I have friends with all kinds of marriages. In my eyes, some of them are perfect and they will undoubtedly be together forever. Others seem rocky at times, but they are probably strong enough to weather most storms. And others appear broken. I assume they will wind up divorcing, and I find myself praying that they don’t or won’t have children, because isn’t the saddest part of a divorce what happens to the kids?
I used to think so. And then I grew up.
My parents divorced when I was at the all-too-emotional age of 12, almost 13. (Life sucks enough when you’re a pre-teen, does it not?!) The full story I got at the time – or at least the part I heard most loudly – was that my dad fell in love with someone else, and our family was falling apart.
You see, my family was in the first category mentioned above – perfect. I honestly believed that. We had dinner around the table every night. My dad coached our sports teams. My parents never missed anything — and there were four of us. School awards, recitals, scout meetings … NEVER. MISSED. A. THING. We went on family bike rides and took great vacations. My parents both worked, and everything was super organized. I never heard fighting. We didn’t have financial struggles.
Strangely, my initial reaction after learning of the breaking up news was to figure out what my mom did to cause this. I’m no psychologist, but I know that’s probably screwed up on a lot of levels. I would treat anyone my mom went out with like pure dirt, and I would threaten to go live with my dad on a regular basis. I love both of my parents, but for some strange reason, I could not find blame to place on my dad.
Years went by, and I eventually got married. My wedding was the start of something. I started to feel more empathy for my mom’s situation. I had my own husband now, and how would I feel if he left me? I still did not place blame on my dad, because there was a much easier person to be angry with—the wife (the same person from the “Dad’s leaving” news). Now, we all grew up in the same town, so my dad’s news was not the first I knew of her and her family. Awkward? Yah.
Now, back up just a little bit. I lived with my step-sister after college, before I was married. We were living in the same area, and we each had a parent in this situation. One would think I would respect the new wife as a mom, seeing as I lived with her daughter who had now become one of my best friends. Nope. (Side note: Becoming friends with her is one of the best things that came out of this whole thing. Yay for a win!)
I decided the other woman was now the one who ruined my whole family. It was easy to hate her. She wasn’t my mom. She wasn’t my dad. She wasn’t even a family friend. She was someone who lived in the same community as my family, and she contributed to some humiliating news.
As time went by, I became so focused on my husband and our two children, I didn’t think as much about my own tragic story (insert sarcasm here). I was now focused on two new lives.
This is where things really started to change. Those two little lives were a game changer. I started to completely rethink how I viewed this anger I continued to feel over my perfect little family falling apart. It actually wasn’t about me, my brothers or even my parents anymore. It was about my kids.
Did I want my kids to grow up knowing I hated someone they will only ever see as a grandparent figure? Did I want to be the mom who accidentally raised kids to hold grudges? The answers here were obvious, but how did I go about figuring out ways to channel my thoughts in a more productive way?
Well, I started to think about the way the whole story unfolded. I probably—at 12 years old—was not given the full story. Maybe I didn’t know how my parents communicated with one another and if it was good or not. Maybe I didn’t know if my mom wanted more kids than my dad and they never really worked through that. Maybe I didn’t know if my mom being Catholic and my dad being Jewish was an underlying problem. Maybe they didn’t tell me if they disagreed about money from time to time.
I will never know the answers to those questions. And, actually, it’s none of my business.
But here’s what I know. I had a GREAT childhood. I went on wonderful vacations, was involved in a million activities, always had cute clothes, was pushed to do well in school, was raised with three brothers who have broadened my perspectives … and I even got my own phone number when I was in middle school. Is there anything better?
I also know that I never hated anyone in my family. It’s a horrible word that is thrown around too much.
Both of my parents are remarried and have been for quite some time, and all four of those people love my kids. They love me, and they love my husband, too, but most importantly, they love our kids. There are awkward family moments when someone doesn’t want to be around another or what have you, but I have become much less aware (and honestly much less interested) in those dynamics.
I do wish, deep down, that my parents were still married to each other. I wish I had one house to go to for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I wish my mom didn’t feel sadness from time to time. And I wish the seating arrangements at my wedding had been a little easier. But my husband has one deceased parent and one absent parent, so there is no question that I am extremely fortunate and lead a life filled with blessings.
So about all those friends I talked about in the beginning. If the perfect marriages aren’t so perfect, and if the broken ones pull through just fine, the end game is that the kids will be just fine if their childhoods are filled with great memories and lots and lots of love.
I am a wife and a mother, and I have a slightly mixed up and expanded family that will make my kids’ lives amazing. And I can only hope they will grow up knowing that life isn’t perfect, and there will be disappointments, but it will build them to be stronger, better, more interesting people.
And I will love them every step of the way.