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“When two people decide to get a divorce, it isn’t a sign that they ‘don’t understand’ one another but a sign that they have, at last begun to.”

--Helen Rowland

 

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled.  For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

-- M. Scott Peck.  Taken from: Collaborative Divorce: The Revolutionary New Way to Restructure Your Family, Resolve Legal Issues, and Move on with Your Life.  Pauline H. Tesler, M.A., J.D., & Peggy Thompson, Ph.D, 2006, Harper Collins

 

“When two people decide to get a divorce, it isn’t a sign that they “don’t understand” one another but a sign that they have, at last begun to.”
--Helen Rowland

Looking back on what feels like another lifetime ago softens the memory of a particularly unpleasant time in my life and in the lives of people I care about. Divorce, failed relationships, broken commitments and fractured families: do I have to go there? If I must, it is only with the intention and hope that others, someone, anyone can learn from our experience.

Typically, within all unfortunate situations, the potential for something good to emerge exists if one looks hard enough. Or so I believe anyway. Our top priority was for our daughter to remain as unscathed as possible by her parent’s inability to remain together as a family. I believe it was Rob who proposed the idea that Whitney remain in the family home and we the parents do the transient, moving back and forth duty. We definitely had our share of less than honorable moments at times but overall plenty of positive benefits resulted from our unconventional approach to joint custody.

Our seeds of divorce were most likely and unfortunately planted in the mid-1970s by my own parents’ relationship. They married at age 17 with one child on the way. They divorced 16 years later, only to remarry, and then divorce again shortly thereafter. As a result I’ll admit to having no frame of reference for a healthy, loving relationship. I was raised the second daughter of four children to parents who were themselves anxiety ridden, mood disordered youngsters. They had four children in rapid succession without the benefit of secure financial means or higher education. The good thing about my parents is that they tried to some degree to maintain a sense of family and did the best they could with what they had.

Our own story begins in Columbia, Missouri, in 1982. Our first date coincided with the Ides of March, which, as we know, is synonymous with impending doom. Looking back this was perhaps prophetic.

The Missouri Tigers were hot that year in basketball and March Madness consumed our little college town. A former boyfriend of mine had just been killed in a car wreck, and Rob was rebounding out of a long term relationship. It just so happened that he was in need of some new contact lenses and I being an optician at the time was the person who took care of him. After a whirlwind three month dating experience, lo and behold, we were behind the wheel in a speeding van heading for the Arizona border pulling a U-haul full of our meager belongings about to start a life in the Wild West town of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Fast forward through five formative years in Flagstaff, (say that five times fast) then in 1987 we returned to Rob’s old neighborhood in Ohio to attend to an ailing parent. Over the fifteen years that followed, our ramshackle Rushmore house experienced more joys than sorrows. There were holiday meals, pool parties, slumber parties, dances and proms, cookouts, baby showers, work picnics and Easter egg hunts. We watched Grandma Helen doing the pee-wee shuffle and Momoo, almost 100, barely surviving Whitney’s third birthday party. Finally there was the eventual emptying of the home once Whitney went off to college.

Yes, there were disagreements and conflicts as you would expect when former partners try to share the same living space. There were the odd occasions when Rob would show up stating that he had “insufficient pants” when it wasn’t his day to be at “Rushmore.” And, I know for a fact that my tendency to leave solidifying bacon grease in the frying pan sent both Rob and Whitney into a tizzy. The point is that most problems were smaller than they seemed at the time, and with a little perspective, no problem was insurmountable.

Eventually came the day, much to our daughter’s chagrin, when the Rushmore home itself was sold. It was subsequently torched to the ground to make way for very large and different house, a symbolically painful event for our daughter to this day. The one aspect of our carefully crafted plan that we neglected to consider was how this would affect our daughter. We thought we had done our best to both cushion her and then successfully launch her into the world; however, the loss of her childhood house left her without a solid sense of home while she was away at college.

Thank heavens that as memory fades, personal responsibility grows. I can see more clearly now how I both contributed to and contaminated the relationship; something I was less inclined to admit at the time. And thanks to medical science, education, exercise, diet, and sheer force of will, we humans have the good fortune to reinvent ourselves as we age. So I now think in terms of decades especially since I find myself on the cusp of my sixth, while my divorce occurred during my fourth. We are changed by our experiences and life goes on. When you learn better you can do better. Perhaps that is a secondary motivation for opening up my private life for the scrutiny of others. I hope our experiences can help inform your decisions for the better.

So, should you happen to find yourself in a similar situation, facing divorce, I suggest that you consider first and foremost how your child will be affected. As a social worker and therapist, I see all too frequently couples, acting out of hurt, fear, revenge or bitter disappointment, lose sight of what their behavior will do to their kids. Children have a unique perspective on divorce and often believe they must have done something wrong, or they wonder who will take care of them. They may even wonder if their parents will stop loving them, since they’ve stopped loving one another. They may even ask as my daughter did, “does this mean I’m destined to grow up and be divorced too?” We are obligated to do what we can to mitigate these feelings of insecurity, abandonment and confusion.

I hope you will consider some variation of our solution as a viable option. Both personally and professionally I consider it one of the best solutions for providing stability in the lives of our children.

 

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