Making the Best of It
When it comes to the children, divorce does not come with a how-to manual. Ending a marriage with children means the spouses face the new and perplexing reality of divorced parenting. They are no longer spouses, no longer husband and wife, but still parents who must raise the children of the marriage.
For most parents, the children remain the visible reminders of all the hope and love that a man and woman brought to the marriage. That love and hope often intensify in the wake of the collapse of the marriage because guilt and remorse, sadness and sorrow infiltrate the lives of the separating couple.
When a childless marriage ends, the two spouses can make a clean break that parents cannot. Parents remain parents for life, a fact that some divorcing spouses learn only after the fact.
If parenting within the marriage is, as one writer put it, "the toughest job you'll ever love," divorced parenting makes for challenges, pitfalls and traps that can test the most diligent and loving of parents. In most cases, divorce thrusts the mother into the role of custodial parent who has physical possession of the children, and it places the father, who is the noncustodial parent, into the position of the parent who visits his child. This routine realigns the dynamics of family life since both parents are not together to mutually reinforce each other. In an intact family, two parents present make for a whole that is greater than the sum of two parents apart.
Ending a marriage is a process that happens over a period of time when one or both spouses becomes convinced that the status quo is intolerable or at least not working. Parents and children move (or are moved) through what has been termed "the phases of divorce": the emotional divorce, which one spouse separates from the other emotionally; the legal divorce, when the couple part and begin new separate lives; the economic divorce, which divides the marital estate; the co-parenting divorce, where the spouses come to terms with the demands of divorced parenting; the community divorce, where the social dislocations of divorce strip the couple of many of their married friends; and the psychic divorce, where the former married adjust to being single people.
"Some of these phases may take several years to complete, and some people never finish certain phases. The children have to process through each stage right along with their parents." In other words, some of these phases happen simultaneously, and some spouses never pass through them at all. For example, some spouses struggle with the psychic divorce, which can make the co-parenting divorce particularly difficult.
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