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Not to be totally jaded, but I'm in no way shocked that Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise are divorcing. The Hollywood-Scientology thing plus couch-jumping always made me think that the pair dwelled on different planets. Despite that, I am kind of shocked about the rumors that Katie will seek sole legal custody of their 6-year-old daughter Suri. Katie's attorney released a statement saying that the actress' "primary concern remains, as it always has been, her daughter's best interest."
But is assuming all of the parenting responsibility yourself -- and stripping your ex of any meaningful input -- best for the child? (At least in New York, where Katie has a home, sole custody means one parent has the authority to make legal decisions for the child. The other? Well, they have no input in regards to where the child lives, where she goes to school, her future medical treatment -- nada.)
I don't pretend to know the answer to that -- or to know what went on in the TomKat household. But I do know that messy divorces and bitter battles are absolutely horrible for the children involved. No matter what plays out in court, here are our pleas to both parents for Suri's sake -- or any child who parents are divorcing.
Don't badmouth her Dad (and vice versa). Yeah, yeah, we've heard the rumors. And Scientology freaks us out. But keep in mind: While you may be aiming for your ex, if you're slinging arrows, some are bound to hit the wrong target -- your child. In fact, putting the other parent down can generate a tremendous amount of anxiety in children.
Seek help. Navigating new parental shifts is daunting but there's no reason to go it alone. Seriously consider seeing a co-parenting counselor as a pair. An educated third party can help you both set boundaries, create consistent routines and maybe even let go of some hard to shed anger.
Keep it simple. When it comes time to break the news to Suri, keep the complexities and intricacies of marriage and break-ups to yourself. Try something like "Mommy and Daddy decided to stop being married, but we're always going to love you, and we're still going to be your parents." No matter how you say it, consider getting advice from a child psychologist who specializes in these matters first -- and agree with your ex how you are going to tell your child.
Stay in Grandma's life. Kids deserve grandparents. Don't let an impending divorce and custody showdown keep your child from Nana and Gramps. Reach out. Tell your partner's parents you have no intention of shielding your child from them -- then do what you can to nurture that special bond. And remember, right now your child needs love and support from all directions.
Be careful about dating after divorce. While it's completely natural and healthy for you and your ex to date after divorce, take care in how you expose your child to it. A general rule of thumb is to wait 4 to 6 months to be sure a new girlfriend or boyfriend is a keeper before introducing your child to that person. Of course, that will be pretty hard with two parents who are photographed everywhere they go. So it will be key for both parents to reassure Suri that their love for her is in no way threatened by a new date.