Marriage with kids is co-parenting and ironically, divorce with kids is co-parenting: same decisions, same values, same uneven emotional investment. Going through a divorce just to co-parent from different homes wastes so much time and energy that some people argue courts should not intervene in post-divorce parenting decisions, which would legally call a spade a spade and make parenting while divorced the same as parenting while married.

In a divorce with kids, timing is everything
When asked why the Gates chose now to divorce, an unidentified friend of the family said, “They limped through until their kids were out of school like a lot of people.”

Most people realize that the kid’s needs must come before the parent’s needs. This is why celebrities put out press releases that say something like, “We are doing what’s best for the kids.” Jeff Bezos also made sure to mention he’s concerned about the children’s best interests. But obviously, divorce is not an expression of the kids’ best interests. Unless one parent is so terrible that they will be losing custody, staying together until the kids are grown is what’s best for the kids.

Selfish parenting is the saddest part of divorce
Then one must ask, what could possibly make Jeff Bezos decide he needs to have a new wife before his kids are grown up? He can do whatever he wants for work to keep himself interested. Money can’t buy a good marriage, but it can buy space for co-parenting, and Jeff could buy more of that than anyone.

Developmentally, this is the time for Jeff to allow the kids to self-actualize, but if he breaks up the family, then the kids have to focus on dealing with their pain and disappointment. So (giving the benefit of the doubt) Jeff asked himself: Can I wait to fully explore my own possibilities until I am finished raising my kids? And he decided, no he cannot wait. The better question would have been who is better equipped to deal with disappointment, parents or kids?

The kids are the litmus test for who’s right
Melinda, on the other hand, has wanted to leave for a while, but she stayed in the marriage for the kids. This is what it looks like to put the kids first. It’s easier with a lot of money: she can live in one-half of their 66,000 square foot house.

For Bill’s part, even in 2020 he seemed to adore Melinda – he can quantify it. But during the last decade, he has publicly humiliated Melinda with tone-deaf behavior like refusing to let her write part of the annual letter for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which they both run. He brought her to dinner at Jeffrey Epstein’s house which made her furious at the time, and still haunted years later. Then Bill doubled down and he misled the press — and possibly Melinda — about the extent of his relationship with Epstein.

Whatever Bill has done, it is so offensive everyone in the family is upset with him. The family knew the divorce was coming and while the lawyers hammered out an agreement the three Gates kids and their significant others went on a vacation with Melinda. Bill was not invited.

What problem does divorce solve? 
The problems divorce solves for Jeff Bezos are clear: He needed more attention than he was getting in his family of four children. He needed more fun than he was having with his wife who was raising his four children. When divorce is very sad, because the kids are so young, and a parent is so reckless, there is nothing to be learned about personal development except: fucking do it.

When divorce is a long time coming because a person has the maturity to put the kids’ needs first, and the grace to keep the family steady til the kids move out, it’s interesting to ask what does someone with such deep self-knowledge gain from divorce? With Melinda the question is even more intersting because she has all the freedom she needs.

She said she’s not distancing herself from the Gates Foundation, and its structure will not change. Perhaps this is because the foundation is practically the largest donor to the World Health Organization and for better or worse now is not the time for a world health funding bloodbath. Also, Melinda and Bill will continue working together because they have their collective eye on a Nobel Prize for their Foundation work.

There’s probably not a third person involved. I mean, there is, but Bill’s ex-girlfriend Ann Winblad has been involved from the start. Bill has been meeting her at her beach house for decades, with Melinda’s blessing. So if their marriage can have space for that, it’s unlikely they’d need to get divorced for a third party.

It’s hard to imagine Melinda cannot express herself fully in the marriage — she has unfettered access to billions of dollars and international credentials to make her mark without a divorce; she didn’t even drop the name Gates after her divorce.

So the divorce must be very personal. My guess is that Bill has lost his sense of what’s right. Vox has a great series where they ask what do we do now that would be unthinkable in 50 years. One of the answers is that being obsessed with rational thinking will be unthinkable in 50 years. In 50 years we will require people to balance rational thinking with emotional thinking. We will eventually be finished exalting the person who is all science and no heart.

