“Smooth divorce”, “amicable divorce”, “friendly divorce” are the common descriptions to define a “healthy divorce”.
Much of the literature on divorce focuses on a “child friendly” divorce and they frequently mention the importance of “prioritizing your child’s needs”. On the other hand, “parent-friendly” divorce allows you to prioritize your parental needs for a healthier co-parenting process. Here are 3 steps to take in choosing a parent-friendly divorce over a child-friendly divorce, i.e. “happy parents happy child” over “happy child happy parents”.
- Place your needs first and create a co-parenting plan in which your parental needs are met
Placing your needs first doesn’t equate to you being a selfish parent. “My child always comes first” is not inaccurate, but this is not always healthy for you, and thus your child. Prioritizing your parental needs also doesn’t mean that your child’s needs are less important. If you have ever been on a plane, probably you heard the announcement “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting your child”. This statement doesn’t mean “help yourself BEFORE helping others”. It means, “help yourself IN ORDER TO help others”. If you are in a position that you are not satisfied with how you spend your time with your child and how your needs are met as a parent, then you won’t be able to be there for your child to meet their needs. Therapy will help you to plan what your expectations are from co-parenting, and what your needs are as a parent so that you can negotiate about your expectations with the other parent. Similarly, the other parent can share their needs with you where everyone feels that they are being heard and understood.
- Make the decision without blame
If you define and redefine your marriage as a failure or see your partner as someone who failed, you; your child will be more likely to internalize the break-up. Sometimes this can cause children to question their role in the separation or divorce. You absolutely don’t have to stay as a good friend with your ex-partner. But don’t forget, blaming is contagious – when you blame your partner, get ready to be blamed. Therefore, often blaming doesn’t benefit anyone. Brené Brown, who is also known as “the shame researcher”, describes blame as, “discharging discomfort and pain”. She also adds, “People who blame a lot seldom have the tenacity and grit needed to hold people accountable. Blamers spend all our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is”. The whole situation may look like is out of your control, because maybe “you didn’t ask for a divorce”. The good news is, you have control over your reactions and how to make your decisions. Your partner will no longer be your partner, but they don’t have to be your enemy.
- Improve your knowledge about the divorce process
The divorce process requires many decision-making steps. It is a common reaction to feel overwhelmed when we have many options but having many options can also be liberating. You and your partner have a choice in how to negotiate the terms of your settlement agreement and have a choice on which method you are going to use to get your divorce.
Bonus tip: “Language matters”
Yes, non-judgmental, non-blaming, guilt-free language is crucial to engage in the mutual decision-making process with your partner. Often, when we are angry at our partners, we say “your child”, but if the relationship is smoother, we say “our child” while talking about our children with our partners.
My advice to you is please continue using the same smooth language you were using when you were on good terms with your partner.
- “When do you want to see OUR son?” is designed for a parent-friendly divorce, rather than asking,
- “When do you want to see YOUR son?” which is designed for a child-friendly divorce.
Divorce is not the end of the relationship. Divorce is an end of the romantic relationship but is the beginning of a new relationship -a co-parenting relationship. You can further support your parent-friendly divorce by building your co-parenting skills with couples therapy. When you are on good terms with your child’s other parent, your child will be benefiting the most from this healthy closure.