findings are sobering, relevant, deeply saddening, and yet more hopeful than one would expect.

I would recommend that anyone considering divorce, in the process of divorce, or now in the post-divorce family read this book.  I wish I’d read it 4 years ago.  It would have helped me support my children more effectively through the divorce process. Of course, to be honest, I was so stressed and fragmented (as many who undergo divorce are) that I’m not sure I’d have read it.  Which just underscores a significant aspect of this research.  The book also details children’s perspectives of parenting plans, remarriage, step-parents and life after divorce.

The most salient point of Wallerstein’s study, for me, is that no matter when the divorce occurs, no matter what the reason for the divorce, and regardless how amicable or not the divorce is, risk factors for children significantly increase while protective factors that were in place when the marriage was intact are diminished. I don’t think this is new news for any of us, but Wallerstein was able to get behind the eyes of the children in this study and reveal how that reality impacts and shapes children of divorce. She (Wallerstein) does not draw from this conclusion that divorce should never happen.  The author does conclude that we’ve just not been aware of the impact divorce has on children from the child’s perspective until now.  Maybe now, we can begin thinking more about divorce from the perspective of not just what works for the parents, but what works for the children throughout all their developmental levels. Wallerstein goes on to mention that the debilitating impact of divorce is often not evident until children reach adulthood and begin to enter into relationships and marriages of their own.  In other words, divorce has lasting effects on children, no matter how good things appear on the outside. (Personally, I suspect most of us parents know this. We just feel uncertain as to how to deal with this reality.)  These are just a few of the highlights I’ve gleaned and tried to summarize, and which were significant to me as I devoured her over 330 page book.  Oh, and the book does include specifics about the research design and the statistical results of study for those who are interested.

As for me, it was impossible for me to read this book casually without some serious personal introspection.  I am, after all, the mother of four children, all of whom experienced divorce, two of them when they were in elementary school and two of them when they were in preschool.  This book forced me to look at myself and my parenting since the divorce.  I’m asking myself questions because, if I’m to be the best support for my children that I can (and diminished parenting is cited by Wallerstein as one of the biggest perils of divorce), then I must take inventory. 

j0410095 Some of the questions I’m grappling with are:

  • Given that children often tend to either act out or stuff their feelings behind an ultra compliant approach, how are my children really doing?
  • Am I giving my children opportunities to express their fears and their anger (and yes they have both) about the divorce?
  • Am I taking the necessary time to parent them or am I so preoccupied with survival and keeping the family afloat that I am unintentionally neglecting their very real emotional needs.
  • Are any of my children taking on the parenting role?  What am I doing to reinforce this if it is happening?
  • How do I balance the stresses and demands of my adult world, the needs I have for adult love and companionship, with my children’s needs for protection, comfort, care and emotional connection with me…and…when do I get any rest?  (I say that last a little bit tongue in cheek, but fatigue is a big stressor and leads to illness as I’ve learned of late.)

And there are more questions lurking within. 

I’m really not depressed and I’m not beating myself up as a parent after reading this study, but, like the veil being lifted, I certainly see some areas I need to work on for my children’s sake.  I also see some areas that I’ve done well, which is reassuring. It has certainly given me a great deal to consider regarding my parenting, dating as a single parent and, if it ever arises, the idea of remarriage. We grow a little at a time all throughout our lives.  This book just revealed some areas that I think I need to check up on.

As I re-read this post, I realize I’ve only shared the down side aspects of the research.  There is much cause for hope and encouragement as the result of Wallerstein’s work.  I don’t want to be a spoiler, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself. 

Divorce Transitions or The Dragon is Finally Dead

castle This post is third in a series of posts on the transitions that accompany divorce. You can read the first post in the series here and the second one here.  I originally wrote these last year, as I was contemplating my first year post divorce.  I also had a friend who was dealing with separation and divorce at that time and I thought some of these things would be helpful for others facing the specter of divorce. 

Phase 4—Picking Up the Pieces and Moving On

After the judge’s gavel drops for the final time dismissing all in the courtroom to go on about their lives within the new parameters issued by The Court, the process of picking up the pieces and moving on begins.   I call this a time of rebuilding the kingdom.  Your kingdom might be ravaged by war in many ways: physically, emotionally, financially to name a few.  It takes time to sort through the remains and build a new life out of the ruin. 

During this time, if you have children, your family will adjust to living in two households.  You may experience a holiday or two where you do not spend the time with your children as before because they will be at the other parent’s home.  You may experience grief, loss, pain and deep sadness.  You might be ecstatic that your nightmare has finally ended.  Your children will likely experience a wide range of emotions also and may need some help dealing with them.  You will be adjusting to new schedules, new responsibilities, possibly a new living arrangement in a new location.  This period is all about learning how to do your new life and getting used to the way things will be.  It’s time to slow down, take some time for yourself, reflect, experience the emotions, don’t deny them, learn and grow and hang in there.

