with Karli Larson
The transition from stay-at-home mom to divorced-and-working-full-time mom can be challenging, and sometimes very lonely. Throw in a few cats, an ancient dog and one very brave boyfriend, and life gets downright crazy. Join me as I talk through my thoughts and struggles, my miscalculations and my triumphs. We're in this together, you and I.
When I'm not writing here you can find me over at work on the TisBest Philanthropy blog.
This is divorce, you think.
When you get to the “Parents in Transition” seminar that your state says you must attend, for the sake of your children, whom you have already ruined by divorcing, you are shocked to find the room filling up quickly. How can there be this many people divorcing in your county? Where are they, and why do you know none of them?
The room is packed. For every soul here, you think, there is at least one child affected, at least two extended families who had the news broken to them, at least…what? What else? How many numbers can there be, in a divorce? Infinite, it seems.
The co-leaders—social workers—who run this seminar are like an old married couple themselves. They cluck and joke as they fuss with the overhead projector and the ancient VCR and the extension cords. They have been running this seminar for more than 35 years, and perhaps it has made them immune to the stink of the walking wounded who shuffle into the room. Perhaps it does not, and they simply know by now to keep a professional demeanor when addressing the soon-to-be divorced, lest the soon-to-be-divorced spill their ugly, sad stories and turn the room into chaos.
Whatever the case, you feel no connection to them at all, even after they tell the seminar attendees that they too have gone through divorces. They both wear wedding rings now and have that comfortable, mildly smug, definitively married look that you have grown to hate in the general population.
Forward, you think. How to say it in Icelandic? Maybe it would make a nice tattoo, a permanent reminder. You want to feel strong, were determined to be strong, but already, in this place, you feel your strength slipping.
Scribbled in marker on a large pad of newsprint at the front of the room:
1 out of 2
70%/75% + 80%
No context appears on the pad with these numbers. You know when you hear the context, the meaning, it will not be pretty.
You suppose this is why you are here. You know that the state of Massachusetts insists on this co-parenting post-divorce seminar for the sake of the children. In theory, you can get behind that, wholeheartedly. Except you are not a theory, and you are a little reluctant to spend five hours hearing about the statistics that show that your divorce will scar your children for life.
Your children are the best thing that ever happened to you, and so—in theory, always “in theory”—you try to know that it all had to happen this way, you try to come to terms with the fact that they would not have come to you had you taken any other path.
But you want them to be happy. You want them to be well. You want this more than you want it for yourself, right now. Someday, you hope, you will have the strength to want it just as badly for yourself, but right now, you are more concerned about them.
You have already been co-parenting pretty well, in your eyes, for more than two years. Your children—are they all right? Are they 1/2? 2/3? One of the murky 70%/75% + 80%, and you are blind to it?
Of course you will listen. You have brought your red notebook, in case the tears come. You have planned it out—you will look down, scribble notes, blink, blink, draw a cartoon dog, if it gets bad, and you feel the hiccupy sobs shoving at the back of your throat. This is no singles’ event.
You try to think of every foreign word you have ever learned so you do not melt down during the statistics portion of the presentation. Five hours of this before they will give you the precious golden ticket to present to the court?
One out of every two? The seminar has not begun yet, but you are pretty sure that is the divorce statistic. One out of every two marriages ends in divorce. Perhaps they make a bumper sticker: I AM 1 OF 2. It’s poetic, you think.
Except you are 1 of 3 now: you and your two kids. One does not want to talk about “sad stuff” at all, but you guess that some “sad stuff” is there, and this worries you. The other is too inclined to be a caretaker, and you remind her often that there is nothing for her to fix, that you and her father love her and her sister and it is simply her job to be a kid, to find her own way with the grownups’ help.
The seminar is almost about to begin. You hope it will not be a discussion. While you wait for the co-leaders to make their final prep, you think it might be time for you to make the opposite of a bucket list—the rain list—what your bucket’s already collected. What you’ve done (well) with your life. Moments to remember. You forget, sometimes, that there have been good moments, achievements, accomplishments, successes.
The co-leaders begin tag-teaming the stats. You were right about the 1 out of 2.
Out of 100,000 children each year whose parents divorce, half of those children will have parents that remain in conflict
2/3 feel rejected by one parent
70% live in single-parent households at some point
75% to 80% parents remarry within five years (the class barks loudly at this point, disgusted laughter, a man hollers from the back: “NEVER AGAIN”)
“I know you feel that way now,” the male social worker says, scratching his gray beard, “but believe me, you’d be surprised. And do you know what the failure rate is for second marriages, statistically?”
You all wait, cowed already.
“Seventy-five percent,” he says.
You gather your own statistics at that point: half the class laughs, half the class stares miserably into their laps. You join the latter half. There is nothing funny here.
The social workers make you (because it is true—you must watch this, or you do not get your necessary “golden ticket” to give to the judge at your court hearing) watch a 1980s instructional film, hosted by Timothy Busfield of “Thirtysomething.” The film is called “Don’t Divorce the Children,” and it features real-life children and parents affected (most, horribly) by divorce. The children talk to the interviewer at great length about their utter devastation, about how they secretly want their parents back together, more than anything, about how they feel they will never recover, how their parents make them feel like a tug-of-war rope, how they have learned to sneak and lie so as not to upset their parents, how they date the wrong people, how they fear for their own success in life.
You are glad you have brought your red notebook. The tears fall. Nothing to be done.
The woman next to you is weeping hard. She tells you quietly at the break that she has an 11-week-old and a 5-year-old, and her father just died. She looks like she may shatter like a fine porcelain cup. You find yourself speechless, and gently touch her arm.
You do not want your babies to shatter like porcelain cups. You hope to God you are doing everything you can do. You pray. You will not wish anymore. Wish-free zone.
The social workers provide a “top-eleven” list of helpful advice.
1. Don’t go it alone, but take friends’ and family’s advice with a grain of salt.
2. Learn what’s going on with your kids—don’t hide your head in the sand.
3. Look for what works and what doesn’t for you—take care of yourself.
4. Attend to your spiritual life.
5. Be positive AND realistic.
6. Take care of your body. Blow off steam. Go to the gym.
7. Increase skills. Read child-development textbooks, especially “Mom’s House, Dad’s House.” The woman behind you lets out an audible sob.
8. Watch your language—don’t interrogate the child about what happens at the other parent’s house.
9. It’s okay to make mistakes with your kids—just take responsibility afterwards and apologize.
10. NO BADMOUTHING THE OTHER PARENT, EVER. Another groundswell of disgusted anger from the crowd, mostly from the men sitting in the back of the room. One says, “Yeah, but don’t my kids have the right to know that she’s a TOXIC BITCH?” You shudder for those kids and momentarily want to punch him in the face.
11. Keep your sense of humor. You scrawl a gigantic “HA” in your red notebook.
You realize a thought is passing through your mind, unaware that it is no longer in context, that it is obsolete. Your brain idly thinks of calling X, your former husband, at the break. Old habit, slow death. You want to say, You won’t believe this, you won’t believe this seminar, wait till you take it, oh my God, it’s insane, should I bring home Vietnamese or Thai?
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