Advice for divorce and post-divorce with an infant
March 25, 2019 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking for resources and personal-experience-advice on life post-divorce with shared custody of an infant. Extra bonus if it addresses the tremendous, physically painful, soul-crushing guilt of ripping my son's family apart/taking away his chance at a two-parent home.

Everything I can find seems geared more towards older children. Our son is 9 months old.
posted by pintapicasso to Human Relations (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The best resources for you might be forums or books in which children describe the negative effects of being raised witnessing verbal, emotional, or physical abuse by one parent towards another. For example, one of my first memories --- and a memory that literally still gives me chills and panicky feelings, a full 30 years later --- is of my father screaming abusive and hateful language at my mother. Witnessing that has affected me for my entire adult life. Their divorce, in contrast, was nothing but a relief. I wish that I had been spared witnessing that abuse.

I also note that in dealing with a similar situation, much of the guilt was the result of verbal abuse and blame directed towards me by my ex. After the fact, it became clear that guilt was not reflective of any fault of mine, but instead, of an unhealthy pattern in which I was subjected to anger and blame that were disproportionate and unwarranted.

I realize that this is not exactly what you asked for, but I hope that it is helpful. Guilt is a natural result of being a parent, to a large extent, because you have to make decisions without knowing how they will turn out. But I think that if you are considering separation and divorce with a 9 month old infant, you are almost certainly making the right decision for the child's well-being. Given that, the best approach might be to set the guilt aside for now and address it in depth when things are settled, practically speaking.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:05 AM on March 25, 2019 [27 favorites]

If you get divorced now, and put an end to an unhealthy marriage and family dynamic, and set up a new home environment for yourself and your son, he will never know the difference. His earliest memories may not be of a "two-parent home," but of (a) parent(s) who, separately, love and care for him. It will be a net positive in his life.

I agree with the above comment that what's important at this stage is for you to set the guilt aside and focus on taking care of your emotional needs, putting your oxygen mask on first, etc., so that you'll be well positioned to give your son a healthy home environment.
posted by witchen at 8:15 AM on March 25, 2019 [32 favorites]

I'm going to MeMail you.
posted by anderjen at 8:27 AM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you haven't gone through the divorce process yet, your jurisdiction may actually require you to take a class on the effects of divorce on children. The advice I've read for my own U.S. state for people going through divorce always says that you should register for and take the class as soon as possible.
posted by XMLicious at 9:34 AM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

One framing from my therapist:

Children that age aren’t invested in marriages lasting forever. They weren’t with you at the wedding where you made whatever vows you made.

My own son has three bedrooms, and 3 families. Mine, my ex, and at his grandparents.

Uncertainty about the choice you are making is normal, and so is fear of uncertainty.

You are giving that child a different basket of opportunities. You may even get remarried and still give them at least one two parent household!
posted by gregglind at 9:50 AM on March 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

This thread on Chumplady may be of some assistance. Many, many of her readers have been through nasty divorces and you will read horror stories, but also good advice her.
posted by Enid Lareg at 10:33 AM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

With an infant, there are some 2 primarily different considerations: one, related to breastfeeding and two, related to caregiving. Infants are generally either in full-time childcare or possibly a parent is staying at home to care for them. IANAL but I know that there are special rules about breastfeeding infants and residency.

But as far as the other stuff, I'd strongly recommend working with a co-parenting consultant who can present to you two the best plans for shared residency of a baby as well as beginning to plan for the future. You'll most certainly be in a different situation in just a few years and will need to revisit residency.

Beyond residency, there are also considerations for decision making that will be standard in any co-parenting agreement. For example, an agreement about your child's religious education. These agreements are made with worst-case-scenario in mind, if you two needed to hash it out in the courts. But for the most part, the creation of a co-parenting agreement allows both parents to talk out, with a 3rd party present, their hopes for their child.

Financial support for the baby is sorted out somewhat separately from the co-parenting agreement. And all of your divorce stuff is entirely separate from legal stuff related to the child. But financial stuff matters greatly, so you really need a lawyer and/or financial specialist to help you work through that.

