Another holiday was approaching and that same anxious feeling returned. She felt a mix of emotions every time she thought about it. She was frustrated with both of them for putting her in the middle. She was stressed from carefully working through each possible scenario in her mind. She was tired from the mental work it required to navigate each uncomfortable conversation. But most of all she was sad. Each holiday forced her to confront the reality of her life now. She was forced to sort through the painful memories of the past and face the loss of “what once was”. Whether it was Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving or her own birthday, she was forced to “choose”. Even though both of her parent’s repeatedly said that they were fine with whatever she chose to do, she still had to do it. She still had to choose. As much as she didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, it was more than that. She didn’t want to experience another special moment without one of them. She didn’t want her Mom to miss the look on her face when she opened her favourite gift. She didn’t want her Dad to miss out on Mom’s famous Custard Cake. She didn’t want to look at the empty chair beside Mom at the table where Dad used to sit. She remembered the way he used to lean back just a little bit at the end of a holiday meal and loosen his belt buckle. When her little brother left the table after eating, Dad wasn’t there to tell him to take his plate to the sink. She would stare at his half eaten dinner still sitting on the table. It was the tiny moments like these where the loss would sting the deepest. Even though she was off to Dad’s house next, she still missed him. She couldn’t help but feel abandoned as she felt that she was left to deal with her broken family. While her parents had moved on from each other, she was painfully aware that she was the only thing tying them together now. And most days it felt just like a tug of war. It wasn’t her parents that were fighting over her, the tug of war happened in her own mind. She hated being in the middle. She hated having to choose which one of her parents to disappoint. She hated having to constantly be without one of them. She was exhausted.
Divorce comes from a desperate place. It comes from one, or both spouses feeling like there is no other option. It is often where deep pain and sheer exhaustion collide. Divorce is an attempt at cleaning up the wreckage. It’s an attempt at both parties separating and moving on with their lives, looking for some relief. There are times when divorce is unavoidable. In situations of abuse or infidelity the relationship may need to end. Often times it is presumed that “divorcing” your spouse means walking away from the continual pain and disappointment and starting fresh.
But what happens when you have children together?
She didn’t like going to Dad’s apartment. It was sparse with a few pieces of mismatched furniture. He was a terrible cook. Dad was talking awkwardly as he opened a can of soup to heat up for dinner. She quietly glanced around the messy apartment. She couldn’t help but think he was a disaster without Mom. Although she appreciated how hard her Dad tried to make things at the apartment “normal” for her, it wasn’t normal at all. She put on a brave face because she knew that’s what Dad needed. He was doing his best and she didn’t want him to feel bad.
When two people who once shared a commitment together decide to divorce they begin a process of mental and emotional separation. They prepare to close their hearts to one another and begin the painful process of pulling away and moving on. While the process of separating their lives helps the adults to move on, it makes things complicated for the children. How do they separate their lives without separating from their parents? What is their place in all of this? How do they keep the relationship with their parents the same when everything is different now?
Her Mom changed a lot when Dad left. Most of the time she seemed extra bubbly and happy. It was if she tried to convince the kids that she had everything under control. But one night she woke up to go to the washroom and heard her Mom taking a bath. She stood outside the bathroom with her ear pressed gently against the door. She could hear her Mother quietly sobbing. She listened for a moment and then tip toed back to her room. She didn’t want her Mom to know she’d heard her. She lay awake in her bed. She couldn’t sleep. Her mind was swirling with questions, memories and confusing feelings.
For the child of divorce there is no “fresh start”. There is no “moving on”. Instead they are trapped between two words. Between Mom’s world and Dad’s world. Between how things use to be, and how things will be in the future. Being stuck in this “in between” changes them. It forces the children to have a large part of their lives that they keep hidden from their parent. They keep Dad’s world from Mom and Mom’s world from Dad. They do it to protect their parents feelings, to avoid awkward conversations, and to keep arguments at bay. When parents divorce they are also giving away a piece of their child; the piece that belongs with their ex. They are giving away every moment and memory that is made while the child is their ex spouse. From every memory that is made after the divorce there will always be someone missing.
She hated that Dad wasn’t there when she lost her first tooth. She was so excited but she remembered feeling a little queasy from all of the blood. She wanted so badly to crawl into her Daddy’s lap for a moment, but she knew she wouldn’t see him until later that weekend. She remembered how she rode with training wheels on for a long time. Probably too long, but she was really nervous to ride without them. Her Dad was so patient, taking her to the old tennis court by her house to practice over and over again. When she finally got it she felt like she was going to burst with excitement. She did it! She was riding a TWO WHEELER! She almost shouted out “Mom look at me!” But then she remembered that her Mom wasn’t there. She felt that sharp little pang in her heart again. It always seemed to happen when she remembered that one of them was missing.
This isn’t really a blog about divorce. It’s a blog about marriage. Choosing someone to marry and have children with is one of the biggest commitments you will make in your lifetime. Yet, many marriages are entered into without much long term thought. Is this someone you trust implicitly? Do admire and agree with this person’s moral and ethical standing? Is this someone you can co-parent with? Is this someone you think you could could be with forever? Marriage is strictly a team sport. Is this someone you can count on to support you and have your back for life? Marriage has no place for reasonable doubt. It can not be easily un-done. If you are having doubts before you get married, those doubts won’t go away. Marriage doesn’t “fix” any issues you have in your relationship. Instead, marriage puts a giant magnifying class on those problems. The repercussions of ending a marriage with children involved are life long. The heart break reaches far beyond man and wife. The heartbreak affects the littlest members of the family: the ones who have the least ability to navigate the unpredictable waters of a relationship after divorce. Creating a family with another person is a HUGE responsibility. It is the one decision that your entire life will revolve around, and one that will follow you to your grave. Having children in a marriage changes everything. It adds layers to your family that are not so easily undone. Anyone who is married will tell you that marriage can he hard– really, really hard. The spouse you choose can either enrich your family or bring more pain and heartbreak than you ever thought possible.
“But in the real world you couldn’t just split up a family down the middle, mom on one side and dad on the other, with the child equally divided between. It was like when you ripped a piece of paper into two: no matter how you tried, the seams never fit exactly right again. It was what you could’t see, those tiniest of pieces, that were lost in the severing, and their absence kept everything from being complete.” – Sarah Dessen
Love each other deeply,