Advice: Starting Over after Divorce, and More

Divorce is always painful; often, children's needsare sacrificed to parental fury.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on August 1, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016


What is a great book to read of starting over after divorce? Anything dealing with guilt and how to put that aside and move on? I have a little child and worry constantly about the impact on her years growing up.

The negative effects of divorce on children are often temporary and stem from the fact that parents often are distracted by their own problems. In other words, divorcing parents tend to divert their attention from their children around the time of divorce. Negative effects are not inevitable. You can focus on the positive AND prevent problems by continuing to supervise and monitor your child the way all good parents do. Make sure she has friends and opportunities to be with them in safe ways, that she does her schoolwork, and that you and she have time to talk to each other. It's not wise for you to confide your worries about yourself or your daughter to her. By setting aside time to be with her on a regular basis you calm her anxieties. If you ask her how things are going for her, and demonstrate your willingness to listen, you can pick up early signs of distress before they turn into ingrained problems.

Waiting for Magic?

For eight months I've been seeing a man who is separated and in the process of divorce. Now that he's getting closer to being divorced, he spends more time at his old house getting items from the garage and old documents. Suddenly he's claiming that the wife he's divorcing is his best friend, which has hurt me indescribably. Every time we see each other we fight and we both end up hurt and sad. Neither of us wants to separate permanently but we aren't sure how to keep the waves down to a minimum until everything is final. Confusion is permeating my soul.

Why do you think you are the only one who's confused? Your boyfriend is likely feeling the strangeness of starting a new life. He may be wondering whether he's doing the right thing, he may wonder what happened to the love he once had for his wife and where and how that all disappeared. He may wonder whether it's going to happen all over again in his new relationship. Only a fool would approach divorce without doubts or concerns or regrets. There is much sadness in divorce--the failure of a relationship and realizing one had a role in that failure. And why do you think that a piece of paper declaring everything "final" is going to magically clear up everyone's feelings? Better to sit down with your boyfriend and tell him you understand what a difficult and bittersweet time it must be to finally end a relationship that started out with such promise. I guarantee you two will feel much closer discussing your concerns and fears than waiting for magic.

Broken Hearts

I have been in an agonizing and unhealthy relationship for eight years during which there have been countless separations and many broken hearts. Unfortunately for our three children he refuses to grow up. A couple of years ago I finally had the courage to leave and start a new life without the drinking and fighting--until he found me and swore on every saint that he was a changed man. I was overcome by guilt, watching my children cry night after night for their dad, asking when he would be back. The thought that I had caused my children's heart to break was just too much to handle. Things don't seem to be getting any better. Just the other day I picked up my children from their dad's, to find him drinking and a couple of strangers getting ready to smoke something. That he would go to such extremes in front of my children is more than enough reason to not let this man into our lives ever again, but where does that leave my children? Would I be doing the right thing by cutting all ties once and for all? And if so will my children hate me for trying to protect them from their own father's irresponsibility?

The short answers: Without the father they need; no; yes.

Choosing to end your partnership (marriage?) may well be a healthy step. But while marriages may end, parenthood is forever. Though you may choose divorce for yourself, you have no right to deny your children access to their father and their father access to his children, however imperfect you judge their ties to be. Ultimately, no matter how good a mother you are, you will earn only your children's enmity for depriving them of access to a father, even an irresponsible one.

Children yearn for and need two parents. Under the circumstances, you face a challenge--to ensure that the exposure your kids get to their father does not jeopardize their safety or well-being. As a loving parent, it's your job (you may have to work overtime on this, and don't expect thanks, at least not now; someone's got to be the grown-up here) to make sure that your children see their father in as positive a light as possible. You can also answer their questions and concerns about him in as generally accurate and age-appropriate way as possible. As they grow up, they will come to understand their father's imperfections, without you having to drum them into their heads. You have legitimate concerns for your children's safety. You can and should consult a lawyer to work out terms of a separation that meets your children's need for continuing support and care, visitation, and the type of supervision of those visitations that may be prudent.