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Learning from Divorce: Making it Work for Kids

Despite the common nature of divorce in America, there is still a stubbornly held view among a fringe few that retention of the nuclear family at all costs is preferable to divorce in every instance. In other words, an enduring marriage - even if wrought by conflict and unhappiness - represents a better social outcome than a dissolution that produces more hope and possibility for all family members.

That is what one writer, Jane Smiley, has heard expressed on multiple occasions, noting a response of "outrage" from some readers when she once defended divorce in a New York Times article. The protestors howl, she says, proclaiming that, "No type of family is better an intact nuclear family, ever."

Scores of millions of people know that such a view is simply an untruth, and Smiley draws on her own divorce experience to share how the knowledge gained from an earlier unhappy marriage and a divorce can be put to use to make it better for family members the second time around. She offers the following advice.

Drop the parental united front on everything - e.g., mom and dad always agree, mom and dad are always in harmony, etc. She says that kids know this is never always the case, and "the dissonance between the presentation ... and what the child sees for him or herself can undermine the child's sense of reality." Let the child see, hear and experience the differences in attitudes and mindsets. It engenders a healthier perspective.

Understand that newly combined families can be just about the best thing to ever happen to previously unhappy nuclear families. It takes time, adjustments and compromise, but the relationships foster love anew and a lifetime of new possibilities.

Learn to love. Divorce often happens because there was no love or displays of affection and respect in a marriage for kids to see or emulate. Why not take this learning and improve things the second time around?

Reevaluate the home. It doesn't have to be the nuclear family version of what Smiley calls "a domestic haven in a scary world." In fact, it can be two or more homes - grandma's home, mom's home, dad's home - and highly differentiated in each case. As Smiley says, "Children who have to negotiate two homes can learn to operate with flexibility and imagination."

Smiley's bottom line prescription is to keep learning, to be honest, to be creative and flexible and always hopeful.

Related Resource: www.alternet.org "5 Ways to Make divorce Beneficial to Your Children" November 12, 2010

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