Most couples have rather specific roles in their marriage. After all, a marriage/family is like a team and everyone needs to do their part for the household to run smoothly. It’s not uncommon for Dad to fill a more traditional role as breadwinner, snow remover, and yard maintainer, and for Mom (even if she works outside the home as the secondary or even primary breadwinner) to fill the traditional role as cook, grocery shopper, and child nurturer. Sometimes roles overlap and sometimes a complete role reversal occurs. When a couple divorces, however, the roles the pair had as Husband/Dad and Wife/Mom often become magnified, and each spouse feels like the other is tromping on his or her territory. Not only that, but often neither partner feels appreciated for the work they did do in the family. Unfortunately, not feeling appreciated often manifests itself as a position in the divorce. For example: Mom feels unappreciated for all the nights she stayed up with sick kids and feels like she should have sole physical custody; Dad feels unappreciated for all the nights he put in working long hours and feels he should get all the retirement. The point is, both parents worked hard in different ways to make the family run as smoothly as possible. With an impending divorce, each spouse will have to give up some of the control of their original role, and take on additional tasks in a new role. It’s not so bad, though. Shoveling snow burns calories, and who doesn’t want that? As for cleaning baby bottles – who knew swirling bubbles around can be a great stress reliever?
Here are five suggestions for how divorcing parents can provide support to their children in the new year: 1. Keep expectations realistic. Children go through a grieving process just as their parents do when the marriage ends. Their energy and focus may be impacted, and this can affect their performance in school, sports or the arts. If this happens, be gentle with your child, who will be even more unhappy if s/he feels like a failure in a parent’s eyes. 2. Remind your child regularly that s/he is cherished. Children do best when they experience unconditional love and support from parents. This includes being curious and interested in your child’s ideas, stories and day-to-day experiences. 3. Find time to do something enjoyable with your child. If you are fortunate enough to have the time and energy to go on a date with your child to do something mutually enjoyable this can be a great bonding experience. However, kids my love the opportunity to play a board or video game with a parent, or make popcorn or brownies together before watching a movie at home. 4. Maintain routines. Most children, just like most adults, depend on routines to keep a sense of stability in their lives. Keep routines for mealtimes, bedtimes, homework time, doing chores, etc. as predictable as possible. 5. Be authentic. Children rely on parents to be trustworthy. There may be days when it is difficult to not be sad, or when patience is in short supply because of the stress of the divorce. It’s okay to be real with your children about your feelings as long as you keep them out of the middle of any conflict with your co-parent, and as long as you are very careful to not imply that a child is responsible for making a parent feel better. “I’m pretty sad today, so I don’t have a lot of energy. But I know feelings don’t last forever, and I’ll feel better soon.”
Having friends scattered throughout the country has shown me just how drastic divorce proceedings and turnarounds can be. My friend in Baltimore, Maryland, who was married for 5 years with no kids, had no battles over property division, and her divorce still took just over 2.5 years to complete, including a mandatory year of separation before filing (this law has since changed recently for those without children). A friend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, her divorce with one child and a business involved, took just 6 months to the date. And my good friends (haha), Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton’s Oklahoma divorce after four years of marriage complete with pre-nup and no kids, took just days from when they filed. Here in Minnesota the length of time to complete a divorce depends upon several things, including custody, parenting time, child support, and division of debts and property. It can take anywhere from about 6 weeks to a year and a half or more, depending upon whether the parties are cooperating, and depending upon the issues involved. The length of a divorce also largely depends on how the case is resolved. For example, divorcing collaboratively, where both party’s attorneys agree to settle without going to trial and the underlying threat of litigation, can significantly reduce the time it take to complete the divorce for several reasons, the biggest factor being avoiding months awaiting a divorce trial. Divorce is the time to practice patience, and to always prepare yourself for the divorce process to take longer than anticipated. Even in our instant gratification society where you can have Amazon deliver within the hour, your divorce could take months to years. No matter how long your divorce proceedings may take it is important to remember that divorce never really ends with a “victory” by either party. Both parties typically leave the marriage with substantially less material wealth than they started with prior to the divorce. Occasionally, you may hear about a spouse receiving a very large settlement or substantial alimony compensation. But more commonly, both spouses must compromise in order to reach an agreement. If there are any real “winners” in the process, it’s those who maintain positive relationships with an ex-spouse so that they are able to successfully co-parent their children.
With the new year comes new beginnings, and while your divorce may have you feeling like everything is spinning out of your control, let’s start 2016 with you IN control. Take some time to journal about what you want 2016 to look like for YOU. Even those ideas that may not seem realistic right now, write those down too. Goal setting is often a combination of what is realistic and attainable, and what will take you out of your comfort zone and at times may even seem nearly impossible. Look at various aspects of your life and reflect on what you want each chapter to look like – dating, co-parenting, your career, mind & body, hobbies (both new and old), faith, travel, finances, etc. If you are more of a visual person and less of a journal writer, jot down key words and make a Pinterest board for each of these categories. Add photos, articles, and inspiring words to each board to help you to stay on track and motivated throughout the year. Write YOUR story. Paint YOUR picture. This is YOUR life to live how YOU choose, let 2016 be the year you take control. Don’t let your divorce or other aspects of your past define you, let YOU define YOU. The new year brings a time of reflection. Often times people look back on the year and choose to either focus at how blessed they were, or will happily say “good riddance” to the year they are putting behind them. If you are feeling the later in regards to 2015, rather than sulking, let’s embrace the new year with positivity, and vow to make it positively fabulous! A fitting quote by Chris Butler, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I’ll always get up when I fall, and whether I walk, run, or crawl, I’ll set my goals and achieve them all.” Here’s to YOU in 2016!
As 2016 begins, many of us come up with resolutions for the coming year. Some people hope to exercise more, spend more time as a family or plan a vacation. For families who have divorced, the new year often symbolizes a new beginning. It is a time to establish a new norm. As a collaborative attorney, I often help guide families through divorce in respectful and supportive ways. I often hear from clients that they have goals and resolutions for a new year. Here are three common resolutions for families of divorce and ways all families can incorporate these values in their lives:
- Establish financial independence and security. Entering a new year is a time when finances are now truly separate – with no tax connections. Be mindful of what you spend. Track your expenses and see how they match up against your projected budgets and income. Get a financial planner or, on your own, map out your financial goals for the year, including personal savings, retirement, and investment management.
- Embrace co-parenting. Children thrive with routine and care. They love to be listened to and enjoy one-on-one time with both parents. They also sense stress and tension. As you establish routines and the children spend time with both parents, remember to treat the other parent with compassion as well. Avoid fighting in front of the children and support the time that they spend in both homes. Also learn to enjoy your off-duty time. When you don’t have parenting duties can be a great time to focus on yourself and prepare for your next parenting day.
- Take care of yourself. As parents, workers, and functioning members in society, we often spend our tie focused on others. We take care of the children and our work obligations, but we often forget our own self-care. Use the new year to establish work-out routines or start exploring a new hobby. It is never too late to start improving yourself and the new year is a perfect time to make that effort.