3 Certainties Besides Change

Earlier, I stated that the only constant is change. One simply can’t predict a dragon’s behavior or the fallout of a dragon’s fury and damage.  But, as with most things in life…even if it is very bad…it’s not all bad.

Last year, after completing my first year post-divorce,  I made the following observations about what I’d learned during the year.

1.  Things (whatever disaster may come) are never as bad as they appear to be at first.  I will get through it somehow.

2.  I will survive and will learn something in the process if I pay attention.

3.  Things will turn out okay, though it might be a bit messy or difficult getting there or, to put it differently, slaying dragons is never easy.

As I come up on the second year post divorce (two and a half since leaving the ex for the last time) those words are even more relevant than they are today.  It’s been a long exhausting haul financially and emotionally but things are much better now than they were.  The romance department, while incredibly disappointing this year, taught me many things I would not otherwise have learned. The divorce dragon has been buried.  Our castle, bit by bit, is being repaired and improved. We’ve cleaned up, replaced the tattered gowns, polished up our tarnished crowns and there is more order and prosperity in our little kingdom than we had last year.  In spite of the new challenges and heartbreaks we faced this year, we continue to thrive. My children and I are going to be just fine.  I hope this encourages others who might be wondering if the battle will ever end, if the dragon can be slayed, if peace and prosperity will ever be theirs again.  I am here to say, the battle does end, the dragon will die and there are better days ahead.  Those days begin now. Believe it!

I would like to close with words I penned after my first rebuilding year. These words, now more than ever, express my feelings as I conclude another post-divorce year:

As I near the end this year, I have one overriding emotion.  It is the same feeling one might have after winning the Olympic gold medal in a come-from-behind-to-win-against-all-odds victory.  It is the same feeling players on the underdog football team feel when they win with insurmountable odds against the chosen favorite.  It is better than joy.  It is deeper than exhilaration.  It is more powerful than elation and less fleeting.  It is deep, deep conviction and confidence that comes from facing the demons, slaying the dragons, and emerging from the dragon’s lair, with princess gowns a bit torn and slightly charred, crown askew, maybe a bit tarnished, hair mussed and ratted, soot smudges on my face, but with my life and health intact and the dragon’s head in my hand.  My kingdom is safe and those in my castle can breathe without fear.  We are at peace with ourselves and our world. The rebuilding projects are progressing steadily throughout the land.  We can view the future from atop the mountain of hope and joy together.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

 

Divorce Transitions or How To Slay a Dragon—Part 2

This is the second in a series of three posts about transitions one can expect and decisions to consider during divorce.

After you’ve sorted out your priorities and determined what is journal-writingmost important to you and what is least critical, you might find that there is a bit of a waiting period while papers get filed, petitions get reviewed and responded to by your attorney and your ex and his/her attorney.  While this is a waiting time where the legal process is concerned (sometimes hearing dates are booked six months or more in advance), it is also a time of setting up how your future without your ex will operate.  It is also  a critical and foundational time, because during this period you are setting precedents that might come to bear if and when your case goes to trial.  I call this Phase 2.

Phase 2 –The Process of Separating

Once papers are filed and served, the process of actually separating begins. There are the terms of the physical separation which need  to be negotiated.  There is also an emotional separation that must begin.  During this phase, partners are defining boundaries, establishing new rules and ways of addressing each other and deciding how children will be exchanged for parenting times determined by the court during this interim.  How this looks between couples varies widely from couple to couple. 

This is often where much of the dragonsbattlewpbattle takes place.  Much has to be decided during this phase.  Where will each of you live?  Who gets the family home, who gets which of the family possessions, and how will the money and assets be divided?  These decisions are not to be taken lightly as they will in some fashion determine your lifestyle after the divorce is final.

The next consideration is how to parent the children.  Consider these questions:

  • What kind of parenting plan will you develop?
  • Will you have shared custody or not?
  • How will you help the children transition through these changes with a minimum amount of tension? 

What the two of you negotiate for a parenting plan will in many ways determine your lifestyle after the decree is signed.  This is where being very clear about what you want your future to look like is important.  It might not always turn out exactly your way, but the likelihood of you getting more of what you want is greater if you go in with a plan.  It is wise to consider how workable the plan really is.  Additional questions to consider include:

  • Does the parenting plan allow for some reasonable boundaries to be implemented so you have some privacy and distance from your STBX (soon-to-be-ex) while the children are with you?  Or…do you prefer something more fluid, with your STBX coming and going on your property as before? 
  • How about the children?  Consider what is in their best interests, not just the meeting of your own needs as parent.
  • Does the parenting plan make the most of a bad situation by giving you some time for yourself if you are the custodial parent. 
  • If you are not the custodial parent does the plan give you ample time to invest in and parent your children? 

