As an aspiring (paid) writer, I’ve often heard, and taken to heart, the sage advice to “write what you know”. Logical advice, isn’t it? Because it would silly beyond reason for me to sit here and attempt to write about quantum physics. Or the time space continuum. The extent of what I know about those topics fills only the space that it took to write the words (and my auto spell check fixed ‘continuum’ for me). So, what is it that I do know about? I sat down to write a list, old fashion style; pencil & paper. As you can see, there’s a few things crossed out. Those are a few of my various past occupations (or training for occupation in the case of ‘ Broadcasting’) Those are all also fodder for another story, for another time.
I did come up with a few more topics of which I’m passably knowledgeable, but was distracted by something or other by the time I’d hit number five. Regardless: it’s quite clear that I have one true expertise: Myself. Or rather: My Life. So, as you may have seen from my previous posts, that is what I write about. Now, truthfully? I don’t think I am (or my experiences are) any more interesting, or better than anyone else’s life stories, I just like to explore them through writing and sharing. And, of course, hope that someone finds them interesting, or better yet, helpful.
So. Here’s something cool that I know about myself. As in really feel quite certain about:
I give some really, and I mean really, good advice. Ballsy declaration, I know. Why would I have the audacity to think that I, with no degrees in anything, can give anyone advice? This is why: I Am A Girl Who Got Things Wrong So Many Times, Then Finally Got it Right. And this, my friends, is what makes me feel confident that I may have a little bit to offer here, in the way of advice.
Today, simply because it’s on my mind, I’d like to write to you about Divorce, and more specifically, Divorce with Children, and how to Unfuck Your Situation ( sorry for the vulgarity. My husband, a Marine, has passed along some colorful verbiage that I’ve adopted into my own vocabulary). I’ve been on both sides of this fence- as a grown child who’s parents divorced, and as a parent of young children who got divorced. And friends, if you’re about to go through this, are going through this, it’s all butt ugly and nasty right now? This is for you.
My divorce, in the first year (yes, folks, if you didn’t know it already, it takes a long ass time) was (as most divorces are) ugly. We were combative, angry, hurt, disgusted-with-each other people. We wanted to hurt one another. We wanted for there to be a winner, and a loser. We fought over a 10 year old Bose stereo, for God’s sake (among other material nonsense).
But most terribly, we fought over the children. Thankfully, it was a brief period, and the realization of the damage we were causing them was reprehensible. Our girls were 10 and 5 at the time. Let me tell you, as a side note- it’s like a knife to the heart still to this day, telling your child that Mommy and Daddy are getting a divorce, and seeing the devastation on their face. It’s an experience I wish on NO ONE, EVER. So, if you are about to pull the plug, you better be damn sure that you’re ready. I knew, even despite that gut wrenching moment, and all those that followed, I knew that there was no possible way that I could be the woman, the mother, and the human being that I wanted to be, in that marriage.
Disclaimer time: My ex-husband never was, or is a ‘bad person’, nor was/am I. Our divorce was not a consequence of him, or of me, it was a consequence of who we were together. We married young (I was 20) and after only 8 months of dating, and despite divorcing after 11 years, it was one of the best choices of my life- and we have two stunning, sweet, spectacular daughters to prove it. We both like to brag that, despite the odds against us, we did pretty damn good. We had a good run, we like to say, and we produced these two awesome little humans that never cease to amaze us.
So, without further ado, here is what I can impart, with complete confidence, and entirely gender neutral in the way of:
7 Golden Rules When Divorcing With Children :
1) If the words “I wish I’d never married him/her in the first place” come out of your mouth, punch yourself square in the face. Hard. Those words translate to, “I wish I’d never had you” to your child/children. No matter how much you hate your ex/soon to be ex, at one time you loved them enough to bring a new life into the world. You don’t have to love the person anymore, but you do have to respect the good that you did together.
