On her lifestyle blog Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow regularly metes out suggestions for moms and busy families, ranging from the $90 “must-have” T-shirt to recipes for kid-friendly treats like green and white asparagus tempura to family getaways at ritzy B&Bs. Last week, Paltrow announced that she and husband Chris Martin were divorcing, and suggested yet another lofty lifestyle choice: to ‘consciously uncouple’ and co-parent.
So we wondered, is conscious co-parenting even doable? Can divorced parents raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted children … together? And if so, is it going to cost an arm, a leg, your soul?
Stacy Kaiser, a marriage and family psychotherapist and a divorced mother of two calls Paltrow and Martin’s intentions “admirable” but questions whether their goal is actually attainable. “Part of what I don’t like about the ‘Paltrow Manifesto’ is it basically lays out a framework for attempting to be perfect,” says Kaiser. “But the fact that they love each other and they’re going to love each other and be perfect and fabulous, is just impossible.”
What divorcing parents quickly realize is that just because you dissolve the legal aspects of the marriage doesn’t mean your relationship — or path — has come to an end. When you have kids, you’re on that path for the rest of your life.
You can’t really blame Paltrow for wanting to think she and her 'ex-to-be' will be able to maintain a friendship throughout and beyond the divorce. We all want to believe that our divorce will be different because everyone wants to be on the same page. We want each other to be happy, and we want our kids to be happy.
The problem is, your "ex" can be a jerk. At least that’s what’s going to cross your mind as you try to make arrangements for your kids, split costs, and divvy up birthdays and holidays for the rest of your lives.
Most divorced parents have difficulty communicating over both big and small things. And it turns out the person who once knew you best now knows how to push your buttons.
“When my son was little I was dropping him at his dad’s for a ski trip. My ex-husband got angry because I hadn’t used our son’s favorite Elmo suitcase to pack up his gear,” says Pauline Gaines, a divorced mom who blogs at The Perils of Divorced Pauline. “Of course, when our son saw how upset his dad was, he started crying.”
Gaines says she wrote a letter to her ex-husband after the fact to say he should have asked her about the suitcase in private. “He wrote me back telling me I was psychotic. I have since learned not to even try to reason with him, it just leads to more accusations.”
“I've had moments where I've said things I shouldn't,” says blogger Beth Avant, a divorced mom of two in Orange County, Calif. Avant now has a rule to wait to respond to non-emergency texts or calls, anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours. “I get in trouble when I respond right away, when emotions are super-charged. It’s actually like a game in self control. How long can I wait?”
One reason it’s not so easy to remain the best of friends after a divorce is that in order to co-parent, you have to be on the same page. “The truth is people get divorced for a reason,” says Katie Hurley, an adolescent and family psychotherapist in Los Angeles. “If parents aren’t willing to let go of that reason, they’re going to carry it with them — it will always be a hurdle.”
Whether the issue between you was communication, trust or even money, if it was a problem during the marriage, the problem’s not going to suddenly disappear because you’re divorced.
Kaiser suggests you try to put your child’s emotional well-being over whatever feeling you’re having toward your ex. “Don’t put (your children) in the middle and don’t bash each other — it’s really about trying to be your best self for the sake of your kids,”she says.
The challenge, Kaiser adds, is hiding your resentment and anger toward each other. And those feelings are there, even in the friendliest of cases.
“And what happens when Chris Martin finds a new wife? Or Gwyneth gets a new man?” asks Hurley. “That’s not going to be easy for either of them, or the children.”
“My ex and I have agreed to always, always, talk civilly about each other in front of the kids,” says Risa Kazdan, a divorced mother of two in Weston, Fla. She says she kept her mouth shut whenever her boys talked about their dad’s new girlfriend. “I had to listen to my baby say things like '(Blank’s) eggs are better than yours’ and I would have to say ‘Oh, that’s great!’ while the knife was turning in my heart.”
Kazdan eventually started seeing a spiritual adviser to help her make peace with it and one day she saw her ex-husband’s girlfriend in the supermarket. “I just walked up to her and asked ‘How do you make your eggs? My son loves them.’ It took a long time to get there, but I did it,” says Kazdan.
Gerry DeSantis, a divorced dad of two from Fairfield, N.J., says it's best to consider divorce as a constant work in progress. “My ex and I get along better now than we did before, but at times it still gets frustrating—who's taking the kids when, who's paying for what... Just remember the kids are always listening, whether you think so or not.”
The difficulties in co-parenting crop up when feelings of resentment and jealousy can’t be put aside, says Hurley. She suggests that couples get therapy on how to deal with co-parenting. And most importantly, “Don’t triangulate your kids by quizzing them about life with the other parent, or even sending messages through them so you don’t have to deal with your ex.”
She adds that for emotional stability, it’s best to communicate honestly and openly, and not to involve the kids in the nuts and bolts of the divorce.
Using this advice, perhaps conscious co-parenting isn’t such a pipe dream. And while there’s the emotional cost of swallowing your pride, attempting to make amends, and choosing to move on rather than holding a grudge, in the end it might actually be a bargain.
Sarah Maizes is a divorced mom of three, a writer, parenting humorist, comedian and the author of “Got Milf? The Modern Mom’s Guide to Feeling Fabulous, Looking Great and Rocking a Minivan”. For more parenting wisdom and unsolicited advice, check out http://www.SarahMaizes.com, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @SarahMaizes.