Would you say bad things about me to the kids? Would you blame me for their unhappiness, for their disappointment, for being late or early or just not in tune with what’s going on?
Had we stayed together, would you have mocked me to my children, disparaged the way my family and I believe? Would you dare say nasty things about people who are related to your children? Would you see them, me, us, as separate from them the way you do now?
Today is a bright sunny day on Mackinac Island. Kites fly above Windermere Point. I sit on an Adirondack chair on the library deck, under the shade of a young tree that is old enough to protect me from the sun.
I am leading a writing retreat here, and my children are finishing a two-week stretch with their father, our longest time apart all year. They, and I, will be home on Wednesday, and this somewhat tumultuous time will pass, but I still wonder about the long-term impact of my children’s father and I no longer being hitched in wedded matrimony.
Had we stayed together, we may well have continued on the bumpy path that was our marriage. We may well have messed up our children in altogether different ways than we are doing right now, as divorced co-parents.
Because we don’t reall co-parent.
Sure, on days when one of the kids is sick and has to go to the doctor, we let each other know. When there is a school function, we hold it together well enough to sit in a long row of family, although he stays to his end and I to mine, with our parents and children buffers between us.
There are times we get along almost as if we could be friends. I love those times. I love when I see glimpses of the kindness we once took as customary for our intertwined lives.
And then the moment passes and we are back to the acrimony that all too often defines a divorce.
Those times when we get competitive, as if there is only so much love available, and we have to lay claim to it before the other one commands it all. Stupid, isn’t it?
We tell our children that our hearts grow bigger when we add more people to our family, that we have more love to share. But for the two of us, we clearly don’t believe what we preach. We are scared adults, holding on a bit too tightly, wishing the kids would go our way as validation that we were the chosen parent.
Stupid, I say.
Most of the time, I believe each person on this planet has their own destiny to fulfill, their own path to walk. That means my children were born not to fulfill my hopes and dreams but rather, their own.
That’s what I believe deep in my soul. I don’t believe they have to choose his way or my way to be right or wrong. It’s their turn, their passion, their life to live.
So when I get a call from my child at sleepaway camp saying he doesn’t know who to believe anymore, I have to wonder what he’s talking about. How could there be such different storytelling that he feels stuck in the middle?
Whether I find the answer or not, I wag my finger at my ex and at myself. Shame on us. The sins of the parents should not be borne by the children.
A divorced family has its own unique sense of complications to weather, and it is a lifelong challenge. Yes, the divorce may be over when the judge signs the decree, but when you share children, you are forever linked, much as you may not want to be.
I sought freedom from tyranny when I chose to divorce. And I knew the price I would have to pay for taking that leap: my children are not always with me, they are being taught conflicting beliefs, they sometimes feel pulled between parents.
While I believe their path is theirs to pursue, it seems I have not applied the same philosophy to myself.
Here I sit, under the shade of a tree, the constant waves of Lake Huron sipping and swelling and gulping against the rocky shore. The kites still fly overhead in brilliant colors, like the abundant rainbows of this weekend. I smile, believing all types of love are finally possible. And valid. And recognized.
I have three days left here, to ponder my own dreams and desires, to sit in my solitary contemplation and reckon with my own soul – separate, as we always truly are, from spouse and children, from everyone else on the planet.
We are connected at a deep level and separated at the core. It is our individual path to walk. Nothing less, nothing more.