Of course, the pop icon and her director ex aren’t the first divorced stars to display mature behavior when it comes to their children. Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe are often seen together at their children’s games, and the news media report regularly on Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony reuniting for their twins’ school events. Even the troubled actor Charlie Sheen has been known to set aside his resentment toward his ex Denise Richards after a bitter custody dispute over their daughters, Sam and Lola, in order to celebrate holidays as a family.
Not surprisingly, family therapists strongly recommend that, when possible, parents put aside bad feelings and troubled pasts to attend events and celebrate occasions together with their children. It’s important to show children that they are more important than any hostility between their parents and that adults can keep their emotions in check when necessary.
There are, of course, cases when this is not recommended. If two parents just cannot tolerate each other, can’t avoid arguments or name-calling or have been advised by a lawyer to avoid contact, psychologists say stay away.
I know from experience that moving past anger and frustration, even for the sake of a child, is hard to do. My husband has a daughter from a previous marriage, and the bitterness between our two households has sometimes been more than any of us were able to overcome. His daughter was 5 when we met and is 20 now. As her two sets of parents, we have been to countless birthday parties, school performances and graduations together, many times sitting on opposite sides of the paint-your-own-pottery studio or high school auditorium, having taken turns wishing the supposed star of the occasion a happy-this or a good-job-that.
It was only when we found out that my stepdaughter was unexpectedly pregnant that we realized we had to move past our differences. She is unmarried and very young, and she needs our help. Not surprisingly, through all the meetings and back-and-forths, her mother and I have realized we have a lot in common and actually like each other. We text almost every day now, sometimes about the girl we both love, sometimes not even.
I wish we had been big enough to do this years ago. To my stepdaughter: I’m sorry for all the tension and fractured parenting you endured. All I can do now is vow to stay on the right side of grown-up, like (ouch) Madonna.