2) The people that you were, in the eyes of one another, no longer exist. Your lawyers will make sure of that, if your own actions have not already done so. If this is not an ‘amicable’ divorce, then that means one of you initiated it, and the other person is very, very likely to perceive them self as a victim, someone who has Had A Terrible Thing Done To Them. And you are the one who did it. Correct or incorrect is irrelevant. They are angry, humiliated, and heartbroken, and that will make them at times vicious with verbal attacks and threats from their lawyers, to passive aggressive, to cajoling and overly nice, and right back to vicious again. Sometimes all in one hour. The advice here? Do Not Engage. *My (first) lawyer (he passed me along to a junior partner when realizing we were small potatoes) gave the best advice. He said, after about my fourth (billable) phone call, and in his gravelly voice, “Listen. Here’s how you do this. When he behaves- and by behaves, I mean, talks to you in a manner that is acceptable to you, you be nice, and allow it. But the minute he starts behaving in a way that is unacceptable to you, you say, ” I’m sorry, but we seem to be having trouble communicating, you’ll have to go through my lawyer now. That is it, understand? Do not engage.” Yes, yes I indeed do know that that is easy advice to give, and not so easy to follow. But: it works. It make take five or six times, but as those billable hours stack up, they will learn.
3) Your kids are NOT your sounding boards. Nor are they weapons or tools to use against each other. If you are doing that, you are a selfish asshole. If you don’t know that you are doing that, start listening to yourself when speaking to your children about your (ex)spouse. In fact, you should not be speaking to your child(ren) about your ex unless you are saying something positive, useful or beneficial to your child’s well being. Telling you kid that, ‘Well, I guess your Father/Mother couldn’t be bothered to put your clothes in the wash before they sent them back here, could they?’ is not a question for your child. It’s a question (if it’s really that big of a deal to you- which, by the way, it’s not.You’re looking for something to bitch about, just so you know.) for your ex, when you kids are asleep, or at school- anywhere but near you. And, this advice applies to when your young child asks you questions about why you are getting a divorce. There is ONE answer to that question, which should REMAIN the answer until your child is an adult, and choses to ask the question again. The answer is this; ” I know that it is so hard for you to understand, and that you are so sad (we are sad, too) but there are grown up reasons that are very complicated to explain right now. That may not seem fair to you, but we need you to trust us in that, even though Mommy and Daddy aren’t going to be together anymore, we want you to know how much we love you, and we are always going to take care of you. ” That’s the basic framework of what to say. And you both need to say it, and be firm on it. Your child does not need to know the details of your marriages’ demise, the need to know that they are safe, loved, and protected. Remember: you want to bitch about you ex? Call a friend, a family member, hell call your lawyer at the tune of $$$ a minute, but DO NOT bitch to your child about it.
4) If you’ve begun to date, wait (approx.) six months into the relationship before introducing your new “friend” to the kids. I don’t care if he/she is the greatest person you’ve ever met, or that your positive that you’ve found the new love of your life. Fucking wait. Your child does not give a flying fuck how kind and sweet this new person is. They don’t care that he/she makes you feel alive for the first time in years. I mean, really, seriously: good for you, and all. You totally deserve that, it’s Fun! Exciting! And let’s face it, you’d kinda love it for it to get back to your ex how Fricking Happy You Are Without Him/Her. Rub it their face. *Yah. I did that. Guess what? It didn’t last. Raise your hand if you know what that’s called. Ooh, ooh, I know, I know: REBOUND. So, see, I’m not being superior, I just know from learning the hard way.
5) Do not EVER put your child on the spot. That means do not ask them: “So, who would you rather live with, me or ___” do not say ” You know, I would be sooo lonely if you didn’t live with me”. Don’t question, ” So what did you do at ___” this weekend?” That last one may seem innocent enough, on it’s own. But really? Why are you asking that? Question your own motives, are you being nosey? Trying to see if he/she did something they weren’t ‘supposed’ to so you can run and call your lawyer? You can play the, “what, I’m just asking, Goddd” game with others, but not with yourself.
6) Do not, I repeat, do not try to buy your kids happiness or forgiveness. Self explanatory.
7) Do not treat or talk to your children as if divorce is a crime or which they are the victims. The sooner you teach them a healthy attitude about your divorce, the less they will behave like victims in need of constant coddling. This doesn’t mean be insensitive, it means being age appropriately honest, direct, and sympathetic without going overboard. It’s divorce, not death. A mock conversation: “I realize that you’re sad (or angry, or whatever the moment calls for) however, we still have ways that we act and speak to one another….” You acknowledge their feelings, let them have their moment ( in another room, if need be), and then, you move on. I don’t however, suggest that in that moment, you bombard them with all the awesome stuff that happens when you divorce (two birthdays, two Christmases, etc.) They are sad. Period. They want Mom and Dad together, even if that means only one birthday or Christmas celebration. There’ll be plenty of times to subtly help them see those good points. Just recognizing their feelings, and their right to have them is so much more impactful and validating than anything.
