At DivorceForce, we are committed to inspiring and empowering people affected by divorce. Wendy Paris shares this same passion. She has a new book releasing ___ titled, Splitopia (add link), which promotes "parting well" with insights, examples, and humor. DivorceForce was lucky to connect with Wendy and get to ask her some questions …
I have interviewed a number of people that are divorced, divorce professionals, and journalist. You bring the trifecta all into play. Can you brief the DivorceForce Community about your background as it pertains to divorce personally and professionally?
I've worked for more than 20 years as a journalist, writing about relationships and psychology and well-being. I was an editor at Psychology Today magazine, and co-authored a book on weddings and one on dating. I've spent decades interviewing experts about relationships.
I got interested in divorce after my husband and I announced our plans to separate in 2012. Our friends, who I assumed would agreed it was a good idea, were surprisingly negative about it. They knew we'd been unhappy for years, but they forecasted a tsunami of destruction: I'd go broke; our son would be devastated; we'd wind up hating each other. My husband and I had a shared vision of a decent parting, but our community, in New York City, didn't see it.
My own parents had divorced amicably when I was five. I set out to investigate divorce, to separate the truth from the myths, the contemporary reality from the divorce of old, and to find out how people did it well.
You are divorced and live close to your ex. Was this a "co-parenting" decision? Do you ever feel your ex is too close for comfort?
Our son was four when we split, and I was totally committed to the idea of him remaining connected to both us in an easy, natural way, and maintaining a sense of a secure, stable home. I didn't want him to be switching houses every couple days or every week; I know many people do this successfully or are even mandated to do this, but we didn't want to take that route.
I stayed in our big townhouse, and my husband rented a studio apartment a few blocks away. We were in Hoboken, outside New York City, and real estate was incredibly expensive. He got a studio apartment because that's what we could afford. Because it was so small, it actually helped facilitate the arrangement of our son basically staying put in his bedroom, and his dad coming over to walk him to school, picking him up three nights a week, and putting him to bed most nights in his own room. I also got a roommate to help defray the cost of two homes. Which was, you know, kind of fun and kind of embarrassing, at my age, to have borders. But it worked and let us split up rather than having to continue living together and fighting.
Now our son is eight and we've all moved to Los Angeles. It was really important to my ex that we live within walking distance of each other, and of school. He's good at logistics generally, and has been really considerate about my desire for our son not to be constantly switching homes, so it was important to me to be respectful of his preference when we moved. Our son now stays at his dad's two nights a week, but still sees him every day. We often walk him to school together.
It is really important that people not get hung up on having the "equal" number of nights with their children. It isn't "equality" of minutes together that matters, but the chance to maintain a really close relationship with your kids, and not fight about it. What we wanted was an arrangement that supports our child's security and stability, enabled us all to have a reliable routine, and lets us function as adults.
I am now spending less time with my ex than in the beginning of our separation. We're dividing up mornings more. He has a girlfriend, and has since pretty much the time we split. I'm still single. I wasn't eager to get into a new relationship right away, but now I do think more distance from my ex would help me move on to the next stage of life, which I hope is falling in love with someone new.
In your book "Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well" you seem to indicate divorce can turn into a happy road forward. How long does that take? What are some of the things people need to consider?
We got along right away, though I was very freaked out by the instant girlfriend. But still, I was much nicer to him the minute he moved out, and much less oppressed by our relationship. He's a lot nicer to me, too. It may be more common for people to regain a friendship of sorts after some time has passed. This is a really important thing to remember: many people I interviewed were incredibly angry at first, but after a few years, moved past that and formed a really decent relationship with their ex. It's particularly important if you have kids.
Here are some things that help: Choose a cooperative form of divorce, if at all possible, such as mediation or collaborative law. We did ours ourselves, after some time had passed, and we were both less scared and more able to talk about details without getting in a fight.
Remember that the thing that sucks kids under is intense conflict between parents, not the divorce itself. If it seems impossible to get over being angry, consider getting some help managing your emotions. It's hugely important for your kids, and your own peace of mind.
What are some of things you see changing culturally and legally related to divorce that demonstrates we are making progress as a society? What additional required changes are needed?
There have just been so many changes legally, and culturally. No-fault divorce was the first. Now we have mediation and collaborative law, which evolved out of it. Lawyers offering unbundled services. Almost every single state has parenting classes for divorcing or separating parents now, and people really like them and find them useful. You can often take that class online. Services like yours provide ways to help couples manage co-parenting and child support, etc.
Also, as a culture, we see divorce not as a punishment for a crime or a moral sin, but more like a family reorganization. The family needs to be reorganized. While some religious people still really struggle with divorce, if they wind up going through with one, society - at large has many ways to support people in setting up a happy, healthy home life on the other side of marriage. The fact that 40-percent of kids are born to unmarried parents today has also shifted the conversation away from the "ills" of divorce and on to shared parenting, and how to do it well.
Laws need to improve for really poor parents; some who can't afford their child support amount wind up going to jail due to being unable to pay. And legal training needs to change to help family lawyers do a better job of not increasing fighting between divorcing spouses.
If there is some reading this and feeling down and depressed about their divorce, what do you suggest they do as a start to the road to happiness?
I honestly think my book would be very helpful! And as I explain in it, self-compassion is one of the most important traits to develop for positive divorce recuperation. Self-compassion is a three-part idea involving 1) viewing yourself with understanding and forgiveness, rather than critique. 2) Seeing your own suffering as part of the universal human struggle. We all suffer. This is not a unique failing of yours. 3) Being mindful—being able to sit with your sadness but not let it overwhelm you. Don't hide from it, or run from it (or try to drink it away), but also, put it aside and go do something fun. Really connect with the positive moments in your life. Let them fully exist as part of your life. Your divorce is NOT the only thing about you.
The really awful feeling will pass. I feel so much better now, four years later, than I did when I split. It's kind of amazing. If you're feeling terrible, one good place to start is by treating yourself as kindly as you would a friend going through a tough time.
Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well. (add link) SPLITOPIA challenges the negative assumptions and biased reporting about divorce. It shows how to get through this tough transition, protect everyone involved, and find yourself stable and happy on the other side. Wendy lives in Los Angeles with her son, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship. Wendy has organized many workshops and other events around Splitopia. You learn more at wendyparis.com .