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After the Divorce: Part 2

A New Kind of Parent

Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee

Divorce creates two separate single parents with two homes, two sets of furniture, two refrigerators, and separate insurance policies. Each of you wakes up every morning to discover that when your children are under your roof you have responsibility for their well-being, discipline, and entertainment. As single parents you can surely cooperate, but you are no longer joined at the hip as mother and father over each twenty-four-hour day. Even in bad marriages parents often protect each other against the anxiety and fatigue of parenting. If a child is sick, parents who no longer share a bed still take turns getting up during the night.

But with your divorce, true shared parenting evaporates. You have no one to call on for help. Whatever happens during the days or nights that your children are with you, it's always your turn. Of course you can work out a cooperative arrangement with your ex-partner and I surely hope that you will. You can divide custody. You can decide to split errands and soccer games. You can share the children's favorite recipes. But co-parenting after divorce is not the same as co-parenting within marriage. If the nursery school calls to say that your previously well-behaved son is biting the other children and breaking toys, you can't set the clock back. You certainly can't say, "I want to talk this problem over with my husband." There's only you talking with the teacher, trying to keep your child in the school he's disrupting. If you let your seventeen-year-old borrow your car and he's several hours late, you walk the floor alone. You can call your ex or the police, and probably you should, but they will not pace the kitchen floor with you. You can turn to your family for help or hire a nanny, but no one will supplant a full-time partner. A successful divorce requires you to be stronger than you've ever been, as if you are one person doing the work of two with the tenacity of ten.

Divorce forces you to become a new person. It really doesn't matter who made the decision or whose "fault" it was. The transformation is similar to what happened to you when you first had a baby. From day one you embarked on a new adult role for which you had no dress rehearsal. The birth certificate didn't make you a mother or father. You remade yourself into a parent. Remember when you suddenly found yourself getting up in the middle of the night to carry out new and unfamiliar duties? You learned to be responsible in ways you never imagined. Your hearing got sharper. You could detect your baby's breathing a room away and you could hear her faintest cry. You carried a constant awareness of your child's needs whether you were one mile or three thousand miles from home. So, too, divorce requires you to rally yourself to carry out new responsibilities that are every bit as difficult and demanding as those you learned after your first child was born.

Think about who you were before you got married and… see the final excerpt

Copyright © 2003 Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee


Excerpted from: What about the Kids? Raising Your Children Before, During, and After Divorce By Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee (Published by Hyperion; ISBN: 0786868651; US$23.95; hardcover)

Judith S. Wallerstein is the founder and executive director of the Center for the Family in Transition. She is senior lecturer emerita at the School of Social Welfare at the University of California at Berkeley, where she has taught for twenty-six years. She has spoken with more divorced families than anyone in the nation, and lectured to thousands of family court judges, attorneys, mental health professionals, mediators, and educators. She has appeared on Oprah, the Today show, and Good Morning America, among others. She is the author, with Sandra Blakeslee, of the national bestsellers The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts and Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce; with Blakeslee and Julia M. Lewis of the bestseller The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study, and, with Dr. Joan Berlin Kelly, of Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce.

Sandra Blakeslee is an award-winning science writer who contributes regularly to the New York Times. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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