3 Things My Divorced Parents Did Well,
And 1 Thing They Didn’t.
I was 13 years old when my parents separated, and had no idea what to expect. We lived in a small town. I had a couple friends with divorced parents, but it wasn’t something we talked about. And this was decades ago, in the previous century, and nobody in my family had heard of the internet. It was a lonely, scary, and confusing time.
Thankfully, I came through it mostly unscathed. And that was a direct result of my parents’ handling of the situation. I will forever be grateful for the following:
They Stopped Fighting (at least, in front of me). When my parents no longer lived under the same roof, I was no longer a witness to their disputes. I imagine they still had disagreements, but I don’t recall hearing them. And perhaps I’m most grateful for the fact that they didn’t fight over me. While I knew that some kids had to tell a judge which parent they preferred to live with, I was never put in such a position. As far as I was concerned, divorce made life more peaceful.
They Remained A Parenting Team. My parents no longer lived together. They didn’t spend holidays together. And they didn’t share friends in the same way. But one thing that didn’t change was their joint commitment to raising their children. Where my sister and I were concerned, Mom and Dad communicated and collaborated for the good of our family. I remember one time when my sister’s asthma attack warranted a trip to the ER and my parents drove her there together. At another point, my teenage-ness prompted a family meeting that involved my dad coming to my mom’s house so they could “give me a talking-to” together. Even when they didn’t physically stand together, we knew they were a united front.
They Kept Their Opinions To Themselves. There was a time when I thought my dad’s new girlfriend was the coolest person I’d ever met. She colored her hair, painted her nails, had lots of pets, and told me hilarious stories from her wilder days. After spending weekends with my dad, I excitedly told my mom all about her. I praised her appearance and laughed aloud as I relayed her stories. My mom politely smiled and nodded without ever telling me how she really felt during those conversations. On the other side of my family, my dad never said a word when I told him about the good times I shared with my mom and her boyfriend. I was blissfully ignorant to their discomfort, and that allowed me to simply be a kid, live my life, and enjoy my family.
However, there was one downside to that blissful ignorance. I know my parents meant well, but there was one thing I wished they’d done differently:
They Kept Me In The Dark For Too Long. I knew the divorce was coming. In the beginning, they told me they were headed down that road, but they didn’t know more than that. They said that when they knew, I’d know. And then I didn’t hear another word about it until months later when my mom was driving me to my cousin’s house for vacation and she notified me that my dad would be moving out while I was away. At that point, stuff became real, real fast. Too fast. I had no time to process or truly understand what was about to happen. I wasn’t going to be there when my dad left. I wasn’t given the option to go with him. This left me feeling confused and angry. At 13 years old, I could’ve handled more information and more discussion. And I would have appreciated the stability of a family discussion to say “here are the next steps.”
Overall, my parents had a really good divorce. As an adult, I’m grateful they did. As a coach, I encourage parents to be especially mindful of their children’s unique ages and needs, and to calibrate their behavior accordingly.