I guess that makes Melinda a futurist. Because she’s finished right now.

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37 replies
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. It’s one of the worst parts of my life. And definitely the worst part of my kids’ lives. I never wanted a divorce. But I see how I took actions that lead to it. This blog is pretty much a dissection of every single thing that lead to the divorce — a cautionary tale so other women don’t do what I did. To be clear: only 2% of white and Asian college-educated women get divorced while their kids are still in school. This is census data. And it’s been true for decades.

      But when I go on tirades about how pathetic divorce is, people start tuning out, because I do it so often. Though I can’t help linking now to my best one:
      https://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2012/02/28/divorce-is-immature-and-selfish-dont-do-it/comment-page-2/

      So I thought I would instead contrast how Jeff and Melinda handled their disappointment with marriage. And how everyone can grow the fuck up and be like Melinda, including my ex-husband. I guess I should have written the post from this perspective. Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand what I’m writing until you challenge me in the comments.

      Penelope

      Reply
  1. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    Agree w Bart’s statement: you seem to lack any humility in your presentation of “those selfish people” who divorce while kids are young. Also: marriage is the most powerful example to children of what adult relationship looks like. If the marriage is toxic, it’s not a kindness to the children to stay together.

    Reply
  2. Nancy Zehr
    Nancy Zehr says:

    its all the saddest. ego, money, sad people making more sad people. its heartbreaking.
    when did trauma become a spitting contest? only in america. dichotomy.
    so sad…sigh.

    Reply
  3. Nancy Zehr
    Nancy Zehr says:

    oh. was my reply not a good enough reply?
    that both are saddest and we have to coke v pepsi ourselves to the grave? why does one have to be MORE tragic than the other?

    Reply
  4. LM
    LM says:

    “We will eventually be finished exalting the person who is all science and no heart.”

    REALLY? Most of America is clueless as to what science is, let alone exalt it.

    Scientists are usually shown in movies as nerds, heartless, 1 tracked.

    A true scientist is likely to be caring and attentive, the quick thinking is driven by the emotion to help people.

    I’m not referring to cheaters, self promoters: I mean the true definition of a real scientist; you are so wrong on this at a time when we need to move towards science, we are no where near close to where we should be.

    Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos are not scientists, not at all, not even close.

    Reply
  5. Jane Carnell
    Jane Carnell says:

    What a provocative piece, and so well-thought-out. I wonder if Bill’s fascination with vaccines, eugenics, and trying to save the world from itself, as it were, has anything to do with Melinda’s terminal disaffection? Or maybe she just wants to be her own person. Meanwhile, have you ever seen a photograph of their son? Breathtakingly gorgeous. And Melinda describes the son as ‘a feminist’– sounds like another interesting story; Oh and yes I am deevorced, too, but no kids. We shared the dog. That was 40 years ago. If I had to do it all over again, I’d stay, and tell him, OK emeff baby, get it out of your system because I am not setting you ‘free.’

    Reply
  6. Wenda McMahan
    Wenda McMahan says:

    I’ve read this “stay together for the kids” sentiment in many places, and more than once from you, whose opinion I respect quite a lot. As a divorced mom (for 16 and a half years), whose co-parented kids have now grown up (and with whom we’ll be chatting tonight, from their dad’s house), I am looking past the usual stab of pain and guilt to respond here.

    First, I think you have been through a great deal of terrible stuff in the past year or more, and I think you are piling on yourself by adding a whopping helping of guilt by sharpening this old dagger again. People change. Other people’s relationships are complicated. Divorce is hard on kids … so is parents who stay together seething, either violently (like my dad), or in cold silence, which the kids will pick up on anyway. Death is hard on kids too. Bullying is hard on kids, racism is hard on kids, gun violence is hard on kids, predators are hard on kids, poisoned air, water, and food are hard on kids. We might wish to feather their nests, but not only can we not do so, I have seen a good number of kids in this last generation experiencing a profound failure to launch. Quite possibly because we took away the very challenges they needed to build their own opinions and fend for themselves.

