I received some bad news today. It was the kind of news that sends you on an impromptu journey of people and places that should have been a part of your life, but are not. And it got to me.
Because of that, I’m writing what I’ve never written. Things I’ve felt for ages, but never put to words for fear of offense or toes stepped on or really just attention I didn’t want to attract. But now, like my post about my eating disorder (https://shesgotdimples.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/the-problem-with-resolutions/), the time has come. I don’t know what this blog is “supposed to be,” really, but it’s served as a placeholder so far for things that ail and delight and everything in between.
So, I’m going to talk about divorce.
What’s the phrase? We divorce spouses not families? Not children?
But that’s not true, is it? Not always. Sometimes. For lucky people who have mature families.
For so many children…for me…the event happened fast. News delivered abruptly as I opened the passenger door to go to school. But it wasn’t a Band-Aid effect. The sting was not temporary as the news was ripped off at what seemed like lightning speed. Your father and I are getting a divorce. Instead of revealing healed skin beneath that bandage, there appeared a scratch that would fester and become infected and probably never truly heal. And it would take years to acknowledge. And the scar would be gnarly and ugly and a constant reminder of loss. Of emptiness. Of relationships that should have existed but would not.
A woman can divorce her husband. But a mother cannot divorce her child’s father. And vice versa.
This is a piece of advice from a child of divorce that I would so whole-heartedly like to impress into the hearts of anyone headed down the difficult road of separation. You are free to leave your spouse.
Allow me to reiterate: You are free to leave your spouse. No one is forcing you to stay. There are so many times that it is much better off if you do, indeed, divorce and break off the relationship for good. Better for you. The children. Everyone involved.
What you can’t do, however, no matter how badly you would LOVE to never see that person ever again, is remove them from your child’s life. You can’t. You can’t speak ill of them. You can’t poison your child against them. You can’t put thoughts into your child’s head that they mistreated them. You can’t turn what used to be a good relationship into something ugly.
Why? Why can’t you vent to your child about what’s going on? They’re mature for their age, after all. They’re practically an adult. They can handle it. They can handle so much more than most kids.
Yeah. They can.
Should they have to?
Let me explain. Divorce, no matter how squeaky clean it appears to be, is difficult. Even if it is absolutely the best choice (which I’m sure it is,) it is an ordeal. You are taking a family unit and dividing it. You are taking a child’s home–what they’ve known, where their memories are, where everything they’ve grown into and become has happened–and changing the construct. Now, don’t feel guilty. Your child will adapt.
But let them do it on their own. Don’t help them along. Don’t express the dysfunction of your relationship to your child. Even if they ask, and they will. Most likely, they will be confused. Do not talk to them about child support. Do not talk to them about money or back pay. And for the love of everything, do not ever let them think that their other parent doesn’t love them.
Everything will backfire.
Everything you are hoping to achieve…every revenge-driven vendetta directed at your spouse…it’s hurting your child.
What will happen?
Exactly what you want to happen. They will blame the other spouse. The one who didn’t gain full custody. The one who can’t support his/her children without working three jobs and practically killing themselves to do it. Your child will blame them and victimize you. For a while, you’ll be doted on. Canonized by innocence and the inability to see past the angelic image of childhood.
And then, one day not far from now, that child will realize what you’ve done. They’ll blame you. And they’ll have missed out on all the things they should have had. The things every child should have. They missed out on an entire family. On an entire relationship with a loving parent. On a whole heart that loved them.
And they will put that on you.