My divorce has been officially finalized for three years this month, and I’m tired of talking about it.
Five years ago, my husband and I split up when I found out he’d been sleeping with a friend of mine to whom he later married. I kept assuming that as soon as we signed papers, we could be done fighting and done talking. We’d have a signed agreement, and all would be well.
I was wrong.
My ex-husband and I have two children together who were three and six at the time of our split. In a lot of ways, this was easier than having to explain to two teenagers why mom and dad just couldn’t make it work. It was easier because when we fought at night, they actually slept through it.
It was easier because they had no clue what was going on, right?
About a year after my husband moved out, I went to pick up my son from preschool. He’d spent the previous night with his father, who’d dropped him off at school. As I walked in to pick him up, he met me with a look of panic that quickly turned to sadness. He ran out of the school with me quickly trailing and collapsed onto the sidewalk, his tiny four-year-old body carrying the weight that still, a year into it, things were different and dad wasn’t coming home.
The clarity from divorce is a long time coming. For me, it has yet to arrive.
Just this last summer, when my son saw a video on my timehop of me teaching his sister to ride a bike, he heard his dad’s voice in the background and immediately his face dropped.
“Why aren’t you and dad friends anymore?” he asked.
“It’s complicated,” I said.
There are provisions in the divorce decree in which we are prohibited from speaking poorly about the other or painting the other in a bad light. In other words, we are mandated to be adults about the whole situation.
This does not always come naturally.
There are times when I want to explain to my children (and sometimes I do) that the reason I’m not friends with their father (and yes, I have given him an open invitation) is that’s the choice he’s made, and he is entitled to that choice.
With these undertones of conversation rippling through our day-to-day lives, it can be incredibly difficult to save face and remain civil, but there is a greater good at stake. It’s challenging because what it takes for separated co-parents to have a successful relationship is often that which was missing during the relationship: communication.
Through sometimes gritted teeth, we talk. We talk about what’s happening with the kids at school, what they want to do for their birthday parties. Sometimes it’s easier if I talk to their stepmom instead of to their father. Sometimes I remind her that his old tactics are not helpful and that if we wish to carry on a conversation, we must allow each to have time and space to speak and be heard. I take responsibility for my faults and vow to make changes to benefit us all.
This openness will help for a period and then old patterns come back into play. We regroup, and it’s fixed again. It is always a work in progress, and I feel encouraged by keeping a growth mindset, knowing that no matter what, positivity is best for everyone.
This is not just about the children. I have to live through the aftermath, too.
Our transition days are Mondays (we have a week-on-week-off joint custody agreement), and our Mondays are typically fraught with high emotions — the coming down from having been at their father’s, and the readjusting to life with me. While I know their father plays an important role in their lives, I often shoulder and carry the emotional weight of their transitions.
A few months after switching to our current schedule, my daughter was feeling tense after school as we made the trek to gymnastics one dreaded Monday. Per our usual routine, we headed to the park to kill time. She refused to get out. There was a tension without a name, a feeling of anger and dread. I kept asking questions, feeling my own emotions becoming entangled and indecipherable from hers.
After an unnamed tension, yelling, and tears, my daughter exploded, as though having finally hit the release valve, giving a name to her uneasiness.
“Why did my dad leave for four months and not talk to us?” she screamed, tears streaming down her face.
We sat in this release for a few moments. We felt the ease fall over our bodies as we took yet another step towards the healing that takes place after divorce.
And, though I knew that would not be the last time, I reveled in our forward motion.
Divorce is so commonplace. But this commonality does not make it easier, nor does it mean the emotions behind it easily subside.
I might be tired of talking about it, but I refuse to brush my divorce under the rug. It is imperative to keep talking. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s ugly. Just keep talking.
Liz works from home as a freelance writer, grad student, and mother of 3, all of whom are being diligently trained to bring down the patriarchy, while her German Shepherd barks out the window at stationary vehicles.