The Interwebs have been aflutter over Jon and Kate Gosselin. Who did what to whom? How much of a role did the cameras play in the disintegration of their relationship? Did their greed compromise their judgment as parents and as life partners? Who cheated on whom? It’s easy to point fingers, especially since they’ve chosen to live their lives so publicly.
I have no great sympathy for their claims that the media should back off, respecting their privacy as a family. When you open your life as they have (and as I have on my blog), you have to take the good with the bad. There will be those that love you no matter what. There will be people who will celebrate every stumble and heartbreak you experience. Others will question everything you do. It’s part and parcel of the deal.
In the end, though, what we have is a couple who is ending their relationship in a very public way. Regardless of my opinions about their relationship and parenting choices, I can’t help but watch their faces and see so much that is familiar.
I saw it months ago, the lack of physical contact, the emotional detachment, the harsh words that were only half-joking. They got further and further from each other. Soon, that interview couch could not have been long enough.
Eyes were swollen. Walls were up. The end was near.
They stopped joint interviews. Each took his/her turn with the cameras. The end was imminent.
The time they spent together with the children reminded me of the parallel play of toddlers. Functioning in the same space, but barely aware of the existence of the other. No empathy. No connection.
Now it’s over.
Watching last night’s episode reminded me so much of my experience over the last six months. The grief. The hurt. The regret. Playing things over and over in my head. Picking things apart to figure out where we went wrong. What I did. What he did. What we did.
I could see it in them and I hurt for them. I also know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, I have two little lights and they have the good fortune to have eight of them. The kids.
So, for the kids, I give Jon and Kate the following advice. Many of it came from the therapists and classes I’ve been to and the books I read, so I won’t claim original authorship by any stretch. Nonetheless, I see many parallels between the Gosselin’s post-split parenting plan and ours, so I’ll share the things that have been especially pertinent in our case.
1. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about them. Put the blame aside and think of the kids in every decision you make. What’s best for them may be a pain in the a$$ for you. Suck it up and deal.
2. If you were frustrated by the lack of control you had in your relationship before, be prepared to have even less. He will have his rules and routines and she will have hers. Structure is good and organic is great, but I can’t find any cases of death-by-breakfast-for-dinner.
3. Be flexible. Kids have this funny way of growing up. Their needs will change over time and so will yours. The arrangements you make now will need to shift at least every six months. Set up basic principles and guidelines to be fair, but expect that things will change.
4. Give before you take. If you expect flexibility, patience, and trust from your co-parent, you’ll need to give it first. You don’t have to be a doormat, but you don’t need to be a scorekeeper either.
5. Be prepared to communicate more than you ever did when you were married. Every hand-off will bring updates on who is up to what, schedules, activities, illnesses, boo-boos, school reports and more. Find a way that works for you. If talking doesn’t work, do it by e-mail. Don’t expect your kids to play messenger, they’ll get the emotions right (e.g., your hurt, anger, and distrust) and the facts wrong, neither of which is good.
6. Be the grown up. Yes, you’re both hurting and divorce is inevitably painful. (It should be. If it wasn’t, everyone would do it.) But venting to your kids or around your kids is not the answer. Be careful how you talk about your ex, even when you think the kids aren’t in earshot. Don’t be afraid to ask¬†well-meaning friends and family to hold off on their editorials. It’s okay to let your kids know that you’re sad, but they need to know that you’re both going to be okay. They need to know that THEY’RE going to be okay. If you need help coping with the situation, get a therapist, meet a friend for lunch, take a walk.
7. Be sure to take care of yourself. Use the time away from the kids to recharge your batteries. Trust that your co-parent has things under control and, although things may not be handled the way that you would do them, the kids are going to be fine. The best gift you can give your kids right now is a happy and healthy mom and dad.
As the season progresses, I am sure there will be plenty of armchair experts out there who will analyze every move they make throughout this whole process. Will the decision to share the household work? Will Jon opt to leave for a job out of state? Will the show remain interesting without the constant tension on the sofa interviews? Are the kids getting too staged?
I’m going to stay out of that. I’m going to wish the Gosselins well and hope they find the healing they need.
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