Yesterday I posted about lies, deceit and betrayal and as I expected, it stirred up a lot of feeling in people. Today’s post is focused on marriage, divorce, and children because I got a flood of emails from people related to this topic. It seems many people are in relationships that aren’t growing anymore. We could talk about that quite a lot. How is it that our divorce rate is so high? It’s over half of all marriages that fail now and I believe a large part of it is cultural. We’re taught to keep looking for bigger, better, newer, shinier. So much of what we value is external. A lot of the time, we aren’t looking at the gifts right in front of us.
We’re living in a time when everyone is busybusybusy, racing from one place to another and then it’s Monday again. And again and again and again, and wow. A whole year just went by. Three, five, wait. How old am I? This year I’ll take that vacation. Hmm, maybe next year. This weekend I’ll hang out with my family. Oh, wait, I can’t, I have a deadline. We also have a broken system where you have to work your a$$ off to be able to afford health insurance for your family and to keep food in the fridge and a roof over everyone’s heads. It’s not like I don’t get that, but still. A walk after dinner. A dinner without devices on the table. A story before bedtime. Something. A card for your spouse for no reason once in awhile. Date night. A touch on the arm on your way out the door and a moment to really see each other, remember each other. Or it’s going to die.
I dated a guy who was a runner once. Every morning he’d jump out of bed and go for a run. Then he’d come back and jump in the shower and race out the door with barely a goodbye over his shoulder. He’d race the entire day until he collapsed in bed at night. He raced through everything. I’ll leave it at that, but I mean everything. The only time he slowed down is when he’d travel for work. Then he’d call me and want to talk because he’d be lonely in some far-off place. You can’t race through life and prioritize your to-do list and come home and zone out in front of the television and never give the people in your life your full attention and expect a relationship to keep growing. You have to water it. You can’t have the attention span of a flea and think that’s going to cut it. If you don’t see and appreciate what you have, you’re probably going to lose it.
Weddings are easy, marriages are not. You have to choose to marry the person every day. To see them and hear them and cherish them the way other people do, people who are not taking them for granted and who don’t assume they know all there is to know. It’s funny, I’m lucky enough to have some friends I’ve known over twenty years. I don’t ever think I know all there is to know. Yesterday, I was supposed to talk to a girlfriend I’ve known since I was twelve years old and we couldn’t make it happen with her kids, my kids and the time difference. But when we do talk, it’s not going to be static on the line because things have happened since we spoke last week. She’s not the same today as she was seven days ago when we talked about everything, and neither is anyone else. People felt confronted yesterday by what I wrote. People who may be engaging in email flirtations or more. You think I don’t understand? I fully understand, believe me. It’s painful to live in a house with someone who doesn’t see you anymore. I’ve been there more than once. More than twice.
What do you do? You go to the person you built a life with, even if the walls are starting to crumble and you say four words: I am in pain. And with as much kindness as you can, you tell them exactly where you’re at, even if you’re petrified, even if you have children, even if you would rather suffer yourself than bring pain to your family. Because I promise you, if you are in so much pain that you’re resorting to desperate acts with other people, your family is already feeling that. If you have children, on some level they know. They may not understand what they’re feeling, but they are feeling it. They’re on the ship with you. My parents got divorced when I was four and I remember all of it. If the space between you and your spouse is charged or dead or full of anger or lies or heartbreak or utter disappointment, realize that’s the space your children are growing in. Children have no defenses, they aren’t hardened, they feel it all. Maybe your spouse will storm out. Maybe they’ll hold your hand and cry with you, and it’s possible you’ll touch on something ancient between you that hasn’t been stirred in a long time. At least you’ll be communicating honestly.
If you feel like you can’t have the conversation without support, ask to go to couples’ counseling. I’d highly, highly recommend that in any case. If you have children, I think it’s a must, even if you end up talking about how you’re going to end things, but if you can save it, save it. Try with everything you’ve got. Read the book, “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 year Landmark Study”. We want to say that children are resilient and what matters most is that they have two happy parents. That’s true, but I can tell you honestly the best thing for your kids is keeping the family together if there’s any way possible to do that and be happy. I say that as someone who wasn’t able to do that.
