They say a picture speaks a thousand words. And the one above most certainly does. But before I tell you about the events of the night pictured above, I must take you on a journey – a journey through our life of divorce with a child. Oh God, that sounds awful! Who would want to be dragged through that? Who?!?! Oh wait I see the problem. I forgot a word in the preceding statement. It was meant to read “a journey through our happy life of divorce with a child.“ A little better, right?
And you know what’s really cool? We still all have each other to boot! That’s right. Ian gets to share everything in his life with both of us without having to carefully prevent us from crossing paths at a joint celebration. I can call on Bob at any time to borrow a tool or ask him if he knows a guy who does something. Bob always knows a guy. And while I don’t have tools or too much to barter with per se, Bob knows I have been and will always be there for him and his family. Always! We share far more than things and celebrations. We are all there for each other just like any other family. But we didn’t get here by accident which is what I want to share with everyone who wishes this for themselves or a loved one.
July 5, 1999. Just typing the date still brings tears to my eyes as I remember feeling the overwhelming despair of the realization that my “nuclear family” would not survive. It’s funny that I write those words given the fact I really don’t know what they mean. I think it has something to do with the traditional family unit we picture from the 1950s and 60s. Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, Dog, and cat, or something like that. When a major element of the family falls away, particularly a parent, there is no longer a predefined expectation of happily ever after. Again, what the hell is that?
Anyway, even after more than 16 years, I sit here with tears streaming down my face, damn near sobbing at the possibility that in that moment when I chose to tell my then-spouse that I wanted a divorce, we could have lost it all. But we didn’t. And I think it is because we both held and still hold such high hopes and love for that family that we were simply unwilling to let it die. No it didn’t die. Yet, it did in fact take on a new and most interesting form that the world has rarely seen. We went from being the husband, wife, and son, to being the father, the mother, and son… quite seamlessly. Are you sitting there asking yourself why I think this is such a big deal and why you might spend your precious time reading such a seemingly uninteresting tale?
Well as it turns out, what we accomplished with far less effort than we were expending trying to hold our little family unit together is something that makes sense. A construct that allows us all to thrive and follow the life paths we are each meant to lead. One that includes not only respect for one another but also true friendship and real love. That’s right. In divorce, my ex-spouse and I found a way to maintain our love and our family. And I don’t mean we got through it or we avoided confrontation or we just minimized interactions. We actually found a more conducive model within which our family could thrive and be truly happy. Crazy talk, right?
I know. It sounds impossible. And if I hadn’t been a co-producer of these results, I too would probably think, “This woman is nuts and must be exaggerating. Her ex and her son must see it differently.” Well lest ye doubt the experience which I am about to share with you, I will included the perspectives of not only my former spouse and my son, but also of friends and family willing to share who have witnessed our unique approach to happily ever after.
Why am I sharing our story? I will repeat here some of what I shared in my first post so that you have the full context as you read on. My apologies for the slight redundancy, but this is the full version rather than the summary I shared yesterday.
To begin, I’m very proud of the life we’ve created. When I sit and think about it, I actually revel in our accomplishment. In fact, achieving this saved my soul which otherwise might have disintegrated into a million pieces and blown away. Second, I see way too many unhappily divorced families. And for that matter, I know of way too many married couples that stay together “for the sake of the kids”. I’m not convinced they’re not doing the kids (and themselves) more harm than good. So I want to paint a picture of a model of family life many may not have considered an option. Maybe you’re newly divorced and not sure if it is even possible to save your family. Maybe you feel you would have a better shot at happiness if you divorced but you can’t face the possible death of the family. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to. But there are a few prerequisites to consider.
