Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes announced a settlement just one week after filing for a divorce. It's not just surprising, it’s inspirational. Many people drag out settlement talks for months or even years. Divorce is about loss, hurt and, sometimes, betrayal. So, soon to be ex spouses have their reasons and power struggles over money, custody of children, possessions, or religion can go on forever. Somehow, Tom and Katie did it differently.
The research on these matters is clear. Ongoing conflict worsens the chances for your kids.
Maybe they had their child in mind.
A Good Example: In the Cruise/Holmes divorce, both parents apparently stepped up to the plate and avoided a damaging custody power struggle because their daughter, Suri, came first.
This is divorce as an uncoupling of a family — and not divorce as a war.
Innocence Should be a Right: In my book, Intelligent Divorce: Taking Care of Children (2010), I talk about the need to protect a child’s innocence during a divorce. This does not simply mean protecting the child from sexual or physical abuse. Protecting the child goes beyond that.
Children of divorce need to be shielded (when possible) from unnecessary conflicts that continue between their parents. Because Tom and Katie came to a conclusion fairly quickly and dealt with the divorce quietly, they’re bonded together in protecting Suri from public exploitation and from ongoing bitterness.
I am sure there is anger and hurt, and some less than kosher behavior behind the scenes in this breakup; it’s inevitable. But regression; the tendency to function at a lower level because of stress, does not have to rule the day. Parents can and should follow Tom and Katie’s example and rise out of their own anger and wish to do battle, and think about what is best for their children.
Power Struggles in a Divorce: The financial situation in this case doesn’t interest me. This family is not going to have significant financial difficulties, especially with the fact that Tom Cruise was the highest paid actor in Hollywood this year. But power struggles in divorce are rarely simply about money; they can also be about access and religion (and sometimes the house and even the dog!).
What news reports tell us is that Katie was not happy about Tom’s ties with Church of Scientology. In full disclosure, many psychiatrists are not crazy about Scientology either. But if it makes sense to Tom, then it is his business.
With her child’s upbringing at stake, Katie felt uncomfortable and didn’t want Suri exposed to Tom’s Scientology community.
It is to Tom’s credit that he went along. A major power struggle was avoided. The settlement shown in the news is that Katie will be living in New York with Suri and Tom will have visitation rights, but Suri is not to attend Scientology meetings. Neither Tom nor Katie may be happy about the entire affair. Divorce settlements are not satisfying. But, if Suri is protected from warring parents — then that is the most important aspect of this ordeal.
When You Are Dealing with a Difficult Ex: It is important to note that not all divorces can or should be settled quickly. If you are dealing with a malignant ex spouse or a narcissistic ex, you must hold the line now and again; otherwise, you and the kids are at risk of being exploited. You can learn more in my second book, The Intelligent Divorce: Taking Care of Yourself (2011). But this is another discussion for another time. Right now, we have an example of a couple who apparently found a way to work together.
The Intelligent Divorce: I applaud Tom and Katie for being civil and private during this tough time and managing to keep the details away from the press. This is instructional to other celebrities, as well as to other couples who are in the same boat. They successfully resolved their negotiation in a swift and clean manner that did not result in any of the typical, high-profiled divorce drama seen in the media.
Suri is the winner.
Yes, there will be bumps along the way; hurt feelings, less than stellar parenting, new love interests and the like. And, because of their celebrity status, there also will be the inevitable pressure to make comments to the press, and for disloyal friends to stir the pot. But with this start, there’s a fighting chance that Tom and Katie can stay the course.
Finally, about Scientology: Suri can do what she wants when she reaches the age of maturity. And that is the way it should be.