Preserving the Family Nest for Children of Divorce
Janet Miller Wiseman LICSW, CDFM
Early in my career, I read an article in the New York Times Magazine describing a divorced family, a mother and father in their 70s, both of whom had remarried, and were vacationing with their adult children and their six grandchildren on the French Riveria. It could have been the Jersey shore or almost anywhere else. Their subsequent partners were flying into another nearby country to begin the second part of their summer vacations.
The story resonated. All marriages cannot and should not be preserved. The three big A;s: raging stubbornly untreated Alcoholism, physical or mental Abuse, hidden Adultery over many years; plus dastardly illness, both physical and mental, long-distance moves, people falling back in love with their childhood sweethearts, or “soul mates”, or an intransigent lack of connection, make beginning or maintaining some marriages untenable.
The children of the above parents do not need their parents married. They need their parents to come together around them and their activities, become more attentive parents than they were when married and to the extent possible to observe rituals and celebrations together.
In my many years of practice as a divorce and family mediator, I have seen soon-to-be-ex-spouses tuck their children into bed every night in one of their homes. I have witnessed a father go way across town to pick up his three children from the school bus, do their homework with each of them and prepare dinner one night a week at their mother’s home. He had them with him on Saturdays, their mother on Sundays. These are only two of many, many examples of parents who do not give up daily, or almost daily, access to their children, something which the majority of parents fear. These parents don’t believe that divorce gives them a “get out free” ticket to spend only half of their time parenting their children. They don’t believe that divorce ends family.
If a mature second spouse, partner, or “side-kick” can tolerate his or her partner spending time together with his or her children and ex-spouse, those children will have a sense of being an integral part of their whole families. The parents are divorcing each other, not their children, or their family unit.
The process of “adversarial divorce” where attorneys are retained by each party to obtain the maximum in assets and time with their children, has made couples actually afraid of the divorce process. Not so in divorce mediation. Often couples, without knowledge of the mediation option, are sucked into the vortex of becoming enemies in the process of distributing their assets and making decisions about their children. Only one of the parents is seen as a potential “winner” in the zero-sum game of litigation. The bitter taste of the divorce process remains for years and does not portend that couples reach an understanding to continue their commitments to their children and grandchildren.
Changing the ritual by which couples divorce, changes what kinds of restructured families are possible after divorce.
Every day in my office couples make reasonable, sane, creative decisions about their divorces and the restructuring of their families. They are helped to generate creative options for dividing time with their children and their worldly goods without hostility, often enjoying more humor than they have in years.
Divorce mediation and collaborative process negotiation are the two processes that we divorce professionals in the dispute resolution field recommend for those who separate and divorce. Most couples can use these processes, which, in contrast to litigation, in the courts, help families maintain the important focus on the children of their union. Divorce mediation is almost always more cost and time effective and brings all of the couples’ professional helpers under the same roof at the same time.
Hostility between divorcing couples always hurts children. Especially continuing hostility. Divorce and hostility are not synonymous. Couples need to know this option for “preserving the family nest”.
Janet Miller Wiseman, is a Licensed Independent Clinical Psychiatric Social Worker and Certified Divorce and Family Mediator by the Mass Council on Family Mediation, which she co-founded in 1982. To learn more about Janet visit www.mediationboston.org or call 781-861-9847.