I'm not sure if it's my age or my stage in life, but lately it feels like I'm hearing of more and more couples I know heading to Splitsville. And while divorce is seldom good news, I know most of these people fought really, really hard to keep it together. They just couldn't, and in the end felt it was the best thing to do for everyone—including their kids.
The other day I heard from an old friend that she and her husband were getting a divorce. After the usual element of surprise wore off, my thoughts immediately went to their two kids. My heart sank a little—not only for what they are going through now, but also for the years to come. When a couple with kids divorce, everything changes. Not always in a bad way, but if you're a child of divorced parents, you can't help but look back from time to time and think about how it changed the path of your life. And unless you've been through it, you'll never be able to completely empathize.
My exact thought at that moment when I was thinking of my friend's children was what I desperately wanted to say to her and others: Whatever you do...
Don't pretend It didn't happen.
Far too often by the time a divorce finally happens, the former couple either harbors so much anger or they're just so tired from the fight that they'd rather focus on the future. I get it. It sucked. But kindly stay seated and buckle your belts, Ex No. 1 and Ex No. 2. Your job as parents is far from over. Together you brought these children into the world, and forever each of you will be equal parts of their future.
For kids, everything they've ever known changes when a divorce happens—a new second bedroom, where they spend holidays, and not seeing their pets every day. Just because you've fantasized about a new start, doesn't mean your kids are ready to embrace it. In fact, what they need more than anything is to know that although mom and dad decided to part ways, your love for them is as united as ever.
The other day I was visiting my friend in the hospital who had just had a baby, fathered by husband No. 2. I had brought her two kids to the hospital with me, and the room was buzzing with visitors. Something was mentioned about her ex-husband's new business, and the kids chimed in about wanting to work there. My friend encouraged this idea and engaged others in the conversation. They chatted about how things were going at their dad's while she was in the hospital, how their dad's girlfriend had already packed a lunch for her daughter's field trip the next day, et cetera. "What a gift," I thought, for these kids to feel free to share openly about life in the other half of their world.
I'm not a therapist. But as a child of divorced parents, I do feel qualified to give you some advice. If you're a divorced parent, family member of the divorcing parents, stepmom, new boyfriend, whoever ... if you want the best for these kids, honor their past by not ignoring what is their present and ultimately their future. If you're holding on to hurt, anger, guilt or remorse, either let it go or don't let your kids in on your feelings. If you're the parent, don't talk badly to your child about the other parent. If you're the step-parent or significant other, be the kinder one to the ex. Encourage your kids to talk about the other parent and focus on the positive. And as hard as it is, let them revisit the good times you shared as a family by talking about past family vacations, funny stories and happy memories.
"No love is lost" is one of my favorite sayings. Everything that once bloomed, regardless if it now lays dormant, is not wasted time and energy. It either taught you something or ultimately directed you to greater happiness. And if you're one of the true lucky ones—it resulted in a really great kid or kids.
Written by Jill Carroll, marketing manager for West Michigan Woman, from Cannonsburg, Michigan.