One of the most hopeful things I came across in all the divorce books I read as I was going through my own uncoupling, was the statement that children can get over the injury of divorce itself as long as the parents can remain civil toward one another. As any parent in this unenviable boat knows, there is a lot of guilt and anxiety about ruining our children’s lives when we make the choice to divorce (or when that choice is thrust upon us, as the case may be). To hear that the “experts” had “verified” this data through years of research was no small relief to me.
While it is common sense not to expose your children to the hurt and negativity that typically accompany divorce, it’s something altogether different to avoid this 100% of the time in real life. After all, this is real life we are talking about. Buttons get pushed (who knows them better than your former spouse?), feelings get hurt, agitation reigns. This is true even with married couples I know, so you can imagine how this reaches new heights in divorced couples.
I once recall bumping into my ex-husband out on a date about 18 months after we split. Gulp. In the blink of an eye, I had the following thoughts: 1) Oh God, here it is. I knew this day would come and here it is. 2) How can he be out on a date? It’s his night with the kids. Where are the girls? 3) Are they really coming into this restaurant where I am about to meet my date? Awk-ward.
“Where are our children?” popped out of my mouth before I had time to take a breath, let alone count to 10. Unfortunately I am unable to fully convey the tone of voice (accusatory, shaming) and the body language (furrowed brow, pursed lips) that sailed out alongside the words, but trust me it was not my finest moment.
About 45 minutes later, after talking myself down (with the help of a friend), I was able to send a text to him to apologize. I simply told him that I was sorry for the crappy comment and that it wasn’t any of my business. Generously, he responded with something to the effect of “it’s okay, this divorce thing is hard.”
While my children didn’t witness this encounter, thankfully, it was a humbling moment for me – and an instructive one. This being civil thing is much harder than it looks, even with the blessing of an easy-going ex. We are, all of us, doing the best we can as parents living apart. Fostering a cooperative and collaborative partnership with our former spouses is the greatest gift we can give our kids, and it makes life far more pleasant for us too.
While I find divorce tragic, it doesn’t have to be toxic. Healthy divorce is not an oxymoron and we owe it to our kids to aim for this. Practice, not perfection as I state in my booklet, The Art of Co-Parenting.
To quote Liv Tyler’s grannie, “Take the high road. The low road is so crowded.”