In every case, it is best if parents can nail this down and agree upon it before it goes to trial.  If you leave it up to the judge, it it less certain how things will turn out.  A judge is not likely to intervene in a parenting plan if both parents are in agreement.  Again, discussing this, and everything else, with your attorney is the wisest decision you’ll make. Your attorney will be familiar with the laws, procedures and judges in your area. (Please do your research and retain an attorney that has an excellent reputation and find someone you can trust to be direct, professional and who will advocate on your behalf.) Tap into that knowledge and expertise as you make plans that will daily impact your future.

Phase 3– Limbo Land: Waiting Around To Make Sure The Dragon Is Really Dead

952313_79933908 The next phase is the phase after the trial while awaiting the final  decree to be signed, stamped and recorded. I call this waiting around to see if the dragon is really dead. For me, this was a period of about three weeks.  My attorney had to formalize the final documents, I had to review them and then they had to be sent back to the judge for signing.  Since my trial occurred the Friday after Thanksgiving two years ago, I was waiting on pins and needles to find out if my divorce would be final before the end of the year.  In my state, if I’m divorced before December 31st, I can file single on my tax returns.  This was important to me, because, I knew my ex hadn’t had his taxes withheld all year and I knew that on my own I would get a return.  I also did not want the hassle of having to negotiate yet another issue with this man.  I was living in the transitional world of being free, knowing the outcomes, but I didn’t have a signed document yet.  I remember the overwhelming feeling of relief I experienced when my attorney’s assistant called to inform me that the document had been signed by the judge on December 21st.   My dragon was finally dead.

To be concluded…in the next post.

Divorce Transitions or How To Slay a Dragon—Another Year Later

Costumes_Halloween_Lady_Dragons I wrote this last year at about this time of year over on my other blog. It is rather lengthy so I’ve broken it down into a series of several posts.  Those of you who have been through the divorce process and are trying to heal up after it, might have some very significant and quite possibly different perspectives to share.  If so, I hope you’ll leave a comment.  I certainly don’t profess to have the only valid experience.  I only share mine and what was helpful for me.  I love hearing what others found helpful.  I know my readers do too!

I spent most of my childhood growing up in rural eastern Oregon.  My family lived in the same home from the time I was in third grade till after I graduated from college.  We drove the same ’68 Chevy Camaro and never had another car.  My mother had the same job in the same office building across from the county library until she retired many years after I was grown and beginning my own family.  My grandparents lived across the river in Idaho, a mere six miles away.  They owned a department store in town where I spent my pre-school years hiding in the racks peeking out at customers from behind the clothes.  It was a stable, predictable, secure childhood.  Very little ever changed.  It was not the kind of beginning that exactly prepares one to deal with the transitions that come after a marriage ends.  But, if we are fortunate, and I was, we should not be preparing for such sad events.  There just weren’t that many dragons to slay back then…and…I guess that’s a good thing.

clocks-med Change is the only constant.  This is never more true than when going through a divorce, when emotions run high and everyone is running scared at some level.  Everyone, except the attorneys and the dragon.  They are running to the bank.  (Sometimes I think I am definitely in the wrong career.  Hmmmm, is it too late for a law degree?) Even so, I am grateful for a good attorney who helped me see the issues clearly and without emotion.  The dragon is bigger and has the fire-breathing capabilities.  You can easily determine where the dragon fits in your own analogy.  For me, it was a volatile and completely unstable partner who was an incredible con artist and who had everyone believing (including myself) that I was the crazy psychotic problem child.   

Phase 1–Acceptance

This is the first transition and probably the most difficult in divorce:  accepting that the marriage is over.  Accepting that one partner wants out badly enough  to formalize the dissolution legally can be a difficult and heartbreaking reality to grasp.  Whether you are the one initiating the divorce or the one having to accept that your partner is saying, "I’m out!",  the very first step is to accept that no matter what happens, when the dust settles you will in fact be divorced.  Nothing else but this will be certain as you head into the process of negotiating like you’ve probably never in your marriage or maybe your life negotiated before. It is not unlike dodging the fiery blasts of the dragon’s anger as you attempt to defend your kingdom. The finances, the assets, the kids, the child support, the alimony and the acrimony will all be undetermined until the judge raps his gavel or until the two of you sign out of court. Until then, you just don’t know how the dragon will move, twist, or turn.

BooksandGavelA_jpg When I walked in to see my attorney…a good two years before I actually retained her…she told me these words, "Look, I can’t assure you of anything except that by the end of this you will be divorced."  She was right, and despite what is oft said about attorneys, she was honest, direct, a great strategist and she advocated on my behalf.  She helped me negotiate the frightening web of legalities to ensure the best possible outcome for my children and I.  She was there to negotiate some of those transitions for me.

