What My 6-Year-Old Taught Me About Divorce
It was one of those moments when you know exactly where you were and what you were doing — even 12 years later.
It was Sunday morning, March 12, 2006 when my husband came into our bedroom stating, “You are not going to like what I’m about to say.”
I was adding green make-up to my face to match my green hair and green clothes because I was getting ready to lead my daughters' Girl Scout troop in the town’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Why on earth anyone would start an uneasy conversation with that phrase is beyond me .
I turned to look at him, then he dropped it: “I’m moving out today.”
Keeping It Together
His announcement did not come as a complete surprise. He and I had become more and more distant over the past year. I had spent months of asking, “Is there someone else?” and “Can we work this out?."
While my brain processed his news in a “matter-of-fact” fashion, deep down I was crushed and broken-hearted.
I had to keep it together because I had two daughters, 6 and 8, downstairs laughing at each other’s green hair and excited to be meeting our troop. I turned back toward the mirror and finished getting ready.
Before heading downstairs to gather the girls, I mustered up every morsel of energy to calmly say, “If you choose to leave then you have to know two things: one, this home our girls have grown up in will be their permanent home and they will not be shuffled around, and two, make sure you want this because if you leave you are never coming back.”
He looked at me and said nothing. He just nodded his head. I grabbed my green hat and called for the girls. They said good-bye to their dad and the three of us headed to Main Street to meet up with the rest of our troop.
After our two-mile parade route, green bagels and taking pictures for our troop’s album, my girls and I returned home — to an empty house.
Dealing With Emotions
Though he left the house, my ex-husband frequently came to pick up the girls and take them for dinner, to the park, to the movies and to ride bikes.
His visits made me angry. I was overwhelmed with disappointment, hurt and extreme dislike, which was reflected in how I talked to him.
This went on for months. My attitude did not go unnoticed. Children watch your every move.
One day, when my ex came to pick up the kids, he asked my 6-year-old a question. With such conviction she replied: “I hate you, Daddy.”
I heard this from the other room and was stunned.
A New Understanding
That was the moment I realized that marriage is about you, but divorce is about the kids. My 6-year-old taught me a lesson that day.
I did not want my kids growing up hating their father. My daughter made me understand that a lifestyle change needed to be made and that I was the one who had to make it happen.
Was it going to be easy — no, but I had to find it somewhere in me to get along with the one person who, quite frankly, I never wanted to see again.
Course of Action
The path to find peace with my ex did not come overnight. I had to work very hard to reach that calm plateau each time I saw him.
My 6-year-old’s comment kept me on track. I knew I did not want my daughters to be in the middle of the tension between their parents. I did not want to place the burden of ever having them think they needed to choose whose side they should be on.
So, I had to choose a path that would continue to make my girls smile, yet would also work for me. I chose to be cordial to my ex.
Mind you, I wasn’t chatty — but I made an effort not to make comments under my breath, or to roll my eyes. I was cordial.
Setting a Goal
I knew I had my work cut out for me but it was worth the effort. I saw how my daughters loved their dad.
I realized I had no right to alter their feelings just because I was hurting. I looked at my young children and set a goal.
My goal: when my girls become adults and look back on their childhood, I want them to say they had a happy childhood.
A few months after my ex left, it was my youngest daughter’s birthday. Instead of splitting her day up between the both of us, or start flip-flopping who would have her birthday each year, my ex and I agreed it would make our daughter happy to have both parents celebrate her special day together.
So each year, we’d invite the uncles, aunts, cousins, grandma and grandpa from both sides to a birthday celebration. We’d, of course, do this for my older daughter when it was her birthday too.
It was easy to find the joy in their faces when they blew out their candles each year.
When the holidays arrived, we followed suit. It would be a “family” celebration.
So, Christmas morning, my ex would arrive before the girls woke up so he, too, could see the sparkle in their eyes when they realized Santa Claus had come.
