My parents were divorced when I was eight years old and as I look back on the brick and mortaring of our existence, I can reduce mending a “broken home” to a few simple truths.
1, Divorce is painful, difficult and destructive. Yet, it does not break a “home.” A functioning home is where we still love, eat dinner, watch our favorite TV show with our sisters and do homework. (And kids can have two “unbroken” homes simultaneously if parents cooperate!)
2. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, new partners, great teachers, coaches and a tribe of supportive people can fix the cracks in the lives of children when their parents fall a little short or are dealing with their own stresses and challenges. Kids are multi-bonders who need a team of loving relatives and adults who care enough to step in and help parents raise happy, well-adjusted kids. Grandparents are heroes if they remember to be the safe places for their grandchildren; hearts and homes that never speak ill of the coParent to their adult child.
3. Homes are built on traditions. Traditions define the memories that children have of holidays, the music they love and the bedtime stories they are told. Old and new traditions form the foundation firm and weight bearing so that even the harshest storm will not break a home. Children can enjoy and thrive with different traditions in each parent’s home. As long as the two homes support one another, the traditions can be original and unique to each parent.
4. It is okay for children to spend time in the homes of trustworthy friends whose parents are not divorced or separated. Some intact families provide good examples of moms, dads and parents who are loving towards one another. Who treat one another with respect and kindness. I am grateful for a parent who let me spend time with my best friend’s family each year for their summer vacation to the beach (a luxury my family could not afford.) This was not a threat to our home but instead a supplement that aided my mom in providing a few things that were lacking in our home. It strengthened our home and it made me appreciate the sacrifices of my parent’s hard work to keep our home strong.
5. Labels pelt like stones and corrode like rust. Children are aware and sensitive to their surroundings and what is going on in their lives. When they are labeled as coming from a “broken home” it is painful and hurtful to them. It can make a once confident and secure child doubt the very core of their existence.
Author Judge Sherrill Ellsworth is the Chief Community Officer for coParenter.com, the sister site of KidsBeforeConflict.com. Ellsworth is the Past Presiding Judge of Riverside County, a Judicial Educator and former Family Law Judge. After almost 20 years on the bench, she has earned a reputation for being a straight-forward, no-nonsense, fair judicial officer. A broadly talented jurist and settlement expert, Ellsworth has effectively handled complex civil litigation cases, family law, felony criminal trials, probate and general trials throughout her almost 30 years of lawyering and judging. Ellsworth was one of the court’s most respected and admired bench officers, earning the trust and revere of her colleagues and the lawyers who appeared before her. In 2014 she was named the Lawyer of the year by the J.Rueben Clark Law Society Los Angeles Chapter. Also in 2014, for her Judicial leadership she was named as an Inductee to Western State University Hall of Fame. In 2013, Ellsworth was awarded the Douglas Weathers Judicial Leadership Award by the California Consumer Attorneys, as well as various awards for her judicial leadership both as Presiding Judge and for Family Law. In 1999, she was named the American Business Women’s Association Woman of the Year for Judicial Leadership. Judge Ellsworth was appointed vice-chair of the California Court Case Management System Justice Partner Advisory Committee in 2010. She was a member of the Strategic Evaluation Committee appointed by the Chief Justice and of the council’s Trial Court Budget Working Group, Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, Family and Juvenile Law Advisory Committee, and Task Force on Self-Represented Litigants.