This week, J moved out. We knew it was coming. It’s been more than two years since we agreed to divorce, and it was past time. While it’s a necessary step, and one that in some ways I welcome as the beginning of a new phase in my life, that doesn’t lessen the tinge of sadness that accompanies this inevitability. It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who you’ve been so close to for so long – even when you know he’ll be just down the street.
There’s no question that we have an unusual situation. Of course it has certainly been a challenge, and figuring out the best way to acclimate K to it has been the most important part. But I’ve been surprised that the most frustrating aspect of the transition has been dealing with the perceptions of other people.
People unfamiliar with our situation (and who certainly don’t know me very well) make snide comments like, “Oh, I’m sure you’re glad to kick him out.”
Or they assume that J will no longer be involved in K’s life – either because they assume that’s the way I would want it, or the way he would want it.
Or they ask, “How will you be able to support her all by yourself?” (as if he wouldn’t want K to have the best life we can both give her.)
They expect me to be angry. They expect me to be resentful. They expect me to be vengeful. They are incredulous that I am not. And they think that I am putting on a brave face or suppressing or just plain lying.
Let me be clear. This situation sucks. I am sad. I think about the future and the relative difficulty of finding love as one gets older. I worry most about how our divorce and therefore our “broken” home will affect K. I wish it hadn’t happened. But J and I had been growing apart romantically long before he came out. And I can’t change reality.
As a rule, I don’t worry too much about what people think about our situation. My life is what it is. My choices are what they are. It’s my business, not yours (Ignore for the moment that I’m sort of making it your business by writing about it). But at the same time, as I’ve said before, I think the world can always benefit from a pause, a deep breath and a little extra consideration. And that means taking the time to explain. Again. And again. And again.
J and I have been products of divorce and witness to many others. We’ve seen the absent fathers and/or mothers, the single parents who sacrifice everything and the ones that sacrifice nothing. The parents who can’t bring themselves to be in the same room as each other without arguing – regardless of the “happy” occasion. And I admit it. It’s rare to see the successful divorced family. The one that’s still pleasant. That not only tolerates each other, but enjoys each other’s company. The one that’s still a family – maybe a bigger one, with extra spouses or significant others – but a single, cohesive family, not two halves of a broken whole. Think Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.
I think it’s disappointing and probably a comment on our culture that it’s not more common.
But what I feel I have to impress over and over is this: We are not typical. We are not a stereotype. We are not what you expect. We are NOT “broken.” And we are not the only ones.
I appreciate that often people are trying to extend their sympathies – particularly to me. But. I am not you. Or your mother, your friend, your sister or your daughter whose ex-husband screwed them in the divorce. Nor am I the harpy that kept the kids away their doting father. J is not the absent father or the jerk trying to protect his assets. And while K is certainly an innocent bystander, she will not automatically be screwed up for life just because her parents are divorced.
So please. I beg you. Don’t make assumptions. About us or anyone else. And I ask this not on my behalf or on J’s, but on my daughter’s. She will struggle enough with the challenges of life and being different. She should not also have to bear the weight of your expectations the way that her parents have to. That’s not to say that you should ignore it. But instead of assuming what’s going on or what she’s (or for that matter, I’m) feeling, try listening to what’s being said (and sometimes not said) before you react. Asking questions is fine.
But don’t force your empathy about our broken home. Because a divorced family does not have to be broken.
We found that the books typically recommended to families going through a divorce (“Dinosaurs Divorce” and “It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear“) were too confrontational – and maybe too old – for our three-year-old. If you are interested in books for divorced families that have a milder, more friendly tone than those, I would recommend “Two Homes” and “The Family Book” as excellent choices for this age group. For that matter, I would recommend that all families read “The Family Book” to expose their children to the diversity of families in general.