Hey, Aunt Priscilla, I just called to see how you were doing. The voice at the other end of the phone belonged to my now 20something nephew – the former towhead whom I used to babysit. And how are the girls?
My heart melted. He’d heard the news of my divorce and called to check on his cousins. You have to understand something – my family is huge….and, well…odd. Odd doesn’t even begin to cut it. We make odd look like Chevrolet, Baseball and Apple Pie. We aren’t touchy, feely, gift givingy, let’s all take a cruise togethery.
But we are loyal. Fiercely loyal.
This is why a 20something single, living in the big city, nephew took a moment to call his 40something newly divorced aunt from a small town to check on her…and her kids.
Humbled by the call, I held back the tears and listened to his advice. Just don’t talk about their dad in front of them, okay? He advised. And don’t let them know everything that’s going on. I knew way too much.
A girlfriend reminded me often, You call me anywhere, anytime you need to let it out. Just don’t put it on those girls. She knew from experience what happened to kids caught in the middle, and she was determined to have my girls’ back.
So I called her. A lot. For years I’d held back so much anger and fear and frustration that the bubbling volcano in me started to slowly spill out until it finally erupted and the tears and the grief that started with a slow trickle seemed to completely envelope me for days…and weeks…and months.
I knew what grieving looked like, and I knew I needed to walk this path through the valley of the shadow of death, but I also knew I there was no way in hell I was dragging my kids along beside me. I had adult friends who stood at the end of the dark tunnel cheering me on. The key word here is adult.
I can’t remember the exact moment the mental turn around began, but I do remember being keenly aware that I’d turned a corner. And then another. And another. And another. Until last week one of my biggest supporters and truest friends smiled at me and said, I feel like you are back. You’re back!
I get a lot of I don’t know how you do it‘s. I tell them I don’t do it. I have God and my tribe holding me up, and you know the old adage Fake it til you make it? Oh, honey, that is emblazoned across my psyche now…because it works. Here are some other things that work when dealing with divorce, and I want to share them the way my friends and family shared their wisdom with me.
- Remind yourself that when things were good, they were really good, and that you picked your partner using the best information you were given at the time. Don’t beat yourself for marrying who you did, when you did.
- Don’t take their faults personally. Your ex’s faults are his or hers to own. Own yours not theirs.
- Remember that somewhere down the road you might want to start another relationship, and no one wants to be in a relationship with a bitter, complaining old hag so you better darn well guard yourself against becoming that stereotype.
- Give yourself time to grieve and plenty of it. Don’t shove it down. Don’t bitch and moan. Just grieve. A friend told me, Divorce isn’t like death, it’s like an amputation. You will be walking around with its scar the rest of your life, but it’s only a scar. You can go on living with scars. (And a word of advice to well meaning friends, grief looks different to everyone. Don’t ever tell your divorcing friends how they should or shouldn’t be grieving. Ever. Unless you’ve walked the path, you simply don’t understand.)
- Recognize, in time, if you handle the situation correctly, your ex can be an ally. All the great things about him or her that you loved so much are still there. Their strengths are still their strengths. It’s just that, in your relationship, the weaknesses glare, and this can blind you from the road ahead. Don’t let that glare hinder the big picture. The former Mr. TIS is still my biggest cheerleader when it comes to my writing, and he encourages me to get out and date because he knows I have a lot to offer. The other day he told me, You’re hot and smart and funny. Do you how rare that combination is around here?
- If you want things to go smoothly for your children, make sure your friends know no one has to choose sides. They can invite you both to the same parties – especially the get togethers with parents at school – and you will behave because you are respectable, responsible adults. What happened between my ex-husband and me is between my ex husband and me. Not my ex husband and me and the neighbors. I was talking spring break plans with a friend who said, And Priscilla, you know Tony can come too if you are okay with that. He’s still our friend too. I smiled to myself not because I want to vacation with my ex, but because that statement meant that the both of us handled things correctly.
- If you are the one who files, give the other the chance to process the news. I know you can’t get out of there fast enough, but trust me, a little patience will go a long way in the long run. I will forever be grateful to Mr. TIS for not rushing things. While he wanted to be over and done with quick and easy in 60 days, I told him I wasn’t going to fight him on anything, but to please give me time to think clearly, to deal with all my emotions in a healthy manner and to map out my future alone. He acquiesced, and the result was, in time, we sat down, hashed our agreement out without the “help” from expensive attorneys and worked with a mediator who told us she wished all divorcing couples acted the way we did. (I know all divorces are different, and in this case I’m not talking about someone whose life is in danger or whose situation dictates he or she gets out ASAP.)
- If you have children, and if you are able, have a meal together every once in a while as a family…because you still are. I am still the mother. He is still the father. And and B are still our children. Our.Children. That will never change. Ever. And if you start dating, and the other person doesn’t get it, then that person doesn’t have your best interest or the interest of your children at heart so rethink that relationship.
- If the in-laws want to remain in touch, remain in touch. My SIL was my college roommate which is how I met and married her brother. I knew his whole family a year before I met him. Divorce crushes them as well. They all hurt too. It’s taken some time, but I’m ready to do things with them again because they will always be my family. My girls love, love, love their cousins and aunts and uncles so why on earth make it difficult for them to be with them? The way I see it, the more adults my kids have in their lives loving on them, the better. (Again, I’m not speaking to people in abusive or manipulative situations. Go with your gut and protect your kids. There are some awful in-laws out there.)
- Which brings me to the last…be the nicest ex ever to the person who is replacing your role. The day will come when I have to allow another woman into my girls’ lives because Mr. TIS is a man, and let’s face it, men can’t remain alone forever. He and I have already discussed timelines for introducing the girls to significant others, and we both agreed we will be nothing but supportive in those relationships because, based on our behavior through the divorce, we trust each other to make the best decisions when it comes to our daughters. I am not competing with this woman for anyone’s affections. I’ve worked through my insecurities and have come through stronger and bolder so another woman in my daughters’ lives isn’t intimidating. In fact, I relish the idea that maybe she can bring something else to the table that I don’t. Another strong female role model for them to emulate? What a huge blessing.
Make no mistake, divorce is disruptive and painful and just so gawd-awful sad. But it isn’t the end. It doesn’t have to be bitter, and hateful and malicious. You are an adult, behave like one, and in the end good things will come your way because you created the path for them to find you.