    I propose that seeing a parent decide not to settle for a life that doesn’t allow her (or his) desires any air-play whatsoever isn’t all that good for kids either. That living in two households gives kids an opportunity that some only get when they are put in a position (from learning profoundly persuasive contrasting viewpoints, or from life crossroads) where they get to see two ways of living life and then extrapolate for themselves a third way that suits them.

    The world is changing. Marriage used to be a contract that had to do with having enough hands to keep the farm going, considering another person “property,” or donating everything you had in exchange for someone to provide you a living you didn’t believe you could provide yourself … only to have that ‘everything you have’ be devalued by your benefactor anyway (which you’ve written about quite a bit).

    Let yourself off the hook. Consider that white men still run the world, so they’re certainly underwriting a lot of these statistics, one way or another. Life is messy and splendid. Ultimately, kids will do what they do with the hands that were dealt them. In your honesty and passion, you have given your boys many gifts.

    And happy mother’s day. From one mom who doesn’t regret making the best choice I could at the time … to one who deserves a friend.

    Reply
    • Not that Melissa
      Not that Melissa says:

      “I have seen a good number of kids in this last generation experiencing a profound failure to launch” This is a pretty big red flag. On the one hand, do you mean that people aged 18 to 25 are failing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Or do you mean that people aged 26 to, say, 40 are failing to achieve that goalposts of material wealth that their parents did at the same age.
      A so-called successful launch is in reality a ship buoyed by family money (among other things).

      Reply
    • Katarina
      Katarina says:

      You covered all the bases, including a dig at white men.

      I’m glad I’m not a young person trying to figure things out now. Having parents who were married three and four times, I grew up with fear of marriage. Now, after 36 years with the same man, over 30 of them married, I’m sad that a conversation about the truth of life can’t happen without “enlightened” commentary on why Penelope might be operating with (very likely) intentionally skewed data.

      And whoever wrote about scientists is making a great point. My scientist husband is a giver to the extreme. He is also a white male.

      I’m sad that everyone gets labeled by people who can decide, based on some kind of social science, who everyone else is at their core. I’m sad that judging everyone is not only acceptable, it’s expected.
      I’ve studied history extensively, lived in multiple countries and experienced a lot of life.
      All of that has taught me to see people, not categories.of people.
      As I said, I’m very glad I’m not a young person trying to find my way. All my instincts are considered wrong.

      Thankfully, I’m old enough not to care who thinks I’m wrong. But it wasn’t always the case.
      You did nail it about divorce.

      P.S. White women have proven to be far more disrespectful of me in the workplace then men. And they all call themselves advocates for women. They are delusional and power hungry. Not much different than the white men who are always blamed.
      None of this has anything to do with the topic of divorce in this post. The comment’s implication is that Penelope’s suppositions were wrong to begin with because white men underwrite bad data. So Penelope, next time you want to quote data to support your point, make sure you know the underwriters, and make sure they aren’t white men. Seriously, people.

      Reply
  7. Tina
    Tina says:

    Penelope,

    As a child who grew up in a toxic household with my parents fighting in most of my childhood memories, it was a relief when they finally split up when I was 14. The thing with marriage is that it is so hard because both of you have to give up so much of yourselves to be together. We don’t know what the home situation was for the family. At some point the situation may become unbearable for everyone. It’s hard for me to read about you speculating on what their home life may have been. I know you have strong feelings about people staying married for the kids. However, your fanatical approach does not meet people where they are. You mentioned people balancing making logical decisions with emotional decisions. It would be nice if you could extend that thought process to the topic of divorce as well.

    Everyone is hurt in divorce. Everyone is hurt when parents stay in an unhealthy marriage. The problem with saying that parents should stay married until the kids are old enough could be condemning one or both parents to years of misery, which in turn hurts kids too. There needs to be a balance where everyone can have their basic needs met. I don’t think that always means parents must stay together.

    Just something to consider.

    Reply
    • jp
      jp says:

      Fanatical seems a rather strong word to use towards a “family first” viewpoint. It wasn’t all that long ago when this was the dominant viewpoint. But anyway, while nothing in life is perfect, there are better and worse outcomes, and statistically speaking, better outcomes are tied with intact families.