Without a doubt, it is a good idea for you to consult with a family law attorney so that you can be as knowledgeable as possible about the law. Don't believe what people on the internet, or your neighbor, or your mom says. These people don't know the law in your jurisdiction and there is so much misunderstanding of these things and things change over time, and people vary in how they implement things.

Your child is going to be totally fine. If things are bad enough that you all are strongly considering not being together anymore, without a doubt, being in a 2-parent household where there is unhappiness is far worse than being in 2 households where there is less unhappiness. Your child will never know differently. Parenting will be harder at times because there will be 2 hands instead of 4, but people do it every day.
posted by k8t at 11:02 AM on March 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Hugs to you. Give this time. Divorce and shared custody of an infant sounds daunting, but I can assure you, it is not all bad. In fact, for me it has been a real blessing in disguise; and I was not even the divorce-seeker in my situation. Ultimately, it freed me and my kids from an escalatingly abusive situation in so many ways; ways I could not have even begun to have predicted at the time of separation. I know that today, thanks to our state’s default 50/50 custody arrangement, I get far more relief and “me time” as a mother than the vast majority of my hetero married women friends do. I’m happy and relaxed now. And so are my kids.

Your son is at a very favorable age for this family transition, and he’s gonna be fine and so are you! How do I know this, you ask? Having the divorce complete and the “new normal” in place long before any child goes through puberty is the key.

My (atypically awful?) experience: my youngest child was less than a year old when his father/my ex-husband very suddenly walked out on me and my 3 children a few years ago, just weeks after tricking me into a cross-country move. It was hell because I was completely socially and economically isolated at the time, just as utterly vulnerable and alone as he had intended so he could spring a divorce on me. Turns out he had been having a long-term affair, upon which he had spent hundreds of thousands of marital dollars, and the new state had divorce laws that were more favorable for him in the divorce he had been secretly planning for well over a year (see Chump Lady [on preview, Enid Lareg upthread agrees] for many stories like mine.) In other words, I survived a high conflict divorce from a narcissist, and a very nasty custody battle, complete with an epic smear campaign after which I lost many fake friends. That being said, it’s unlikely this kind of drama and upheaval will be what you’re in for, as I understand most divorce cases are usually not as bad as my type of case was at all.

My advice for divorce with kids is always to find the best local divorce trial lawyer you can afford, where family law is their sole practice area. Assume, until clearly proven otherwise, that there will be a contentious custody battle. Plan for the worst. If it is legal to record someone in your state without their permission, assume you are being recorded every time you interact. Don’t text or email or post to social media anything to anyone you wouldn’t want a family court judge to see, and avoid discussing your case socially. If your soon to be ex has money, assume private eyes are filming you, and there’s a GPS on your jointly titled car, and spyware on your computer. The goal would be to catch you doing something like leaving your child alone in a car for a moment, or you yelling or acting crazy or getting freaky on a hookup site (if you’re in a fault state for adultery), in order to paint you as an unfit mother to get enough custody to avoid child support. That’s a worst case scenario. The flip side of the coin would be if the father moves away and abandons his child, and you have to raise him without much shared childcare labor. Far more likely scenario is you agree to 50/50 custody and he still gets two involved parents.

In spite of all of this legal drama... Today, my kids and I are all thriving. The youngest is a super happy little 3-year-old dinosaur loving guy. Early on in the process, I decided they were going to have an awesome childhood and were not going to ever hear me disparage their dad. I channel Cheryl Strayed’s story of how her mom was so loving and positive when she was growing up. She sounded magical. I think of her often when I want to say something in frustration, and instead I bite my tongue.

Here’s my bit of controversial advice now: do not reconcile, do not sleep with your soon to be ex ever again, don’t move back in together once you finally separate and move out, and never, ever remarry this man. Under any circumstances. These things set back your own recovery big time. Everyone I know of who has done any of the above came to later regret it. Your marriage is dead, bury it. Move forward in life. Wait awhile to date, then when it’s time, enthusiastically play the field for a few fun years. Try not to settle down again for awhile, if ever. (Women are happier single than married, according to the current research.)