Plan on the transitions.  Expect them, anticipate them, negotiate them and then live them.  My attorney helped me plan and prepare for the first phase of transitions but I had to first face the reality that nothing I could do was going to change the eventual outcome.  Armed with this knowledge I was able to take a more active role in determining and shaping my own post-divorce world.

If you are at this place in your life and the inevitable is going down, I encourage you to begin doing your own research.  Find out what the laws are in your state or county.  Find out how property is usually divided and how the courts generally treat custody and parenting issues arrangements.  Your attorney can be a valuable resource in this area.  You can also do your own homework.  There are many great resources on the internet. 

It helped me to think of life in three categories: the things that were non-negotiable for me, the things that I could easily give up, and the things that fell in between these two extremes. It became a matter of prioritizing.  When it came to negotiating with the ex, I knew clearly what I had to barter with and what wasn’t up for negotiation from my perspective.  This ended up being irrelevant for me as my ex didn’t even show up for the hearing and the judge ruled everything as proposed by my attorney with some added stipulations making it more difficult for the ex should he seek to drag me back to court in the future. This, however, is extremely rare.  Expect a battle and arm yourself intelligently and thoughtfully for it.

 

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times

Music can take me places.  I’m sure you know how that is.  You’re minding your own business and suddenly a song comes on that you haven’t heard in ages and then suddenly you are transported.  You’re completely removed from the present to a different time and place, a world ago, a lifetime ago.  You can smell the smells, feel the feelings and suddenly you are awash in memories like you never left that time or place.  Music transports you.  It transport me.  I was just transported.

I have music all over my house.  I have a small house and don’t have a surround sound, piped in, fancy system like some have.  I do like to “feel” my music. Even as I write this, I have my little 5 CD changer in the kitchen (I have one in nearly every room)  turned up to some ghastly number on the volume dial.  I can feel the reverberations.  But, today, a particular song transported me, and it just came on again and it’s transporting me…again. 

The time was not so long ago.  About this time last year, if my memory serves me well.  The song is K.T. Tunstall’s “Heal Over”.  The events in my life at that time were best described by Charles Dickens in his famous book, “A Tale of Two Cities”.  For me…that time of my life was truly, “the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  I’d left my second husband for the final time.  Divorce proceedings were in process.  It was going to happen.  As a person who walked into marriage the first time with the high fairy tale hopes of “till death do us part”, having to end a second marriage was a devastating blow.  I was in the midst of dealing with that reality and moving back into a house that my ex and his 7 children had just vacated.  And when I mean vacated, I mean vacated.  They took with them things I will be paying for, for many years to come. Things that were purchased at Christmases and birthdays for my children, not his.  And I was left with a house that was little more than a wreck. (No, I’m not bitter or anything.  LOL!) I was embroiled in a battle that had every potential to get very ugly and I was very scared.  It was very possible that I could end up homeless and in debt and, because I had no way to provide for my children, I was afraid I might lose them.  It was the worst of times.

But…it was also the very best of times.  While I was out of my house because I had to leave under police escort to protect myself against a volatile spouse and get what I could in the 20 minutes they allow, I was able to see and experience the goodness and love of friends that I might never have otherwise experienced or known.  I had friends offer me their travel trailer so my youngest and I would have a place to stay for a month while we finished out the school year.  I had other friends offer me a housesitting job while they went vacationing.  That got me through the month, and to the court hearing where I was awarded the house and full custody of my youngest daughter.  And in the background of all of this, K.T. Tunstall’s song, “Heal Over” was playing.  Playing. Playing.  Reminding me of what my mother always used to tell me, “This, too, shall pass.”  And…it did.

I ended up being awarded my house, my ex disappeared rather than creating a crazy scene, I did get all the marital debt but I have my home and don’t have to move four kids out to a rental and worry when I will get 30 days notice so they can put the house up on the market.  I’m safe.  My children are safe and all the fears I had at this time last year have dissipated into nothingness.  But that song, that particular song, takes me back.  It takes me back to a time of uncertainty and transition.  It takes me back to a painfully difficult time of learning to parent on my own, and of learning what it means to be a homeowner.  It takes me back to hot, sweaty days of having to repaint, repair, clean out, fumigate, and scrub, scrub, scrub every surface and cabinet to make my home clean and liveable for my kids and I. I takes me back to spending a month trying to figure out how to clean out a pool, finally having to drain it completely and start over.  It takes me back to days, when filled with fear and uncertainty myself, I had to be strong and hopeful and positive for my children.  It takes me back to days, where we pulled together, attempted things we didn’t possibly think we could handle in a million years, and we did more than just handle them and we did them well! 

That song takes me back.  Heal over?  You bet I’ll heal over.  Make no mistake about it.  

It was the best of times and the worst of times but, funny thing, all I have are good memories.