      Reply
      • Tina
        Tina says:

        I chose the word “fanatical” because I have read stuff like this from Penelope for years and my main issue is that her viewpoint allows for little understanding or empathy. The problem with statistics is that it doesn’t meet people where they are and try to help them move forward. It’s lumps everyone into larger groups and creates more divisiveness.

        But I’m sure that my perspective is colored by my own experiences and the fact that I feel frustrated that Penelope’s is presented in such a way that there is no room for someone to disagree with her. Any opinion or perspective other than hers is deemed “wrong.”

        It’s impossible to understand someone and meet them where they are if you don’t allow them to have a voice. Probably this is also a key to a successful marriage.

        Reply
        • jp
          jp says:

          Well, should the understanding and empathy go largely to the children, or to the parents? She is voting for the children, and the science backs her. Perhaps people can move forward when they see a higher ideal than themselves? And I’m not talking black and white, every story has nuance.

          Reply
          • Tina
            Tina says:

            jp,

            You talk about nuance and how situations are not black and white and I agree. My original comment was towards Penelope who portrays a very black-and-white attitude about marriage and divorce. That’s what I was trying to say about meeting people where they are. We don’t know what the situation at home was like. Was there abuse? Mental illness? Or something else?

            As someone who has divorced parents but who has also been married for nearly 20 years I have seen and experienced both healthy and unhealthy marriages. Divorce is difficult and terrible. But in some cases it is the best of bad options. I disagree that parents should live in misery just to stay together for the kids. That negativity impacts kids too.

            What I feel frustrated about with Penelope’s post is that she clings so tightly to the notion that no one should get divorced. I’m absolutely not advocating for people to get divorced, but, to use your words, have a more nuanced perspective about divorce and not treat the situation as black and white.

          • jp
            jp says:

            Tina, I disagree that parents should not have to live in misery sometimes. That will jangle the ears of those swept up in popular culture. But the educated Asian parents Penelope mentions do choose to live in “misery” for the benefit of their kids. It’s a sacrificial position to take, backed by science, and while there’s no black and white, there’s evidence we can do better.

  8. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I have a friend who says their parents stayed together for the kids and how they wished their parents had just gone ahead and gotten a divorce because it was so tense in the house. Even if their parents weren’t fighting in front of them and there was no screaming, the tension was just always hanging in the air and they knew their parents were unhappy. The kids then started feeling like it was because of them the parents were miserable and couldn’t wait to hurry up and grow up so they could move out, the parents could divorce and everyone could finally be truly happy.

    Reply
    • MJSS
      MJSS says:

      This is huge – kids tend to already think that they are the reason everyone is unhappy. Add circumstances where it is either implied or stated loudly that “we’re stuck with each other because of you” and now you have kids who might see themselves as the problem and hate themselves for it. Horrible, horrible situation

      Reply
      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Syllogism alert! You can stay for the kids even though you are divorcing because the adults made bad decisions.

        That said, science has already proven thoroughly that marriages are happier without kids. I don’t think we are going to be able to hide from kids the very obvious fact that life is easier before kids come along. But it’s too late for that at the point of divorcing with kids, right? Because most adults had kids anyway because having kids makes life more fulfilling, more interesting, and more full of love.

        A great book about how kids don’t bring happiness is by Jennifer Senior: All Joy and No Fun, The Paradox of Modern Parenting

        Also, Daniel Gilbert’s book covers the science behind kids not making parents happy: Stumbling on Happiness

        Once there are kids, adults have to put kids first. That’s the rule. This is probably why adults are not happier after there are kids. Whatever. Adults need to be adults and put kids first.

        Penelope

        Reply
        • J.E.
          J.E. says:

          Also could by why the birthrate, at least in the U.S., is falling. A lot of people in the past had kids because “that’s what you did.” Now more people are willing to say no to that and that there are other ways of living. Not to mention affordability. Pretty soon, kids may be another thing that’s only attainable for those of means and not necessarily everyone. I notice more and more people, myself included, feeling this way. The good thing about being 41 is any questions of when I’m having kids have mostly stopped.

