Celebrities may be consciously uncoupling, but the rest of us are just going through a crappy divorce. They might be prettier, richer or thinner, but they are parents just the same. They are the stars of major motion pictures or maybe just reality TV, but we are bombarded with their daily lives from the mundane, to the unbelievable. When famous people divorce and the details emerge, which they inevitably do, they are suddenly less glamorous and become more like, well, the rest of us. There is less money now that they're fighting over it. They are less pretty, as they bare the ugly realities of their lives (sometimes intentionally) in tabloids and on talk shows. They are certainly less funny, as a divorce is never funny when children are involved. Despite the fact that we may tune in to hear about a celebrity's latest multi-million dollar deal, or enjoy watching a good throw-down with their best socialite friend, we really don't want to see their children anything but happy. So maybe, just maybe, they should be a little more like us. Here are five things we ordinary people do a little better.
1. We Don't Talk Trash About Our Spouse on TV, the Internet or in Magazines.
Trash talk does not improve anything. The reality is you picked this person, married this person and had a baby with this person. We know, we saw it on the special. More importantly, your child is one-half this person! So people, famous or not, referring to your soon-to-be ex as "white trash" is really saying your child is one-half of whatever (insert unflattering description here) you are spewing about your soon to be ex-beloved. Name-calling is wrong, on the playground and just about everywhere else, but especially wrong on TV, in print or on the Internet where those words will live forever. Tell it to the therapist (not your TV therapist) so you can tell him or her why it is all your ex's fault, in private, and ensure you don't make the same mistake twice.
2. We Do Not Actually Believe There is a Legitimate Excuse for Bad Behavior.
Even when ordinary people behave badly (and we all have had moments we are not particularly proud of), we know it is wrong. We might try to rationalize our actions, but for the most part, we know we did or said something we shouldn't have. There is really no illusion that our often ridiculous behavior is OK, because in the world of ordinary people, we are held accountable in a way the famous are often not accustomed to. That way, we are hopefully able to learn not to do those stupid things twice. There is no excuse, including your soon to be ex-spouse's alleged bad behavior, comments, or even threats to "destroy you". Two wrongs still don't make a right. Take the high road. People do not destroy us unless we let them. The best reaction is sometimes no reaction. Those who really know you, know exactly who you are, and presumably love you anyway. Losing a few followers on Twitter, I mean friends, will not "destroy you."
3. Ordinary People Recognize a Need for the Other Parent So We Forgive, A Lot.
We ordinary people, without a staff of nannies or ever present personal assistants, get over it faster. We quickly realize that we need another pair of hands, so we can work and take care of our kids. We begin to realize that most parents step up to the plate after a divorce. We see our child is happier with both parents involved, and we can begin to appreciate our ex as someone who, by adding to our child's life, adds to our own. In recognizing our own shortcomings, which ordinary people are allowed, we are more accepting of others. Our expectations are lower, because generally we are not surrounded by drivers to take us to dinner or being professionally made-up on a Tuesday. We can't always afford babysitters, but still need some time off. It does not matter if you can't stand your ex. You don't have to like them or sleep with them ever again, but you have to be nice to them, both in public and in private. If you don't, you are going to hurt your child again and again, and it will make for some very uncomfortable soccer games and recitals. Fake it until you make it, you are actors, after all. Just like the rest of us, you often say you would lay down in front of a train for your children, your train just happens to look more like a TV camera.
4. Ordinary People Cannot Afford a Custody Battle.
Lawyers are expensive and custody battles can result in fees in the millions. Most ordinary people would be left destitute. I often think if I had to hire myself, I'd be out of luck because I couldn't afford it. Ordinary people are less likely to say, "but I want full custody, and I have the money to fight for it." Just because you can afford it does not mean you should proceed. The emotional toll is immeasurable. Full custody as an agenda, instead of shared custody or timesharing, should be the rare exception to the rule. The circumstances, in which it would be in the best interest of the child, are few and far between. More love is a good thing. I have never seen a case where a child has suffered from too much love. You are most likely not the better parent, no matter what your high priced lawyer says. Someone will be better at homework, and someone will be better at coaching soccer. You cannot replace the other parent for your child. It takes a pretty big ego to think you can. There will be no one who will have a greater ability to make a good, loving, thoughtful decision regarding your child than the two people who brought this child into the world, no matter how much money or fame you have. No one wants to share the things they love most. No one said it was going to be easy, the right thing rarely is. Make sure any argument is really in your child's best interest, not to further your personal agenda. We ordinary people are a little more used to not always getting what we want.
5. Ordinary People's Children Will Not Someday Read About Our Mess on the Internet.
There are sordid details to every divorce, but they are not shared indiscriminately with people outside our close circle--siblings, parents, friends, hairdressers and bartenders. The mean, hurtful things we say are fleeting expressions of a horrible time. Then those times pass. We forgive, we grow, and we move on. Our kids hopefully never overheard. For ordinary people, there is no Google search, or trip to the supermarket to display our stupid remarks for our children and all the world to read. Say nothing you would not say directly to your child and let that be your measure. As my mom, and perhaps your mom, used to say, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all", in public and in private.
I admit I have watched celebrity weddings and newlywed years unfold, on the front page of MSN or comfortably ensconced in my own bedroom, sometimes squirming in my seat knowing exactly where this reality is headed. And still, I watch. Sometimes I say it's for work--a little social research on marriage or divorce. After 20 years of practicing family law, there is rarely a table flipping, a screaming match or a wine glass-throwing scene that makes me think twice. But reality goes too far when it becomes a platform for exposing children to unnecessary pain. The one universal truth about divorce, it is never the child's fault. All parents, famous or not, must do whatever possible to minimize collateral damage. Perhaps some celebrities believe it is important that the world know they are right, know they are the good parent, and they are the victim, or they may lose their credibility to promote their brand. I understand sacrifice for work, but compromising a child's well-being is not an option, ever. In response to any question from our friends, or TMZ, the answer simply must be the same for everyone "We are working together toward being the best parents we can be." Being a little more like us might be just the reality some celebrities need.
© Krista Barth 2014