First, I highly doubt that the happily divorced family model will work where violent behavior of any sort exists between family members. I’m not talking about the uncharacteristic outbursts that take place at the onset of the divorce scenario, but rather, real violent behavior displays by either spouse. Second, it is unlikely this will work where you really don’t share values of the other person. You can be mad at the other person, whether because you are hurt, they cheated on you, or they always put you down. These may only be symptoms of an unworkable living arrangement. But at the end of the day, you should be able to consider this person someone with whom you share a common definition of what is right and wrong. If you are unsure whether you can fulfill this last prerequisite, I would say you probably can unless you know you can’t. If your spouse stole from you or killed your pet or beat you, this probably won’t work for you. Otherwise, it may be worth giving this a shot.
I know. We are hard-wired to think that we must dislike our ex’s. We couldn’t possibly respect them, or God forbid even like them and still call ourselves really “good” ex’s. Could we? Wouldn’t that be a clear violation of the ex-spouse code? To like and care about a former partner after all attempts at reconciliation have been abandoned? Aren’t you just supposed to write them off at that point, declare your losses, admit you chose badly, and work to minimize the damage to the rest of your life? Especially the damage thrust on your kids. Oh the kids. That is for sure the worst part of it.
STOP IT! It doesn’t have to be all negative. You don’t have to hate your spouse. In fact, I’m going to grant you a license right now to continue to admire, respect, and maybe even like them – if you so choose. Now I’m not saying every ex-spouse is worthy of our admiration, respect, or anything else. Some are really horrible. Physical abusers and deadbeats should all be put in jail as far as I’m concerned. But for those of us who simply find our life paths, dreams, desires, and personalities have parted ways, your relationship can actually be much, much better as a divorced “couple” than it ever could have been if you would have chosen to forcibly stay together against your inner will.
I remember a friend of mine, shortly before Bob and my separation, sharing with me that he and his spouse were divorcing. I offered my condolences. He told me not to be sorry. They had just decided that they could not be happy together anymore. He said, “I don’t hate her. And why should I have to? I chose to be with her in the first place because there were things about her that I love. That doesn’t become untrue because we are divorcing.”
After my marriage ended, I spent 4 years in a relationship with another man whom I deeply cared for. But just as if I had finished reading a book, the story ended along with our relationship. At first, this man started down a path of vengeful ugly behavior meant to degrade me. At that time, I reminded him that while things may not be good any longer, we have many wonderful snapshots to carry around in our minds of those happy times. And I asked him not to destroy those photos. Those memories. The good times. They still happened. Even if we part.
What I share with you here in this blog is not a guide or a how-to. And it is absolutely not intended to pass judgment on those that don’t handle their situation the way we did. It is just an account of the many ways in which our lives and relationships have evolved since that fateful day in 1999. I feel compelled to share it since so many have told us how great it is that we have created this unique approach to family happiness.
The other possible outcome of reading this blog is that you might discover that there is more to think about when contemplating divorce than simply seeking to “fall in love” again. Here is a sampling of the topics I’ll cover along our journey: the parenting arrangement, legal matters, schooling, living arrangements, shared friendships, in-laws and other extended family, holidays, single life (which may sound great but actually sucks if you ask me), rebounds, attempted reconciliations, all the stuff your kid does that you both want to be there for, planning vacations, discipline, finances, new relationships, birthdays and other celebrations, and a sampling of alternative outcomes I’ve witnessed.
You may simply look at this list and be struck with the number of situations that you will inevitably have to navigate differently as a divorced couple than as a married couple. It may prompt you to think long and hard on the idea and consider going to greater lengths to preserve your family unit in the more conventional sense. Trust me. All of this wasn’t easy and I look with envy on many of my friends who seem to have figured it out, stayed together, and still live under the same roof. Some of these situations were simply less than ideal. But they could have been much worse had we not chosen carefully.
As I share this blog, I hope to also offer you the perspectives of my ex-husband and son so that you can see that I’m not the only one who thinks that this has gone well. Of course, we didn’t always come away with the same warm and fuzzy feeling about every event. I hope you’ll find this enhances the authenticity of the overall story. And given my ex’s untapped comedic writing style, who knows, you may decide you’d like to read more of his works and encourage him to make his writing available. Now… here’s to family and friendship always!