Don't divorce the kids

The toughest day of my life was the day I told my teenage children that I was divorcing their mother. Patty and I had been married for 16 years, and - for all of the normal but unacceptable reasons - we grew apart.

By Paul Homoly, DDS

"Knock, knock."
"Who's there?"
"Dawn."
"Dawn who?"
"Dawn lose your kids after a divorce."

The toughest day of my life was the day I told my teenage children that I was divorcing their mother. Patty and I had been married for 16 years, and - for all of the normal but unacceptable reasons - we grew apart. We went through marriage counseling and endless hours of negotiations. Eventually the attrition caused by trying to save the marriage became disabling, and my spirit began to die. So on an otherwise delightful spring day, I sat my two kids, Adam and Kristen, at the kitchen table, told them I was leaving, and broke their hearts.

My divorce was a shameful experience for me. I tried to hide it and duck questions about my family. Through the entire process of separation and divorce, my greatest fear and source of inner conflict was how my decision to leave the marriage could ravage the mental and emotional health of my kids.

To me, divorce was the mark of failure. I would sit in audiences and listen to speakers boast, "The Mrs. and I have been married for over 40 years," and the audiences would applaud and nod with approval. I'd think, "At the rate I'm going, I'd have to get married three times to be married for 40 years." I felt the shame of my divorce was burned on my face for everyone to judge.

A happy ending

All of this happened 15 years ago. Since then, many good things have happened. Patty has remarried and has two more kids. She and I have forgiven each other and have rediscovered our friendship. Adam and Kristen are in their thirties, happily married, and gainfully employed. And best of all, my kids and I have been close for more than a decade. Adam is a computer jockey, my golfing buddy, and a good-looking boy. Kristen lives in Long Island, N.Y., where she is working her way into the New York television scene. My kids and I are great together, and my worst fear about losing them did not come true. Here's some good advice that I received from a family counselor about preserving your friendship and parental role with your children during and after a divorce. It worked for me.

  • Do not battle with your spouse in front of the kids. They are fragile eggs; treat them so.
  • Do not use your children as messengers to your spouse. They hate being in the middle.
  • Do not confess your spouse's sins to your kids.
  • Tell your children every day that you love them. End every conversation, in person and over the telephone, with, "I love you."
  • Be really clear with your kids that the divorce is not because of them.
  • Do not spoil, bribe, or pander to your children in exchange for their approval or good behavior.
  • Keep your new boyfriend/girlfriend away from your kids.

What did I do right?

Recently, Adam, Kristen, and I vacationed in Myrtle Beach, S.C. - golfing, eating, and laughing. On the ride home, our conversation drifted to the dark days of the divorce 15 years ago. I asked them, "What did I do right during that time that has helped us stay as close as we are now?"

The conversation lasted days following our trip. Kristen summed it up, "The best thing you did was to set aside quality time for us. You were always committed to our time together even though we may have been cranky and wanted to spend time with our friends. You pulled us together for holidays, family reunions, birthdays. You were always on time for us. Looking back on those years, those are the things that have kept us a family."

So if your marriage is suffering, divorce is on the horizon, and you are worried about your kids, love them unconditionally and make time for them. When the smoke clears and tears have dried, they will remember that you put them first. It worked for me, and it can work for you.

Dr. Paul Homoly coaches dental teams to implement reconstructive dentistry through his continuing-education workshops, private consulting, and seminars. This column is an excerpt from his new book, Isn't It Wonderful When Patients Say Yes? - Case Acceptance for Complete Dentistry. Dr. Homoly can be reached at (704) 342-4900 or via email at paul@paulhomoly.com. Visit his Web site at www.paulhomoly.com.

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