Read the headline. That's it. That's the extent of my advice to parents, divorced or otherwise, based on my nine years of experience as a divorced father. You can stop reading now.
My daughter was 5, my son was almost 4 when their mother and I split. It was, without a doubt, the most difficult and heartbreaking event of my life. I was terrified and had no idea how any of it was going to work. From living arrangements, to childcare, to finances, you name it. The only thing I knew for certain was that my kids were going to be okay. No matter what. I didn't hope or wish for that. I decided it would be so.
At the time I had a few friends who were children of divorce. Rather than talking to other divorced parents I found that talking to those who survived from the place my kids were now in gave me an amazing amount of insight. One such survivor told me that both her parents remarried after they divorced. On one hand it was great having a big group of people in attendance for every birthday, recital, graduation, etc. Two sets of parents, two sets of grandparents, not to mention aunts, uncles, and cousins. On the other hand, both parents were so focused on not repeating their marital mistakes of the past that for most of her childhood and into her teenage years she often felt in second place on the importance scale.
It seems that the neglect a child feels when a parent remarries can be profound. Seems obvious, but it's apparently a common mistake parents make when they find themselves single again. They don't understand that the life they led before they had kids is not the life they now face as a single person. Like it or not, you're a parent first and "single and available" second. I'm not suggesting divorced parents not try to find that perfect relationship, just that the game is completely different from what it once was.
Over the years I've been in and out of relationships. Some casual, others "serious." Most of the women I've been involved with were childless and I noticed myself rationalizing a certain degree of neglect of my kids to accommodate the needs and/or lack of understanding on the part of the childless woman in question. It never felt good and something ends up missing in the equation for everyone. I'm sure there are plenty of people who have managed to solve this dilemma, I'm just not one of them. It occurs to me now, though, that regardless of how well they think they understand, ultimately someone who has no no children has no real grasp of how a single parent sees things. For this reason the odds of a new relationship succeeding are probably significantly greater if both people have kids.
For the record, I have the most amazing kids ever. My daughter is almost 14 now and my son is 12. They're smart, happy, funny, beautiful, and, above all, well-adjusted. I know some mistakes were made along the way by both me and their mom, but you wouldn't know it by looking at my kids. We're just entering the teenage years and while I know there are rough roads ahead the way I see it my ex and I are facing the same issues and conundrums all parents confront when their precious little ones are taken over by height and hormones. It's a good feeling.
Would my kids be better off had their mom and I not split? Given the high degree of unresolved and unresolvable discontent and animosity present in our home at the time I can say with complete confidence that, no, they would not. Would I have been as good a parent had we stayed under the same roof? Likewise, no, I seriously doubt it.
When I was on my own with my kids I knew I had to up my game. No more tag-team parenting. When it's just you there's no one to take up the slack if you're too busy, too tired, too grumpy, too depressed, etc. to "deal with the kids right now." If you rise to the occasion you become uber-parent, able to leap Lego towers in a single bound, while feeding the dog, washing the dishes, making the sandwiches, and fielding calls from your boss who can't understand why you don't go to the office on Saturday mornings anymore.
This may not work for everyone, but having tried it both ways, I find that the ideal is no compromise where the kids are concerned, which in practice really becomes, minimize the compromises as much as possible. In a few short years my daughter will be 18 and off to college, my son just a couple of years behind her. I don't have much time left to make sure everything's right (as right as possible anyway). Everything else can wait.