One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Tom Cruise in Cocktail:
"Jesus, everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn't end."
This is how most people view divorce, right? Two people are living together in misery; someone cheats; one party is abusive; it's against human nature to assume any divorce ever ends well.
But doing divorce right is possible, and it's exactly that: It's all in the doing. It's all in your actions, and the "end" isn't always a reflection of how the road starts.
My start was precarious. Our relationship had been on the rocks for years and a few times had become nothing short of volatile, so on the day I served the father of my children with divorce papers, I was terrified.
I was terrified because I didn't know how he would react. I waited until the very last minute, I told him we were spending the night at my mom's house, and in the driveway with the kids buckled and the car keys in my hand, I revisited a previous conversation and confirmed that I was serious: I wanted to separate for real, and in about 15 minutes, a man would arrive with papers. Papers that he had to be there to receive, and if it wasn't today it would simply be postponing the inevitable.
The conversation was tense. He got angry; I cried; the kids kept motioning behind the windows that they were ready to go. And after about 10 minutes, our introduction to divorce was over. I did it. I took the kids for the weekend, I answered 127 questions over the next 24 hours, and after that, miraculously, things evened out. He accepted what was happening. He never tried to get me back. We both came to terms, and we managed to move on in peace.
The entire time, I kept my one main goal in sight: I want to get this over with as quickly and easily as possible. Our relationship was too strained to trick me into thinking that the kids would be better off if we stayed together; I wanted safety, I wanted happiness, and I wanted to stand up for myself. So aside from one ugly shouting match over the course of the brief 6 months it took us to get divorced, we kept the peace in front of our kids. We continued to live together, even for two months after the case was finalized. We did that right, to the best of our abilities.
After he moved out, though, there was a little hiccup. Is this a test? I thought. Is this how it's going to be? Because once we started talking about who got the first weekend and when he'd pick them up, I got a text one day that said something like this: "I didn't say I only wanted to see the kids every other weekend."
This has GOT to be right up there on The Top 10 Things You Don't Want To Hear After A Divorce list.
"Didn't you read the agreement?" I answered back, wishing I could bold/ital. I myself had probably read the damn thing 89,000 times.
This had to be some kind of joke.
"THE DIVORCE DECREE?!?!?!" I typed in all caps. (That's when you know I'm really mad.)
He stopped texting and called immediately, explaining plainly that his attorney had been concerned that if he wanted to see the kids more, he'd be doing the lion's share of the driving. That it wouldn't be fair, and he was lucky I agreed to let him see the kids two nights every week in addition to the holidays we mapped out and every other weekend.
"But I want to see them every day if I can," he told me. "I don't care about the driving."
I took a deep breath. Typical. This is so typical, I thought, my temperature rising. But I knew I couldn't escalate the conversation to a place that would only make it more difficult for all of us. I paused, stuttered, sputtered something incoherent about discussing it later and hung up the phone. However this turned out, I had to be okay with it — because otherwise, it would be a worry without an expiration date. I couldn't have that hanging over my head indefinitely.
I tried to casually bring up the topic in conversation with family, acting like I wasn't rattled and afraid. Their responses were mixed, of course, one side stating it was a terrible idea, the other arguing that it would be good for the kids and that I'd finally have some me-time. I could see both sides, but the more me-time part brought with it a huge feeling of guilt. Dad wants to see kids more. That means mom sees kids less. That means mom = bad mom. Mom should want to see kids all of the times.
I battled with it for a while. Even though I was enjoying some newfound freedom, the voice that said You should want them here always; this is wrong was loud. It told me I was a mom first, only a mom and always a mom, and I couldn't go out for a beer at Whole Foods now, because I could NEVER go out for a beer at Whole Foods before. I couldn't have girls' nights out. I had two lovingly needy mama's boys. They always missed me. They called me on the phone. They asked when I'd be back. I was the savior before, the mom who came home early from events, the mom who just stopped going.
But all of that had to change after the divorce. Some nights when they were supposed to be with their dad and they called me, asking to come "home," I had to stick to my guns. I told them over the phone (including their dad): "No. When you're with Dad, you're with Dad. When you're with me, you're with me." And separately to my ex, "We can't do the back and forth thing and waffle when it comes to spending the night. Otherwise they'll never get used to it." It was hard to put my foot down in that way. I was upset (yet not surprised) that he wasn't backing me up, and somehow I felt like the bad guy. I also mistakenly thought my situation was unique and special — that I was being firm, but for their benefit. Yet isn't that half of all parenting, whether married, divorced, single or otherwise?! My situation wasn't unique. I just had to grow a pair and encourage my ex-husband to do the same.
The end result is this: I went with my gut. I wanted him to see the kids, as often as possible, as their father, just not as my husband. He picks them up for a couple hours almost every day of the week; they sleep at his place every Friday; they come home for a few hours on Saturday; and then they sleep there every Saturday night. When Sunday rolls around, the boys aren't even in a hurry to get back here — we sometimes just meet at my mom's for dinner. Everyone's happy, no one is fighting it, and not once have my kids had to say, "I miss Dad."
I know it's not like this for everyone. People, circumstances, everything plays a role. But if you are considering divorce, in the middle of divorce or even on the backside of an ugly one, it's not too late to realize what it means to do it right: Things like talking with respect to each other, even if there's still a lot of bitterness. Knowing that in all honesty, the money doesn't matter. Recognizing that stuff is just STUFF. And if there are kids, they are Number 1. You owe it to everyone involved to find a way to do divorce the right way, from this day forward.
As my kids get older, I realize this entire dynamic could change. Anything is possible. But I wanted it to be easy, and it was. We both learned real quick to put the kids first, and we do. This is where we are now, and it's possible for anyone. Because everyone deserves to be happy. Even after divorce.
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