The last three months of my writing has been completely hijacked by my first major life event since divorce. My already fast-paced, modern day world became even more quickening, even more pulse throbbing, and at times overwhelmingly mind-racing as I planned and coordinated my 13 year old son’s Bar Mitzvah. Despite the fact that I had the best support structure you could possibly imagine (I mean my boyfriend is in the event planning industry for G-d sakes), I still sometimes found myself throwing my hands up in the air screaming “I can’t handle it all”, shamelessly stomping on my imaginary “Divorced Super Mom” cape in front of my kids, cursing out loud for taking on too much, and cursing my ex-husband (in my head, thank goodness) for taking on too little.
But, what a Bar Mitzvah it was! Oh yes, my cape is once again tightly fastened around my neck, and I’m basking in the glow of having gifted my children, my family, and my dearest of friends the experience of a genuinely connected and loving celebration between two ex-spouses, each of us with our current partners by our sides. Now, in the quieter days following this celebration, I finally have time to reflect and write about what feels to me, at least, something of value to share to others about how in the world we got here.
Indeed, I’m often asked what is our secret to this amicable divorce? Of course, I can’t truncate the working pieces of it into any Coles Notes version of the real thing (although I’ve been told it would be a bestseller if I could), but I suppose I could start by offering three key points of wisdom which might certainly be a good launch pad for most. I’d be lying if I said that that I’ve perfected each of these points, or that I subscribe to them for each and every incident between my ex and I. Nor could I say that they always come to me with ease, for as much as I’m loving and grounded, I’m also hot-headed, harsh, and disagreeable. I’ve learned to appreciate the subtle skill that my ex-husband has in not engaging in any back-and-forth with me when I’m a loose cannon, and he’s taught me that it’s truly better to shut it down and talk it out more calmly when the ember of fire is not so hot. So we all have work to do, don’t we?! I know I still do. And maybe a small piece of this blog will resonate with you, and you’ll be inclined to put a part of it into action in your own relationships that challenge you.
1. Get really uncomfortable in your life. Our job as divorced parents is to get uncomfortable for our kids and to stay in the discomfort of it all until it changes. Seats available on the bleachers for your son’s hockey game but you don’t want to sit near your ex and his new girlfriend? Sit your ass down beside them and talk to them anyway. It’s awful! Of course, your child on the ice doesn’t know (or care) that it’s awful, and if I need to remind you, it’s about him. All your child wants at that moment is to know that when he looks up at you from the net, both parents eyes meet his gaze and wave to him from the same spot in the stands, and that they aren’t behaving like opposing teams at opposite corners of the ice. Having a birthday dinner and your daughter wants both families there? Say yes and invite them all. It’s really awkward and the adults might be wishing the conversation flowed a bit more like the wine. But, your daughter at cake time? She’s a 6-year old blowing out her candles rather than sadly taking in the fact that half of her family is absent for her wish. These adult moments of discomfort shed the fear of what divorce might look like for your children, actively creating new images in their mind (and perhaps yours), of what divorce could be.
2. Don’t keep tabs. If you kept tabs in your marriage, then you’re likely still keeping tabs in your divorce. Let that shit go! Keeping tabs on how many times you are the one that is called out to pick up your sick child from school, or how often the responsibilities continue to fall on you, only perpetuates the negative conversations in your mind about your ex. Take yourself out of the equation when it comes to your children, even if it’s not fair to you, and just show up for them! You may not want to do this, for why should you have to work harder, or why should you run around more often? Indeed, why should you make it easier for your ex? Quite simply because it’s not about you or your ex anymore. It’s about your kids! Stop thinking of yourself as the burdened parent and consider it a loving investment in your children. Yes, it will weigh heavily on you, but this is the hard truth of divorce folks, as divorce challenges you to show up for your kids over and over again without question. When you can be there for your kids (and therefore your ex) without resentment, then you both begin to create space in your minds to imagine what other positive things are possible to still “partner” and do together.
3. Choose to have zero expectations of your ex-spouse, both in how you believe he/she should show up for your kids, and perhaps also how you believe that he/she should show up for you. Why zero expectations? Because it is no longer your ex-spouse’s work to meet your expectations!! Nor is it your ex-spouse’s job any longer to parent the same way as you! Plus, when you enter a situation with zero expectations for him/her, then magically you also have zero disappointments! Yes, your ex may be repeating the same disappointing actions that you’ve come to expect from him/her, but is your work to change your reaction to it, or you risk travelling down the more common road of an angry and bitter divorce.
I’ve been working on perfecting these skills for five years now, and I’ll admit they are still trying tasks at times. I’m absolutely certain the same thing would be said of my ex if you asked him. But, like most relationships in life, it takes effort to change the behaviour, practice to change the mental landscape, open communication to voice concerns, and lots of time to heal wounds.
Despite our imperfections, my ex and I have succeeded. I can feel it. A few weeks ago when our son stood proudly on that Bimah for his Bar Mitzvah, we, his Mom and his Dad, stood close and comfortably beside him. And I felt it. When our son chanted Torah so magnificently, a beautiful life moment occurred: Two tear-filled parents glanced at one another as if to say “Look at our little boy. What a moment we have here”. Without reservation, we turned to each other to share the emotion of it. And I felt it. Then, when the service was done, we filtered into the next room and celebrated with 175 family members and friends, and there were no lines drawn, no tension in the room, and only love. And everyone felt it.
A “good divorce” is not easy, but the rewards are huge. The gifts we reap are for ourselves, they are for our new significant others who deserve the chance to be loved by our kids without judgement, and most importantly they are for our children who need above all else, to know that they have two parents who are still working together to keep them surrounded with lots of love. What’s next for us, you ask? We are soon celebrating my son’s coming of age with a “family” cruise. WE being me, my boyfriend, my ex-husband, his girlfriend, and the two kids we all adore. Why on Earth would we do that? Because my son asked if we could celebrate with a trip all together, and we said…yes. Yes, it might be uncomfortable for the adults. Yes, it might be really weird. Yes, it’s certainly unusual, but that doesn’t stop me in my life anymore. I have zero expectations for how it’s going to all turn out for us adults, but I can guarantee you one thing – My children will have the time of their lives!