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I sit with a friend who has recently divorced. She is a beautiful person with an equally beautiful heart. The more we talk, the more I realize that she still struggles with one thing. It is actually what I have struggled most with and what the majority of divorced people struggle with. The effect divorce has on our children.
I remember one day my sister telling me that I needed to stop blaming myself and apologizing to my children. That our mother did not waste time doing that. She instead empowered us. She simply lived by her faith alone. Well, that and my mom and I have two different personalities. My mom generally thought she was right and I generally will over apologize. My sister’s advice was not lost on me. I absolutely realized that because my mom tended to be a more difficult personality it was actually a really good thing. She wasn’t going to blame herself for someone else’s actions even if it did lead her to yell. She also leaned so heavily on her faith that it never occurred to her that we were being given anything except for the life and path God intended for us.
I have said this before and I will say it again. As a child of divorce myself, it is not divorce that is bad for children. It is the parents behaving badly that is bad for children. In fact, my children asked me to get a divorce for some time before I actually did. Why? Because as we already know, often children are smarter than we are.
I wasn’t weak, I wasn’t a doormat. That’s not why I stayed too long. I just wanted my children to have their family. It was naive of me to stay too long. As the child of divorce I knew better. I know that it’s better to have a house with no yelling and people who admit maybe they can’t love one another the way the used to.
When I first retained my attorney, I found myself singing in the shower the next morning. I had forgotten how much I used to sing. In the shower, in the car with my kids. I was happy. My sister warned me that divorce can be rocky and that there was much to come. Still, I lost ten pounds within the first few months and I wasn’t even trying to. My kids seemed happy too. There was a relief that we were moving forward.
The games started. The kind of divorce games that people convince themselves are reality when in fact, they are just an angry spouse punishing and controlling the other. I began calling it the, “Divorce Olympics” because the games just escalated and got bigger and bigger.
So how could I forgive myself now????
I had already failed my children at marriage. Now I can’t even get them out of another bad situation. A very, ugly divorce. Had I known what the retaliation would be, I would not have started a divorce until my children were out of high school.
I plead for assistance in making this less painful and confusing for our children and say that they are not always doing well. My children are being ‘used and confused’ by someone who should protect them. My husband says things like, “What do you expect? They’re from a broken home.”
All I can think is really? Really? Really? REALLY? Is that really what you think is happening and oh, by the way it’s not 1950 anymore. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.
My parents marriage was imperfect. My father had a drinking problem which he never overcame. He left when I was five years old and came back a few times here and there. Essentially, I grew up without a father. He signed the house over to my mom so that we would have a home. He never really overcame his drinking to a point where he had any ability to give my mother support. She raised us all by herself after he left. That means emotionally, physically, financially and unconditionally.
Do I remember some yelling? Do I remember some arguments? Do I remember my mother being furious and saying things she probably wished she didn’t? Absolutely.
What do I remember most?
I remember that often in quiet moments she would remind me that my father loved me and that he had an illness. She would remind me that she wanted us to love him because he was our father and that she still loved him. It just was what it was.
And my father? When I was in college I went to see my dad. He went into his bedroom and came back out with a box of things. One was the bracelet that I had worn in the hospital when I was born. The other was a card written by a little girl. On the front there was a picture cut and pasted of a big, work horse. On the inside, “Dad I love you as much as this horse weighs.” My dad had kept those things of mine all those years. Then he told me that he was getting remarried. He followed that news by saying, “I will never love anyone the way that I love your mother. We could just never get along and I am older and I am lonely now.”
My parents were quite human, quite flawed, quite ordinary. They were also quite remarkable.
They didn’t make all the right choices. Our family didn’t turnout the way they had once dreamed and expected.
However, my mother for all her struggles as a single parent left us not with the sting of divorce, but rather the aftermath of love.
My father, despite being a drinker and not rationally seeing that of course they couldn’t get along because of his drinking. He still chose to leave us not with the sting of divorce, but rather the aftermath of love.
Every day I struggle to remember in particular my mother’s example.
It is not the sting of divorce that damages our children. It’s not the fighting they will remember years from now or our mistakes.
We have to love our children more than we hate the person who hurt us. It means we must choose the aftermath of love.