Sometimes the best thing for everyone is for mom and dad to live in two different places. I just think people go a little too far with this kids just need mom and dad to be happy. I hear about schedules that are convenient for divorced parents, but so insane for the kids. Here one night, there the other, back and forth so much it would make anyone’s head spin. I grew up three nights here, four nights there, and even that was really hard. There’s a line. If you have to split because staying in your marriage requires the crushing of your spirit and your children’s too, then yes, you need to end it, but put the kids first. If you have a co-parent who won’t do that, that is so, so hard, but then your job is to rise to that occasion the best you can and be a rock for your children. A safe space (and to get support with that if you need it). Being a single parent is not at all easy. Depending on the other parent, it can be very, very painful, or it can be manageable, but as with everything in life, you cannot give your power away to someone else, or make everything someone else’s fault. Your ex is your ex for a reason. If there’s no support, understanding, respect or consideration coming from them, that is rough, but then your job is to figure out how you’re going to deal with that with grace and strength. You’re going to have to figure out who and what you can lean on to get through so your children do not pay the price, or pay as little as possible.
There are three kinds of adults I meet. Those whose parents got divorced, those who wish their parents had gotten divorced, and those lucky people who grew up with two parents who were able to pull it off. You know what? Everything you go through will open you and teach you something if you let it. As much as we may think we do, or we may want to, we never know what someone else’s path is supposed to look like, even our own children’s. Yes, your job is to put them first. Always. And to protect them as much as possible, and to nurture them and hold them and share with them anything and everything you’ve got. Your job is also to teach them what it looks like to be a happy, kind person. Isn’t that what we all really want for our children? We want them to be happy, right? To live life with their hearts open. To be able to recognize what’s true for them, and to live guided by their own inner yes. How will they be able to do that if you don’t show them what it looks like? It’s not impossible, but they’ll have to work a lot harder to figure it out without an example.
No matter what happens or how you feel, your ex will always be your child’s other parent, the other most important person in their world. Do you know people who don’t have good relationships with their moms or their dads? It’s a heartache that never goes away, and it wreaks havoc on all their interpersonal relationships unless they work on it a lot. You don’t want that for your children. (If we’re talking about a situation where there’s abuse and you are dealing with concerns about your child’s physical and emotional well-being, then we are in a different territory altogether, and then your job is to do everything you can to protect your child). Once in a parking lot I saw this little girl, probably about three years old, crying in her stroller and saying that she missed her daddy. Her mom looked really stressed out and yelled at her, “It’s a mommy day, you’ll see your dad tomorrow!!!” I couldn’t help it. I went over to her and said, “She just misses her dad, it’s totally normal. She loves you. Why don’t you take a time out, I’ll stay right here with her for a few minutes.” And her mom started crying and sat down in the drivers’ seat of her car, and I squatted down right outside the door and had the most amazing conversation with that little person. When her mom came out of her car she handed her cellphone to her daughter so she could talk to her dad.
The best thing you can do for your children is support a healthy, nurturing relationship with their other parent, even if their other parent is a rat-bastard, no-good @#$SB(&^$%. Okay? I understand that might be your reality, but even then. Your children will figure that out for themselves if that’s the case, your job is to help them get the best out of their other parent while they’re little. To feel loved and supported by that person, even if s/he has a limited capacity to love anyone. Also try to remember you have your experience with your ex, and your children will have theirs. Putting your kids in the position where they feel they have to choose sides is brutal for them and not loving. If you can work out a way to be friends with your ex, that is so ideal, but I know that’s not always possible.
What is possible is that you never, ever say a negative word about your ex to your child. Ever. I know exes who launch an intentional campaign to turn their children against their other parent, and I want to say if that is something you are doing, I can absolutely guarantee you will pay for it dearly at some point. It may not happen until your children are eighteen, nineteen, twenty, but as soon as they’re old enough to look back and think about what was said and done and by whom, you will pay for it. That is not putting your child’s best interests at heart, that is allowing your rage, bitterness and disappointment to poison you and to bleed into your children. They will never thank you for that, and if you cost them their relationship with their other parent and steal from them years they could have had love and support that were denied to them because of you, that is going to have a very damaging effect on your relationship with them. Right as you enter your golden years, right at the time when you hope those relationships will blossom and you and your grown children can develop a deeper bond based on a greater, more mature understanding of what it means to be a human being on planet earth, right then…that is when they’re going to understand what you took from them, and right then is when you will pay. Do not let that happen to you or to them. If you are enraged, talk to a therapist, your best friend, your mother or anyone else who can lend a sympathetic ear, but do it when your children are not within earshot. And do your best in the face of everything to work it out so that your children have as much stability as humanly possible.
Sending you love, as I always am.