Dear Giada De Laurentiis and Todd Thompson, Chris Rock and Malaak Compton-Rock, Sonni Pacheco and Jeremy Renner, and Slash and Perla:
The holidays are over and it seems as if 2015 will be a challenging year for you. All of you are headed for a divorce, which is hard enough, but you also have young children. That makes everything harder as the last thing anyone wants to do as a parent is hurt the kids. And as research has shown that it’s conflict, not divorce per se, that hurts the kids.
The problem with many divorces is that they quickly become acrimonious. Unlike the conscious uncoupling of Gwen and Chris, too many couples see a split as payback time for whatever disappointments, dashed dreams and resentments built up over the years.
And while many couples imagine that divorce will end things between them, that isn’t necessarily true — if they have kids. Former parents used to be able to move away and start new relationships unencumbered by their past marriages. But divorce is no longer the end of a relationship; it’s a “restructuring of a continuing relationship,” according to University of Sydney law professor Patrick Parkinson. “The experience of the last forty years has shown that whereas marriage may be freely dissoluble, parenthood is not.”
Which has made some of us as miserable divorced as we were in our marriage.
So, we’re here to say that all of you can do better. In fact, you don’t have to divorce at all; you can transform your marriage into a parenting marriage, a model we present in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. Why do that? Why stay together when you no longer want to be romantically involved with your spouse? Because it’s the best way to give your kids what they need to thrive — stability, access to both parents, and a relatively conflict-free home.
Here’s how it works: You accept that you are not romantic partners anymore, just co-parents. You are free to create the terms of your new marriage — who sleeps where, which financial responsibilities are shared and which aren’t, setting boundaries for other romantic interests — based on each person’s needs and the age of their children. And then you have an age-appropriate honest discussion with your kids about how you are restructuring your marriage. This is similar to the conversation you’d have to have anyway if you went through with a divorce, but the kids would know that their life wasn’t going to be hugely upset — they wouldn’t have to move, they could still see both parents whenever they wanted, etc.
We can hear some of you grumble — but what about love? How will the kids learn what a loving marriage looks like? It’s a great question. When you think about it, what is more loving than two parents who show respect and kindness to each other, and aren’t fighting all the time, while expressing love to the people who matter most — their kids? Kids don’t need their parents to love each other — they need their parents to love them.
And as some have noted, compared with conventional parenting, where parents have to constantly be in love in front of their children, co-parenting doesn’t include the strain of marriage. And clearly Giada, Todd, Chris Rock, Malaak, Sonni, Jeremy, Slash and Perla, your marriages have been strained.
We know it sounds weird. But we’ve all seen how bitter, fighting former spouses can mess up their kids; Lindsay Lohan is just one small example. You probably know many more. Is that the legacy you wish to pass on to your children? You can do better. There are unhappily married couples that are willing to re-create their partnership to give their children what they need.
What about you?