July 1, 2017/by Barbara Rothberg
I was divorced more than forty years ago. At that time, my two small children were 4 and 6. While I knew I wanted to end the marriage, I had no models of how to have “a successful divorce” where the kids could be taken care of by both parents. There weren’t many books on healthy divorce, or co-parenting. We had to rely on ourselves. We were both good parents and both very involved in taking care of our children. Neither of us wanted to be non-custodial parents. We were willing to put the effort into figuring out the best possible outcome for us and our kids.
I was involved in the women’s movement and believed both parents should have equality, which meant equal time with the children. Joint custody was not prevalent in those days, but I had heard of it. My husband and I were in agreement about the divorce and both reasonable people who really cared about our kids. We knew of people who had ugly divorces and we knew we were not going to do that.
We created our own divorce and parenting plan. What we did many years ago is called a kitchen table divorce and I now know, as a mediator, that is most unusual. It’s good I didn’t realize that then! We literally sat down at the kitchen table and worked it out. We agreed on a 50/50 parenting time arrangement for our kids and adjusted the schedule through the years as the kids and our needs changed. We co-parented, discussed issues, went to school events together and helped the kids move back and forth between our two homes. Today, our kids are happy and successful with their own families. We have both re-coupled. I have an amiable relationship with my ex-husband and we have lunch together periodically. We talk about our lives, our kids and grandkids. We’ve gone to grandparent’s day together at our grandchild’s school. We were very successful in co-parenting our children.
While joint custody worked for my family, I do not believe it is necessarily the “right” parenting plan. I actually do not believe there is a single “right” parenting plan. Each family must understand their needs and those of their children and figure out what will work best for them. It’s helpful to learn the different options for parenting plans and the pros and cons of each, so a good decision can be made. Co-parenting can be done in many ways. And knowing, whatever plan is decided upon, it probably will change as the kids get older and everyone’s needs change. Flexibility is important. Although divorce is a difficult process, it can be a successful one.
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Barbara Rothberg, DSW, LCSW, is a couple therapist, mediator, child specialist and parenting coordinator working for almost 40 years. She has a practice with offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan.