When Oscar winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced that she and her husband, Coldplay front man Chris Martin, were “consciously uncoupling” in 2014, there were those who mocked the terminology and the decade-long marriage’s end.
Two years later, it’s safe to say that Paltrow and Martin are having the last laugh as the divorced pair works hard to co-parent their children, Apple, 12, and Moses, 10. They bought homes close to one another to make visits easier. They celebrated their children’s birthdays together at Disneyland, and have even vacationed together. One stop included Argentina, where Martin, 39, and his band were on tour.
How do they do it? “You have to constantly let go,” Paltrow, 43, told Entertainment Tonight. “You have to let go of old ideas, old resentments. You have to put the kids first. I think people have the idea of that, but then oftentimes, you struggle with it.
“If you once loved the person enough to have kids with them, you have to focus on what you still love about them and what's beautiful about them and all the good aspects of your relationship,” she added. “You still want a family. You're just not in a couple. I acknowledge we've done it in an unorthodox way but it's working for us.”
As Paltrow and Martin are showing, divorce doesn’t have to be the end of the family. They are not alone in this realization. Other couples increasingly are adopting a similar “conscious” attitude, and accepting an important truth:
how we act toward each other in divorce can make a huge difference in how well our children adjust.
“It’s what you say, and how you behave in front of the children that matters,” says Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based family therapist, former co-host of the WE TV series Sex Box, and the author of The Self-Aware Parent. “It’s not about you; it’s about them. You have to make sure they know that Mommy and Daddy are not getting back together, and that you all are better as buddies.”
Walfish recommends planning ahead how you’ll talk to them about your co-parenting style to help kids make sense of their new family style. Here are some phrases to try before embarking on any close family get-togethers like a vacation or even a party. Use these, or take the ideas and tweak to make it your own:
We still want to be a family even though we live in two separate houses.
Walfish recommends that you emphasize the “two separate houses” part so that younger children can use the phrase when they explain their family dynamic to their friends. Kids can say, “We’re a family. My parents just live in two separate houses.”
We like each other better as friends.
Repositioning your relationship as a friendship helps place the emphasis on the positive interaction you do have, or are working toward, rather than on the “failure” of the former relationship as a married couple. This lessens the need for recrimination or blame (between you and from your kids) and shifts the focus toward what does work. At all times, but especially in divorce, we want to acknowledge the challenges and pain in our lives, but also actively focus on and celebrate all that is working.
There are all kinds of families. In this family, Mommy and Daddy are not together, but we are still your Mommy and Daddy. We love you and that will never change.
In divorce, kids worry that something irreparable has been broken. Some fear that more could change, and even that they are to blame. By stressing the variety of good family styles and the constancy of your love for them, you help ease their worry that their lives will spin out of control and assure them that they had no role in your breakup.
Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based TV critic and journalist. The Detroit native has been a journalist since 1999, writing for outlets such as Essence, MSN TV, The Detroit News, The Wrap, TV Guide, CNN.com, Playboy.com, People Magazine, Us Weekly, The Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Minneapolis Star Tribune.