          Reply
    • ru
      ru says:

      kids who believe they are the cause of their parents divorce are very scarred. i have friends who think that. they can’t talk about the pain. and they are passing those scars to their own children.

      i think when kids say, ” you should get divorced” to their parents, what they are really saying is why can’t dad do what more of what mom says, and mom it’s okay that sometimes dad is right too. I just want to deal with 15 year old problems and not be tossed back and forth like hotcakes. so if leaving me along is encouraging you guys to get divorced, do that.

      Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      When kids say this what we should hear is they wish their parents were better communicators. The level of poor communication would have increased if the parents divorced and the kids would have been in the middle of that — still — had the parents divorced. In a kid’s mind divorced would have solved problems. But kids don’t understand enough to have any idea whether or not that would be true.

      Penelope

      Reply
  9. ru
    ru says:

    For early childhood development, it is absolutely essential for kids to have stable family life to develop proper social communication skills. Otherwise they have no help figuring our what their strengths are and how to navigate life. They are in constant survival mode: avoiding conflicts or seeking conflicts.

    The Gates and the Bezos kids are all older so I presumed they would be fine. But then they are young adults, they aren’t married off with their own family units yet. So I read this article (google translate from italian) that this tennis parents revolve their whole life to produce a future tennis star, to travel with him as his coach and emotional support. The mom’s family was on it, now her son is in it. The son says “I’m the only one in the family who earns and it’s a responsibility. .. and it is a great satisfaction” So the Gates and Bezos kids are probably not fine.

    https://www.gazzetta.it/Tennis/ATP/09-05-2021/atp-masters-1000-roma-tsitsipas-l-italia-mio-cuore-410866492872.shtml?cmpid=shortener_2a8e1e50rt

    Then I look around me, the families that got divorced are usually a form of the mom giving a lot into the family to make sure everyone has what they need to go to work or go to school. And everyone thought it was magic that happened. No one appreciated the mom for her background in the scenes work. While I think tense family dynamics makes family life unhealthy for the kids, but if the parents can work on their communication, separate but live together under the same roof… it will be helpful for kids to see conflicts being resolved

    Reply
  10. Stef
    Stef says:

    There was a time when all my friends’ parents were already divorced and I was just waiting for mine to take their turn. Now, I don’t necessarily think that children are the only ones who benefit from a family “staying together”. Co parenting is simply easier on parents themselves when they live together and keep the marriage, especially because there’s usually a time when regrets set in and they realize that the things they thought they couldn’t stand about their spouse are not nearly as bad as they previously thought.

    Maybe it’s also true that our emotions should have weight in such a big decision, but in my opinion, my parents should have stayed together because it was the logical thing to do.

    Now they are old and alone and they don’t have each other anymore, my mother took on more pride in her parenting as well as a bigger burden (as mothers do). My father is estranged and I know the guilt must be weighing on his heart because he missed everything. They may not have been happy, but at the very least they could have accepted each other as part of the same family and worked on their issues.
    At least that way, they might both be content now instead of looking bitterly at the past.

    As my parents get older, their decision and their relationship with us affect so many more factors of their life.
    My friend’s divorced parents moved in to her house during the pandemic and they are fine living together now that they have to; imagine if they had the willpower to cohabit this same way decades ago.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I totally agree with this comment. In fact, studies show that if people who think they need to get a divorce can wait five years they won’t want to get a divorce in five years. Divorce actually infuriates me. I coach so many people who are on the cusp of divorce and it’s so easy for me to get them to stay in the marriage. I feel like something happened and it’s no longer PC to be real with someone considering divorce. It’s no longer okay to explain to them exactly why their life won’t be better after the divorce. We need to do that more as a society.

      Penelope

      Reply
    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I wonder if this is what happens when the parents stop focusing on meeting the family unit (and each other’s) goals? What makes them feel defeated to the point of splitting the family and starting over?

      I, too, have seen the single older crowd who are miserable and didn’t meet their goals after-all like they thought a divorce would help them accomplish.

      It’s also interesting that from what I’ve seen a lot of families that can’t afford outside help divorce with young kids to split the time they have to parent, because parenting is hard. Then they date on the side for the fun and kicks half the week.

      Kids make a marriage harder, so splitting responsibilities streamlines it (emotional and financial especially)- but I think this requires a lot of trust between both marriage partners.