Know that your child will do just fine if you fully invest in working on your own personal recovery from the ending of your marriage. If you look after yourself, especially your own mental health, then you will ultimately get stronger and happier, and your son will benefit so greatly. There is nothing to feel guilty about; you are enough, and two parent homes are often overly romanticized past the point of reality. Feel free to Memail me.
posted by edithkeeler at 11:14 AM on March 25, 2019 [11 favorites]

I would caution against working with any kind of mediator or jointly-employed person if there is even a hint of abuse or manipulation by either party.

My experience is that things between my ex and I started getting much better and lower-conflict once we accepted that us trying to compromise was incredibly stressful and unpleasant for both of us. Some people can work together. We could not do so productively, and we wasted a lot of time trying for a cooperative ideal that was not healthy.

We still talk, just not about divorce stuff, and after a particularly bad period, we can share cute kid photos and exchange funny anecdotes and stuff like that because we are not constantly dealing with high-stress logistical discussions.

Lawyers and courts exist because it's not always possible for people to agree, and it's okay for people who can't interact in a healthy way to admit that and put everything through legal channels.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:43 AM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

My mom left when I was 18 months old and by the time I was 2 she was in a new long term relationship. I never questioned that my dad was still my dad; I never questioned that all my parents loved me; it never occurred to me that the shape of my family was my responsibility or that it was my fault my parents weren't together. It was just the way things were. I'm pretty sure this was a gift she gave me, and that she had lots of emotions during that time that were none of my business. Wishing you love and strength and joy to come.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:53 PM on March 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

Maybe I can give you some advice about your feeling guilt about depriving your son of a 2 parent home. Have you done everything you can to make things work? Are you depressed? Is this a high conflict house? If so, then don’t feel guilty. I have two very small children and recently circumstances changed in a way that I have found myself living separate from the father of our children and he comes to see us on the weekends. It’s a complicated situation and we aren’t “separated”... I am not a single mother. BUT I am doing everything to do with the child rearing by myself and it’s definitely a 24/7 job. My husband is a really good person but I was so depressed and we were having so much conflict that I couldn’t bear it and having conflict and a depressed mother is horrible for children. I had tried everything to make that situation work and it just wasn’t. My children’s happiness levels bumped to like 1000 on a scale of 1-10 in our new situation. They are much happier with a normal routine and a mother who isn’t stressed out all the time. They don’t care about the details, they just want to know what to expect and to know everyone is happy... I’m not “happy happy“ but I’m happier not in that situation.
posted by flink at 2:47 PM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

It was more by chance we ended up being separate but it’s been a huge relief.
posted by flink at 2:48 PM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

My parents divorced when I was a baby, and I'm so glad they did. I don't understand how they ever got together - they are so different! I feel like I got the best of both of them. Wishing you peace and perspective.
posted by stompadour at 3:23 PM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

My dad walked out (the first time) when I was six months old. My mom took him back because she thought I "needed a dad." So instead of a healthy mom, my younger brother (yep, that happened) and I got our lives ripped apart permanently when I was 12, after a childhood of conflict and dysfunction. I *SO* wished that she had never re-opened that door.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 3:54 PM on March 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

I took my kids and left my husband when they were 4 years and one year old. They never questioned; I never heard them ask why their dad and I didn't live together. My older son once told me that "Daddy was too grumpy". The younger one has no memories of us ever living together.

They are in their 20s now, and they are really good guys. I don't know that they were "scarred" from the divorce - though neither of them date nor do they seem a need to. (They do socialize with friends on a regular basis).

We can only do the best we can with whatever situation we are in. Go easy on yourself; your child will be fine, and so will you.
posted by annieb at 6:08 PM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

If being divorced is a healthier and happier situation for you, I cannot think of any reason this change wouldn't be a healthier and happier circumstance for your child to grow up in either. I say that as someone who grew up in a highly dysfunctional household, which remained so partly because one parent (who grew up in a single-mother family themselves in the 1950s/60s) had the same guilt you're expressing. The thing that matters most is creating a safe, loving, supportive environment for your child to grow up in, no matter the shape that environment takes. It sounds to me like you're on the right track.
posted by sevenofspades at 9:37 PM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

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