When your married son or daughter sits you down one day and says, "It's over, Mom. I'm unhappy. I'm getting a divorce," you might feel shocked and incredulous and totally unprepared.
Or you might have seen it coming, the words no surprise at all.
Whatever your feelings, divorce is always a hard word to hear.
Brides and grooms do not walk down the aisle thinking that in a few months, years, decades, they'll be divvying up the family china. No matter how broken or dysfunctional or simply over a marriage is, it did not start out this way. Divorce is the end of a dream. And as common as it is - one of every two American marriages ends in divorce - it is never easy walking away.
Add a child or two and the walk becomes harder.
When my daughter told me three years ago that she was getting a divorce, I was shocked. And then I was angry. And then, when I wasn't angry anymore, I was sad.
My grandchildren were barely one and three. What would this do to them?
They are who I fretted about. I worried that a divorce would annihilate their childhood. I anticipated tears and bad behavior, two sad little kids, always packing their bags, always having to choose between mom and dad, always looking around at all the typical families and feeling different and left out. I thought they would be ostracized. I though this was the end of their happiness and mine.
How It Used to Be
I understand now that all this angst and worry was a result of my looking at divorce through 1950's eyes. Few people got divorced back then, when most of us were kids, though two of four of my uncles were. But this was whispered about in private, in hushed tones at the kitchen table. Their poor kids. Awful, awful. So sad. Tsk. Tsk. It was nothing that was talked about to others.
Even in 1968, when I taught fourth grade for a year, divorce was a bad word. The one boy in my class whose mother had a different last name than his? If he got a C on a spelling test, if he didn't pay attention in class, if he were tardy or forgot his lunch, any misbehavior, and teachers with 20 years under their belts never failed to remind me that this was because his parents had split up.
All I knew about divorce I learned back then. And all of it was wrong. I know this now.
My daughter's divorce was not easy. It wasn't amicable. It wasn't "Let's shake hands and part ways." It wasn't like an episode of Boston Legal where everything is wrapped up, case solved, in an hour. It was messy and contentious and unpleasant and painful and endless.
But the kids were okay all through it. Their mother and father made sure of this. They argued in private, not in front of them. They hashed things out in texts and in emails. They hired lawyers and were enemies in court. But in front of the children, they were just Mom and Dad, two people who took care of them, and played with them, and listened to them and told them they had to eat their dinner before they could have dessert, and, no, they could not watch any more TV, two people who totally and absolutely loved them.
Making It Good
Geography was the one big change. The kids now lived in two houses instead of one. But they had a room in both houses and their own beds and clothes and toys. And Grammy and Grampy came to live with them for a while. For the children, all of this was good.
Their parents continue to make it good. They are together for their children at birthday parties and soccer and swimming and school events. They trick or treat together. And they are together in the smaller things, too. "Can I have another piece of candy," the four year old asked her father Halloween night, when everyone was back at his house drinking cocoa. And he said, because he didn't know how much candy she had already had, "Ask your mother."
The kids cry now and then, of course. But it's not about leaving Mom's to go to Dad's. They cry for reasons all kids cry: because they don't want to go to bed, because they want two bowls of chocolate ice cream, because they want to play one more game of Wii.
They have a long, long way to go before they are grown up. But so far, they haven't been scarred by their parents divorce. Their parents love them. Their parents put them first. Their parents work together to raise them. They praise. They discipline. They talk on the phone at the end of the day and share stories and plan.
The kids do, too. Every night they call whichever parent isn't there. Good night, Mom. Good night, Dad.
Divorce is hard. Raising children is hard. But lots of things in life are hard.
Love makes things easier. Respect and patience and acceptance, and a whole lot of love.