So, listen, there’s tons more, of course. But that’s the basics- the foundation of getting through this, and most importantly getting your children through this with as little scar tissue as possible. The best part is, it’s never (almost never, at least) to turn it around. All you can initially control, is your own behavior. But what will happen is that, by setting the bar (so to speak) of how you will conduct your divorce, you will leave no alternative but for the other person to fall in line and act accordingly. Otherwise- you look like the good guy, and they look like the bad guy. No on likes to look like the bad guy, right?
So, now flash forward in my personal divorce story; about eleven years post divorce:
Both of us have remarried, to the people we truly belong with. Both of our respective partners are everything we could wish for as co parents to our children. Selfless, loving, and as devoted to our girls as we are. The four of us parent our girls, and we value what these bonus parents bring to their lives, even when we have pangs of jealously. (We’re human, of course we have moments. Then we suck it up and deal.)It’s been like hitting the fricking jackpot, I kid you not. It didn’t happen overnight. Plenty of bumps along the way, but we stayed committed to the higher purpose: our children’s emotional well being. We reminded our selves, when necessary, of those dark early days, when our divorce drama was causing actual physical illness in our older child. Days I’d like to wish away, but they are forever a stark reminder of how powerful an impact our behavior has on our children, lest we ever forget our selves.
We’ve had joint birthday parties for the girls, we talk daily about the girls, we are friends by way of necessity, for a harmonious life. The craziest twist yet: This year, as part of a four day vacation in Florida, we spend two nights at my exes house, no lie. We ( the four of us) wanted to make things as easy for our daughter as possible. Was it awkward? Yes, but not unbearably so. Was it weird and slightly surreal? Sure, I mean, this is a totally new chapter in our parenting. I think everyone was a little anxious, because the truth is, divorced people with children (who are trying to make the very best of it all) are likely to always be treading carefully for a very long time, if not forever. Granted, this trip was unusual even for exes who get along, and I’m not suggesting you do this any time soon 😉
Here’s what I am suggesting, though, to those going through it: I suggest you stop being so self centered. That sounds harsh, but hear me out. Obviously, divorcing sucks. Big time. Its generally hell. But, what’s done is done. And my friend, it’s time to accept that your marriage is done, and now, what you need in life is to be your best person that you’ve ever been, for your own sake, and for your kids. I don’t even care if you’re doing it to spite the other person. You want to be the ‘winner’? Go for it. But- the winner is NOT the one who gets awarded the most ‘stuff’. The winner is the one who never sinks to their lowest level. The winner is the one who always takes the high road, every time. The winner is the one who doesn’t take the bait, doesn’t pick the fight, and doesn’t play dirty. If you do that, then you kids will be the ultimate winners in the end. This applies at ALL times, no matter what the other person is saying or doing. That is why you have a lawyer, they’re getting lots of your money, so make them be the hard ass.
I’ve been harsh, I agree. I know it’s rough. I’ve no doubt you’re probably doing the “divorce diet” (it primarily involves being so sick with stress, worry, anger, fear, that you can’t eat). You have lawyer expenses along with everything else that divorce brings with it, and it means you will likely be in debt for years to come. No one, especially no one who has lived through that, will deny you your right to a pity party. I’m going to guess that everyone is walking on eggshells around you, too. They’re telling you your totally right, and they’re letting you go on and on endlessly about your Situation. Well, sorry toots, I’m not going to do that for you. Obviously, no one- including me- is going to make you feel like shit, if you lose your shit here and there. I’d be a big fat liar if I said I didn’t, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel great to do it, in the moment. But ( there’s always a but) pick your time, place, and duration wisely, and always away from the kids. And if you screw up, and lose it in front of them ( or at them, because you will, guaranteed): Own It. Call yourself out on it, apologize, move on.
That’s it, really: Move On. As in forward, without apologies or regret. Forgive each other. Forgive your self. It’s not at all easy to do, it’s an act of sheer virtual mountain moving strength, but do it. Every single day. Your children will thank you. (Some day. Like when they’re all grown up and see that all of life is not black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. But wait for it, it’ll come.) We are living proof that a divorced family doesn’t have to be a “broken” family, and neither does yours.