Q.My husband and I are separating. While I haven't noticed any changes or problems with our 1-year-old daughter, I would like anu suggestions, guidence and advice you might have about behavior changes or problems we might anticipate and constructive ways to deal with them.
From the time our daughter was 5 months old, my husband and I have divided child care equally between us. My work hours (running a home-based business) are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., which is time my husband spends with our daughter, and then we switch.
My husband's new apartment is two blocks away from our home, so we will continue this arrangement. My daughter will spend all weeknights with me and weekend nights at her dad's. I had some concerns about this arrangement being too confusing and disorienting, but since our daughter is so accustomed to being taken care of by her father, and because she seemed to have no trouble adjusting to strange beds when we've traveled, I think it might be fine.
I know that separation and divorce affect children differently, depending on their age and stage of development, and I wonder how this might affect our daughter. I'm concerned because she is so young and we obviously can't sit down with her and explain what is happening. Yet we are managing to separate with a minimum amount of anger and hostility (so far) and are certainly both planning a high involvement with our daughter. I'd just like any feedback about the changes coming up. A.To a child, there is no good time for her parents to divorce, but some times are better than others. Studies show that the younger the child, the less she will be affected. Even so, a 1-year-old will feel the same sense of anxiety and powerlessness as an older child, and a fear that other ominous changes could occur at any time. This can make a child change her eating and sleeping patterns, and can slow down the development of her body. Children are remarkably resilient, however, if they feel well-loved and secure.
Joint custody should give her much of this support. In these days when divorce changes the family structure the way death used to do, families come again in all shapes and sizes, but you can't expect this particular design to last for 17 years. Not only will your daughter get tired of switching rooms every weekend, but you or your husband -- or both -- will probably move, change jobs and work schedules, and quite probably remarry. Or you just may annoy each other so much you can't bear the constant communication this arrangement involves.
Counseling should help you learn how to get along well enough to talk about her needs. Many divorcing couples find that a family mediator, in negotiating the settlement, can teach these talking skills best.
You need counseling for other reasons, too. When you've shared love and property -- and especially a child -- you will be reminded of your husband every day, even if you remarry.
But if you're going to the trouble of getting help, why not make one last try at saving the marriage, even though you're living apart? A good marriage counselor or a clinical social worker may be able to help you throw away most of the freight that has cluttered your relationship, and get it back on the track. You couldn't give your child a better gift than the chance to grow up in a happy marriage.
It would be silly to pretend that this is always possible, of course. You wouldn't stay in a relationship with anyone who was abusive, either physically or psychologically, or who was mentally unstable, but then, you wouldn't want your child to be cared for by this person either. There are other situations in which a divorce is necessary, but many people divorce in haste and repent at leisure.
Marriage problems seem to coincide with stress -- and what is more stressful than a child? Even the best behaved causes some emotional stress from the time she's born until the time she leaves home, and at some times more than others. There are long stretches of bills and boredom, and parents may figure it's better to start over. But there are broke and boring stretches in every job.
The woman who wants to do everything very well will give her most to the child and the job and the marriage, and then get angry when there is nothing left for her. And since she wouldn't give up the child and since her job may give her the only sense of importance she has, the marriage goes instead. Parents who don't learn to lower their expectations -- and laugh when they find out how low their expectations must be -- have difficulties.
Nothing is perfect in life, except perhaps the feeling you get from facing a problem and solving it.