This tradition has gone on for years, and even as my girls have grown, my ex continues to come early Christmas morning to watch the girls open their gifts and stay for pancakes and eggs.
The same tradition has been followed for Easter and for Passover Seders.
When it came time for parent/teacher conferences, my ex and I would show up to these meetings together. It was simple to do because we both wanted our children to thrive.
Both girls played in the school orchestra and sang in the chorus. During winter and spring concerts, my ex and I would meet at the school and find a seat together.
I did not want my daughters to search for their mom in one area of the auditorium and then have to seek out their dad in another area. I wanted them to smile into the audience and find both parents proudly sitting together and smiling back.
This meant even more to me when I arrived early to one concert and saved a seat for my ex. I ended up talking to a father sitting in the seat beside me. When he realized I had been saving the seat for my ex, he turned to me and mentioned how he admired me because his ex-wife was somewhere in the audience and he prayed that he wouldn’t bump into her.
At that concert, I began to really appreciate the quiet respect my ex and I had for one another for the sake of our family.
This mutual respect made getting together with our ex in-laws very easy. I think both my family and his family saw the effort we were making to get along and decided to jump aboard. I have been invited to every Christmas celebration, birthday party, Halloween and every milestone achievement that my ex’s family has hosted.
I have accepted each and every invitation not only to be part of the celebration with my own kids, but to also stay connected to my niece and nephew. On the flip side, my ex has always been invited to stop by my family’s Thanksgiving dinner and to join us in lighting the Hanukkah candles.
I believe this approach to family gatherings has given my girls a full and healthy family experience.
Soon after my ex and I split, my kids began asking me for a puppy. I had to sit down and explain to them that it was not the right time to bring a puppy into our home. I said in a year or so , when we all settle into our new lifestyle, we can get a dog.
Deep down I was hoping they’d forget, however just like clockwork, almost one year to the day the question came again. Things had settled and I needed to keep my promise. We headed out to get our Beagle, Delilah.
On those days when the girls and I were out of the house for long hours, I’d ask my a neighbor to walk Delilah. My ex always offered to take care of Delilah, but I was stubborn and refused to ask him for help.
Eventually, I had to face it, he loved Delilah and quite frankly Delilah loved him. So, today, my ex is the go-to person when Delilah requires a little TLC. Delilah is now 11 years old and I have to admit, I appreciate his help.
Everyone Has an Opinion
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I give you so much credit,” or “He would drive me crazy,” or “I don’t know how you do it?” My response to these statements has always been, “I do this for my girls.”
It’s how you make your family work under new circumstances that you need to focus on. So, I learned how to ignore those who have never walked in my shoes — ignore those who have given spiteful advice on how to handle the situation, and ignore those who have never heard my 6-year-old daughter say “I hate you Daddy” with such detest in her voice that it would’ve made them shiver.
Instead, I listened to my girls begin to laugh and feel at ease when their mom and dad were in the same room.
Everyone has an opinion. People say it is horrible when divorced couples do not get along; yet they are the same people who comment how weird it is when divorced couples form a friendly relationship and find common ground. So, I’ve learned not to care what people think about my situation.
I strongly believe whatever works for you and your kids can never be the wrong path.
Times of Frustration
With all this said, have there been times of frustration — most definitely. However, for the most part, I have tried to remain focused on reducing tension.
Did I find this path quickly — no. There were definitely struggles along the way, but my 6-year-old taught me a valuable lesson that March 2006 morning. She taught me that I wasn’t the only one experiencing pain, so were my children, and I needed to be able to help them through it.
A dozen years later, my ex and I will bump heads from time to time, but somehow we have reached a place where we can hear each other out and compromise in the best interest of our children.
A Silver Lining
Today, that once-6-year-old is 18, and my eldest is now 21 — two adults!
This summer would have marked my 25th year wedding anniversary with their father. Instead of celebrating my silver anniversary, I will be celebrating the silver lining that came out of my failed marriage.
I recently asked my daughters to describe her childhood. The words "happy" and "fun" were on the top of their lists.