      Maintaining careers for both people is the equivalent of hedging bets that the marriage will fail. Ironically, due to that, in most cases it will.

      When will the half-in mentality stop? How do you meet any goals when you’re only half-in? When two people get married and decide to have kids, figure it out, and be ALL in. Otherwise, what is the point?

      Reply
      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        Sounds like people who needed to divide up the childcare responsibilities. Sit down with a calendar, and work out “I’ll take the kids to the zoo Saturday while you get a break, and you take them to the park Sunday while I get a break.” I admit that I envy divorced peoples’ scheduled child-free weekends. I don’t know about the dating, maybe they should try an open marriage instead of chucking the whole thing. Usually it is probably a “grass is always greener” thing. I also think it is helpful to marry a little older, so you’ve had plenty of years to find just the partner you want. Any lonely patches will help to appreciate the right person, when you find them.

        Reply
  11. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Usually skeptical of your takes on marriage/family but I have to agree here. Divorce is such a profound loss for kids.

    People always say kids will be more traumatized by parents staying in an unhealthy marriage than splitting up, but I wonder how often that really holds true. My parents’ marriage was dysfunctional…when they divorced my dad and his new wife simply replicated the dysfunction, but worse. So there was no escape and it actually just compounded the misery

    Reply
    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      Which is worse: parents that argue, or living out of a suitcase while perpetually shuttling between two homes/families? If parents’ arguments are unhealthy, they should get counselling and work on communication. And if they are screaming in front of the kids, they need to be the adults and stop it. They liked each other enough to marry and have kids, work on getting back to that. People always say “the kids are equally hurt by tension in the house,” but I think they underestimate most children’s level of self-absorption, ha! And how often are people happy after divorce, either? Co-parenting with a former spouse still requires communication. My (divorced) father says “once you have had a child with someone, there is really no such thing as divorce” as you will have to work on custody agreements, and see them for the rest of your life at family gatherings. Then, if they don’t remarry, everything is so hard for single parents. If they do remarry, things are complicated further with new stepkids, etc., and half of the new relationship is still the same unhealthy communicator from the first marriage.

      Reply
  12. Mark O.
    Mark O. says:

    Why wouldn’t the Gates Foundation want to replace the WHO rather than fund it? Part of the Nobel Prize pandering process, I conject. BG is being attacked for his clear Aspie characteristics the same way Jobs was, but with SJ it held off until after death.

    Reply
  13. Scarlet
    Scarlet says:

    I found your analysis of the these front page divorces to be so interesting. I have actually been wanting to gossip with someone about them! I agree with you on many points, though not all. I do believe that co parenting of dependent children should be done under one household when the parents can make things work. However, I do understand that sometimes the emotional turmoil of making this work maybe not be a good situation for the kids either. Anyway around it, it seems so sad that 24 years of marriage gets flushed down the drain because two people can’t love each other like they wanted to when they got married and and said until death do us part.

    Reply
  14. Minami
    Minami says:

    I feel so sad when I think about how my parents divorced. My mom tried so hard not to get my dad to leave, for our sake, even while my dad was constantly cheating on her and emotionally abusing her. She literally clung to him as he was storming out the door, and he shoved her away.

    I know my mom failed in a lot of ways, as you know too, Penelope, but she did try so hard.

    As for me, I was relieved when my dad left. No more screaming arguments, no more him being emotionally abusive towards my mom, no more me having to deal with always tripping over his girlfriends when I was online. If you love one of your parents, but the other not so much, it’s torture as a kid to watch the former being abused by the latter.

    I don’t know whether my parents should have divorced or not. I still don’t know if it would have been better for me in the long run if my dad had stayed. But I do know that, even though after that I saw him less than once a year, I never missed him. Not once.

    Reply
  15. Amy A.
    Amy A. says:

    You wrote, “In 50 years we will require people to balance rational thinking with emotional thinking. We will eventually be finished exalting the person who is all science and no heart.” I suggest that rational thinking that fails to incorporate emotions into its thought process is not, in fact, rational thinking. Rationality does not ignore relevant data, and emotions are never irrelevant. So as I see it, rational thinking that ignores emotional thinking is…irrational.

    Reply

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