As a therapist and divorce consultant, I’ve worked with hundreds of children from divorcing families. Last year at this time I posted “New Year’s Resolutions for Divorced Parents,” a compilation and distillation of the most common and important pearls of wisdom I’d collected over the years from kids whose parents had split. That piece was “liked,” “shared,” and “retweeted” more times (by a factor of 10,000) than anything I’d previously written online.
So I listened even harder in 2014 — to kids, to parents, to other divorce professionals. I curated my collection, adding new pearls and polishing old ones. This year I offer The Divorced Parents’ Pledge. Let’s take it, and take it to heart. It’s what our children need and what they deserve.
When we tell you about the divorce, we won’t try to spin it as a great adventure. There’s nothing exciting about decorating your bedroom at “Mom’s new place” when you feel like your family is falling apart — no matter how big the budget or how hip the neighborhood. We’ll reassure you that we’re all going to be ok (because we are), but we won’t hide our tears while we do it.
If you repeat something bad that your other parent said about us, we won’t respond in kind. Nasty retorts like “I’m the reason your mother can’t afford school uniforms? Maybe she should spend her child support on you children, instead of trips to the salon!” only tighten the emotional vise.
We won’t expect better behavior from you than from ourselves. If we’re having a screaming match in the kitchen, it would be ludicrous to ground you for forgetting to unload the dishwasher.
You’re not a carrier pigeon, so we won’t ask you to convey messages between us. Or mail. Or alimony checks. Or anything else that doesn’t belong to you.
When you remind us of each other, we won’t react with reflexive disgust. Comments like, “Ew! You look just like your mother in those sunglasses!” or, “Please, that laugh… it’s like your father is in the room!” are painful attacks on you.
We know you hate it when we don’t give you a say over your own lives, and we know that the schedule we designed when you were four might not work when you’re 14. So we’ll listen with open minds and accommodate your wishes when we can.
If a time comes when you want to spend more time with one of us, we won’t assume it means you love the other less, or are running to the more permissive parent. Your needs for closeness and distance will shift between us as you grow up — that’s normal.
We won’t treat you like burdensome objects to be lugged around. When we growl things at each other like, “Hey, pick-up was at two! Now I’m late for Pilates!” it makes you feel like a junky couch we left on the curb for the Salvation Army.
We won’t scrub the house of evidence of each other like it’s suddenly a hazmat zone. We’ll duplicate photo albums so you’ll have them in both places, and if you want our wedding portrait in your room we’ll cheerfully supply it.
We won’t criticize each other in your presence. And we’ll remember that rolling our eyes counts and that you overhear about 95 percent of our phone conversations.
If you report something disturbing that happened on your other parent’s watch, we won’t have a conniption and run to the phone. We’ll listen calmly and (if you ask) help brainstorm ways to cope. If the issue is potentially serious, we’ll deal with it later — parent to parent. And we’ll never let on when we’re secretly psyched that it’s not all paradise “over there.”
You know it’s hard to be a single parent, and you already feel bad about it. So we won’t hit you over the head with it every time you groan about taking out the trash.
We won’t regale you with horror stories about our split. You can’t handle hearing about the cheating and the money shenanigans, and all that adult business.
We won’t put on puppy-dog eyes and act rejected when you’re missing your other parent.
If one of us didn’t want the divorce, we won’t make you feel guilty that your other parent loves you but not us.
It’s hard to play soccer when we’re on the sidelines shooting dirty looks at each other and angling to be more “in” with the other spectating parents. At a minimum, we’ll be respectfully civil — but we’ll aim for relaxed friendliness.
We won’t trash talk each other socially; whatever we say will get back to you in a nastier form.
If you don’t feel like talking on the phone, we won’t sulk or accuse each other of obstructing access. And we won’t push so hard for contact that staying in touch becomes more intrusive than comforting.
We’ll give you plenty of time to adjust to the divorce before introducing our girlfriend or boyfriend, and won’t ask you to pretend to like them (or their kids) if you don’t. And we won’t act as if a stepparent is the same as a parent. One isn’t better or worse, they’re just different.
We’ll find a way to spend one-on-one time with you once in a while.
We won’t complain about finances, enlist you in getting each other to cough up cash, or bemoan discrepancies in our standards of living.
We’ll make important decisions jointly, and won’t lobby for your allegiance when we disagree.
We won’t offer to do something cool with you on your other parent’s time without checking with them first. That rarely ends well.
When we buy you clothes or toys, we won’t make a federal case about you keeping them at our house. If you have to track stuff that carefully, or leave it behind when you go, it won’t feel like your stuff. If there’s something special, like dress shoes or electronics, we’ll let you know right away that we want them to stay put.
If you forget your science book or baseball glove once in a while, we’ll cut you some slack. It’s tough for kids to live in two places and constantly have to wonder, “What 10 things will I need next week?” To be honest, that much organizational forward thinking would be tough for us.
It’s ridiculous to expect you to turn down a new iPhone. So if one of us thinks the other is trying to “buy” you, we’ll take it up with them or, better yet, breathe and let it go.
We won’t pay singular attention to the one of you who acts most upset. Even if you’re quiet, you might be having a rough time too.
We won’t grill you about time with your other parent. We know the difference between asking if you had a nice weekend and asking if you ate “crap” for dinner again.
We won’t forget the profoundly unfair truth that this divorce — which you didn’t choose, don’t deserve and have no power to stop — has hit you hardest of all. You’re the ones who have to schlep back and forth between homes, and you have the right to express outrage — free from worry that we’ll become hurt, defensive or angry.
Your friends with married parents are sick of watching old family videos and hearing tales of the day they were born. Sometimes it must feel like you didn’t come from anywhere. So we’ll make sure to tell you fond and funny stories about how we met, fell in love, and had you. We’ll compliment the good traits we still see in each other, and we’ll tell you how, even if we had a magic wand, we wouldn’t undo anything. Because we can’t imagine a life in which we’re not your parents.