My friend got divorced two months ago. The kids seemed to understand what divorce meant; they seemed to be fine, she said.
But last week, her third grader asked if Mommy would come with them over to Daddy’s house when they had their weekend sleepover.
“No, honey,” said my friend to her child, “Mommy can’t sleep over at Daddy’s house. We are not married.”
“You’re not married?” the child asked, confused.
All that talk about divorce, all that gentle counseling that my friend and her ex-husband had provided for the kids, hadn’t made the situation clear.
My own son was two when I got divorced. A few years later, he found a photo of our wedding and said, “Why are you standing with Pappa in this picture?” I explained that long ago, before he could remember, I used to be married to his Pappa. My son laughed at me incredulously and said, “You used to be married to Pappa?!!”
What I get from these stories is an important, repeat-lesson: kids are innocent, so sweetly innocent. We have to do everything we can to protect them from the pain that can happen when parents divorce.
Kids don’t understand what is going on, except that they can sense sorrow, stress, or peace. And they want everyone to be happy.
I was one of those Never Get Divorced people. Under no circumstance was I ever going to divorce my husband, because a) divorce was bad for kids b) divorce was a scary, foreign concept c) I loved my husband, even if I realized he didn’t love me, and d) my religion discouraged divorce.
I stayed married for almost twelve years to a man that I realized even in the first month of marriage, was going to be mean to me. Crazy to stay? Maybe.
When I see those women on t.v. who stay with unfaithful, drug addicted, or violent husbands, I cringe. But I confess that I do understand them. It has to do with low self esteem and false beliefs about what forgiveness requires.
It wasn’t until a counselor pointed out to me that my thinking was twisted, that I saw that I had to leave for my kids. I thought that in all cases, you stayed married, for the kids. That’s what I thought.
My counselor pointed out that it’s not really so in all cases. I was being insulted, cursed and emotionally battered almost daily. I was used to it, and I just took it like a boxer. I thought I was being strong for the kids.
But the counselor asked me to look at this choice more closely. Was it really in the best interest of the kids to have them see their mother being treated this way? These were not little, normal, marital disagreements. I was allowing my ex-husband to normalize abuse.
As parents, we model how our kids should expect to get treated themselves, when they marry. We teach every day by example.
Did I want my kids to think it was normal to live in a home without spousal love, to think it was normal to hear jokes that were degrading, or insults to their mother? No.
What ended my marriage was the realization that I had to show them self-respect and self-esteem, even if I barely had any left.
Divorce was the first necessary step in bringing a loving family reality to my kids. I had no guarantee that I’d ever find a new man to marry who would be truly loving toward me and my faults. But the terrible loneliness, hard work, and financial insecurity of single-momming it were better alternatives for me than having the kids exposed to ongoing abuse.
Ironically, my ex-husband became a much better ex-husband and co-parent than he had been a spouse. Although he was not a good husband, he was always a decent dad.
Now, he pays his child support. He’s loving toward the kids, and he no longer has the opportunity to abuse me. They get the best of both worlds. They see him often. Neither he nor I speak badly about each other. And we are both remarried. It’s the best that a bad situation could have become. And I’m grateful.