I’m sitting pretty in the sweet spot of divorce. After almost four years of hammering out the mechanics, it seems as if I’m now tending a well oiled machine. There are schedules and systems in place that work exceptionally well for our children, communication is always open and honest between my ex-husband and I, and any emotions and disappointments between us run low. As co-parents, my ex-husband and I are connected in all the right ways for our children and I’m incredibly proud of the path that we have followed to not only divorce with kindness but to also continue to share, love and celebrate our children together as a family.
I’ve come to a place of real peace in my life, with my feet grounded firmly on the floor and my footprints marking a solid impression on the soil. My eyes neither look backward with regret nor do they dart forward with anxious worry about my future. I’m not hesitant at all to say that I am exactly where I should be, and it feels entirely right. With the utmost respect for one another, my ex-husband and I have created two thriving homes for our children, and in doing so, we have gifted each other with a new lease on life and love.
Of course there are two other hearts at play. Our children. Four years ago we adults made a profound decision that directed their life path along an entirely different route, and they have had no choice but to trust that their parents would be guiding them well. So shame on us if we can’t navigate through it and pilot their ship to shore. Yes, leaving love always hurts. But in the thick of anger, in the midst of blame, in the fiery circle of spite, and in the acidic venom of jealousy, we as parents still have an obligation to show our children that even when a lifelong promise of love unhinges, that one can leave love well and create anew. And by doing so we give our children strategies for them to manage the pain and struggles that they too will encounter in their own lifetimes. It is this mindset that has always set my direction of intention and it is the driving force behind my idea of a paradigm shift in divorce. Yes, my children have seen two parents leave love well. Not without pain. Not without sadness. But well. And letting my kids express themselves and their needs throughout the years has been key.
Last night my typically chatty eight year old daughter sat unusually quiet as she tucked herself into the corner of our family room couch. With legs crossed comfortably over a pillow, she rested a large brown leathered photo album on her lap. Filled with pictures of her early years, her little fingers flipped ever-so-carefully through years of memories, photo after photo, and page upon page a strong reminder of a rosy-cheeked little girl and her family of four. Sitting on the other side of our L-shaped couch, I watched from the corner of my eye, and gasped quietly as the weight of the album bore down not only onto her lap but also into her heart. Not moving a muscle, I was completely torn inside, as only a divorced Mother could know, and I watched as my daughter’s eyes slowly and silently filled with tears.
I grew up in a home, like so many of us did, where a generation of parents did not allow for kids to express their emotions outwardly. It was a completely different era and often times our emotions felt dismissed, diminished, or otherwise ignored. There’s not a piece of that parenting style that resonates with me today and I’m intent on doing it all differently. And so as much as I may have wanted to protect my daughter from her tears by standing up, distracting her and perhaps grabbing that album out her hands, I didn’t move. Instead, I chose to watch quietly as the pain and beauty of her real life and raw emotion unfolded.
Little drops of tears fell from my daughter’s eyes, landing softly on the pillow below.
Small sniffles escaped her lips which immediately prompted my twelve year old son, previously lost in the mesmerizing light of his laptop screen, to lift his eyes toward his sister, and start slowly shifting toward her corner of the couch. Hip to hip they sat, as the weight of the album was shared between them, in oh so many ways. My daughter sighed deeply, heavy with emotion and rested her head on my son’s shoulder. He immediately wrapped a tender arm of love around her neck. Then the silence was shattered and a watershed of tears came falling, loud and heavy with longing, for what they had in their hands but no longer have in their lives. As she choked back tears of sadness, my eight-year old daughter trusted me enough with her feelings to open up and share her experience with me: “I miss these days”. I took this as my cue, not to play down her emotion or distract her from it, but to stay in it with her, right beside her while she explored it.
There I was, present watching my child express a pain to me that I could not take away. I gently plopped my daughter onto my lap and wrapped my arms around my loving son. We flipped through a few more album pages and then together we cried. For the fading memories of our family of four. For the pain that I have caused my children by no longer loving their father enough, and for the blessing that I have remarkably been given by them not hating me because of it. For loving myself enough to know that I couldn’t stay with him for their sake, and for the quiet prayer that one day they will be old enough to understand that I did it for our sake. For having found the strength for all three of us even though some days I was desperate for someone to be strong for me alone. For the grace in being okay with having my children watch me cry right then and there, offering no solid answers that they could understand at their age about why divorce happens, no certainties for what the future may hold, and no quick fixes for what they’ve lost. We cried. And I held my dear children with their tear-stain cheeks and their reddened eyes.
My only parenting technique conscious to me at the time was to wait. To ride the wave of their emotion and wait, because eventually a child’s emotional intensity will change. It always does. I’ve learned to stay in long enough to make my children feel heard and loved and their emotions honoured, and then it will change. Something as small as my daughter’s blubbery snort made all three of us giggle. Then we laughed at each other’s messy faces and started joking about why in the world we were all squished together into a tiny section of our huge couch. Only when the emotional release valve balanced back toward equilibrium did I “parent”. I told them how incredibly proud I was of my two beautiful kids for being able to handle the challenges of living in two different homes, that it indeed is not easy for them, and that being able to cry and share their sadness was a clear sign of their strength, and not their weakness. I reminded my children that the album was filled with incredible memories to cherish forever, and that the mystery, the adventure, the faith, and the beauty in life comes in being unable to see what photos will be filling the pages yet to come.