by Jill Brooke, Divorce and Blended Family Expert
Recent reports blame Facebook and other social networking sites for higher divorce rates and breaking families apart. But we've discovered that, in fact, Facebook—along with Skype, cell phones, and other online tools—can actually help keep modern families together.
The Emotional Touchdown of Technology
In the old days, divorced spouses would have to hear the voice of their ex when they contacted their child. But now, modern technology allows parents to contact their children without emotional interference. As a divorce and blended family expert, I call this an emotional touchdown.
New technology has also helped prevent or reduce what is called “parental alienation,” in which the residential parent (usually the mother) may—consciously or subconsciously—restrict her children’s contact with their father, either out of resentment or to protect the children’s relationship with a new stepfather. A study by J. Annette Vanini and Edward Nichols found that 77 percent of noncustodial fathers faced some form of visitation interference.
But now parents can give their kids pre-paid cell phones to insure contact. And a growing number of divorce contracts are written to permit contact through email and to encourage the use of online calendars, such as the Cozi family calendar.
Ted Rubin, a Long Island divorced dad to two girls, admits to using Facebook to keep in contact with his kids. "Sometimes when we speak on the phone I can tell if Mom is standing there, and then later my daughter will contact me on Facebook," he said. "A lot of dads complain that moms could stand in the way of communication, but now it's almost impossible because kids are so tech savvy."
In fact, Rubin, who has a contentious divorce with his ex-wife, says that email helps divorced parents diminish "the nastiness in our dialogues," which the kids would overhear on the phone. Now he can use email to let everyone know what time he's picking up and delivering the kids without any verbal warfare, and both parents are spared potential flare-ups.
Winning the Right to See Your Kids
Another big boost for continued contact has been videoconferencing. In 2002, Utah resident Michael Gough worried that his ex-wife's relocation to Wisconsin would wipe out his parental involvement. Although less than 10 percent of divorces go to trial, he fought to have the right to videoconference with his daughter. Utah was the first state to pass legislation for virtual visitation in 2004.
"It cost me thousands of extra dollars to go to court, but as a result there is now a statute for videoconferencing that other judges and attorneys can refer to and follow," said Gough, who now runs a website called InternetVisitation.org. Because of his efforts, Wisconsin, Florida, and Texas have all passed similar legislation.
"With videoconferencing, I was able to read bedtime stories, help her with her homework, and even watch her open up a present," said Gough, with genuine sentimentality.
Furthermore, modern communication tools have helped parents stay connected to their original families. As Stephanie Coontz, director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families, observes, men have for more than 150 years tended to think of the responsibility of kids as a package deal. When the relationship split up, they'd walk away and start new families. "But we're seeing a growing number of men separating from their wives but not their children," she said. Studies confirm this trend.
Shared Parenting Has Never Been Easier
In a study on nonresidential fathers, researcher Paul Amato from Pennsylvania State University found that the percentage of nonresidential fathers being involved with their children more than tripled from 8 percent in the 1970s to 26 percent in 2000s. A recent study by Kathleen Gerson, professor of sociology at New York University and author of The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation Is Reshaping Family, Work and Gender in America, found the number to be 27 percent.
Kids also benefit from having a relationship with both parents. "They have fewer behavior and emotional problems, higher self-esteem, and better school performance than children in sole custody arrangements," said Glenn Sacks, the national executive director of Fathers & Families. "When researchers have examined children of divorce, and studied and queried adult children of divorce, they've found that most prefer joint custody and shared parenting."
Still, it can be very painful for ex-wives to see that their families are living lives without them—especially when spouses re-partner—or that a father can indeed be a better parent than spouse. However, in time, this divorce therapist has seen many women realize that a break from 24/7 parenting can benefit everyone. And love is far more elastic and flexible than we think.
Because no one loves a child the way a parent does, parents have also started sending phone pictures (or using online family journals) of Johnny on the football field or Margaret at a gymnastics meet to their exes, to share the pride of parenting. This also helps mend the hurt feelings of divorce. Sharing these milestones and challenges—such as kids’ homework assignment or problems—via email can also allow divorced parents to have separate relationships.
As the nation sees more divorced families, more parents have learned that even though the marriage is over, they are forever linked as co-parents.
Learn more with our 5 Rules for Using Technology to Navigate the Parental Relationship.
If your family straddles multiple households, Cozi might be just the family organizer you’ve been looking for to facilitate communication and simplify life. Find out how Cozi can build a bridge for divorced families and get started with Cozi today.
Join the Cozi Family Dinner Club today
Get family-approved dinner recipes each month and members only giveaways! Learn more.