A common reason for not wanting to end a marriage is not to break up the family but that’s flawed logic. It’s wrong to think you’re not a family after divorce.
Ask people who are post-divorce and they’ll tell you that they are still a family, they’re just a little different now.
This tells us two things: being in a family is important to many people and the concept of what being in a family means is fluid. Not only does it change over time, it also means different things to different people.
So how do people accept their family is changing? What does family after divorce mean? And, what can you do to make sure you still have a family after divorce?
Joining me for this Conversation is relationship counselor and coach, Wendy Smith Baruc who has been working with couples and families for over thirty years. She’s the author of Accepting Your Blended Family: A Handbook For Life After Divorce.
Listen in below or keep reading …
From Nuclear To Blended Family
The idea of breaking up the family is a major obstacle for many people considering ending their marriage. Front and foremost is the idea of hurting the children and dragging the children between two homes.
That is a legitimate concern but in reality Baruc says very little has to change in the sense of being a family.
“It just goes from being sort of a nuclear family to being a blended family, which has different levels and different boundaries,” said Baruc. “It can be just a beautiful, growing, loving environment for everyone.”
Even the idea of a nuclear family to begin with is a myth. Think about it. Nuclear family is used to refer to mom, dad and the kids but when two people come together they are blending. Each of them brings with them their families, their backgrounds, their beliefs, their dreams. And that’s accepted but when that couple separates and rearranges their life, society is still much less accepting. And that needs to change.
Family Is More Than A Name
People also associate their last name with being a family. It’s a visible sign to other people that you are connected. It’s a reason why women often chose not to change their last name on divorce: they want to have the same last name as their kids.
Baruc says this thinking is also outdated.
“It’s a way of thinking that we can create something that belongs by a name,” said Baruc. “It’s this idea that your children are not your children if you don’t have the same name. It doesn’t really have anything to do with what is really happening in the family.”
How To Change Your Vision Of Family
Baruc has found that the younger generations are more understanding that marriage and children are not defined by a name or walking down the aisle. For them, it’s more about connection, commitment, showing up, being able to negotiate and compromise, and working together with each other and each other’s families.
Taking a cue from that, it takes a conscious shift for divorcing couples to start to see their family differently.
“It is about the understanding that regardless of where our road leads us, whatever comes into our marriage and to our life, we are going to remain mindful and loving,” said Baruc. “We’re not going to try to destroy each other or ban each other even though we may be very upset, devastated.”
What we need to remember is that it is not the divorce that harms children but rather the exposure to on-going unresolved conflict. Committing to working together on a different vision for your family is one way to protect your children.
Divorce is often seen as a failure. Baruc encourages people to let that notion go. It’s not a failure, it’s life and that perspective may help you to redefine your family.
Help Your Children To Adapt
Baruc has some suggestions for helping your children to adapt to the changing shape of their family.
First and foremost is to keep the children out of the divorce. They do not need to know the details of who did what and what your STBX is saying. What they need to be reminded of is that they are okay and that they are still a family. The more you can keep the same about their lives, the better it is.
Closely related to the first, another recommendation is not to use the children as pawns or bargaining chips. This also includes putting the children in any position where they are expected to choose between their parents either explicitly or implicitly.
And, of course, we want our children to have their childhood. Doing both of Baruc’s other suggestions will accomplish this but setting this as an expressed intention will also help guide you in your decision-making.
Finally, by demonstrating with your actions that you and your STBX can still co-operate and parent together you’ll demonstrate to your kids that you both will still be there for them. It’s this that tells your kids that while your marriage is ending, everything else is not going to fall apart.
Stay Connected With Your Extended Family
Plenty of people think that when you divorce you divorce your in-laws but this absolutely does not have be the way you handle your divorce. Your in-laws are people with whom you have a relationship and connection. You’ve probably come to see them as part of your family. The same is true for your STBX and your family. Those relationships don’t just go away.
Not only may it be important for you to stay connected, it’s even more critical that you facilitate your children staying connected.
It may be up to you to take the lead on this, to reach out to your in-laws to show them that you still want them in your life and that you do still count them as family after divorce. Baruc suggests that one way you can do this, is to keep to the family traditions you’ve developed.
“If you do Sunday dinners or if you all gather for a holiday, make that happen. Do the step of actually showing up,” said Baruc. “It doesn’t have to be a negotiation. You don’t have to have a big conversation. You can just move forward with the event.”
And if your in-laws invite you to an event, then make it a priority to accept the invitation. You’ll be telling them so much more than just simply that one event. You’re helping to lay the foundation for your newly re-shaping family.
“I think that one of the things people going through divorce hope is that by separating and by pushing away the family that they’ll somehow feel justified, vindicated or better but that’s separate,” said Baruc. “Being a family is not about a marriage certificate and you are already in it.”
Introducing New Partners
Introducing new partners into the mix is a whole topic on it’s own but Baruc’s most important guideline is to wait. Take your time, give your family time to adjust and introduce a new partner when it’s appropriate and you’re children are ready.
“Make it a rite of passage,” said Baruc. “If you can’t do that, you’re not dating the right person. It’s definitely a skill.”
My guest for this Conversation is relationship counselor and coach, Wendy Smith Baruc who has been working with couples and families for over thirty years. She’s the author of Accepting Your Blended Family: A Handbook For Life After Divorce. Wendy is offering a complimentary 30-minute consult which you can arrange by contacting Wendy through her website.