Sunday, June 17, 2012

A good divorce?

Two posts in one day, because it's Sunday morning and Katherine is at a sleepover and I woke up early, and so I have time to think, uninterrupted, which is a form of bliss.  Hello again!

I've mentioned Constance Ahrons' book The Good Divorce on this blog before.  If you are contemplating divorce, if you're in the middle of divorce, or if you're already divorced, and you have kids, this is the book to read.  The book outlines ways parents can approach divorce in the least-damaging ways possible for their children.  It's not a divorce law book, it's not a dating guidebook, it's not a justification for divorce book.  This is a book about parenting through divorce, and helping kids, and I think it's thoughtful and wise.

Notice that I said least-damaging, not blissful.  The book doesn't pretend that everything about divorce is wonderful and that the children will come out scott-free.  Instead, Ahrons paves the way for approaches to divorce that make the best out of a bad situation.  The general premise is that parental behavior impacts children as much or more than the divorce itself, and Ahrons suggests ways parents should behave in divorce.

I've taken the philosophies of this book to heart, and I'm doing my utmost to model my divorce on Ahrons' suggestions.  No matter what Bryan does, or how he behaves, I am in control of my own responses, and I am aware that anything that I can do to lower conflict between Bryan and myself will positively impact Katherine.

I bite my tongue a lot.
(Do not Google images of biting your tongue.  Gross.)

I think my tongue is covered in deep welts and scars, actually.  When Bryan told me on Friday night that he was too tired to help Katherine with her bedtime ritual and he was going to bed, I smiled at Katherine and said, "Get in your PJs so we can read stories," instead of snapping at him that he hardly spends any time with his girl and I've had a hard week too....although that is what I deeply wished to say.

And it's paying off.  I can not believe how much, but it's paying off!

Katherine is doing better through all of this than I even dreamed possible.  When she found out that her dad had commited to an apartment, I held my breath, fearful that this new stage of reality would freak her out, but instead, she seemed to experience actual joy.  I stared at her for a moment, I was so surprised by her response, but I think I get it now. 

Katherine is doing okay because Bryan and I have followed through on our commitment to make this work for her. 

The apartment is two blocks away, walking distance for a nine year old, and we've promised that she can go back and forth as she pleases, regardless of whose "day" it is.  When Bryan announced he'd booked it, I immediately said, "Oh, I'm so glad it's so close!" and smiled at Katherine.  Various people have said, "Ugh don't you want more space between you?" and while there is a part of me that feels that way, I mostly feel genuine enthusiasm for its proximity, knowing how nice it will be for her to just pop over to see her dad, or to come back here to get a favorite shirt or toy.

When Katherine was in a little play at church (ironically, about responding to change) last week, it was on "my" weekend, but I made sure that Bryan was invited, and we sat together to cheer her on.  My mom came, too, and afterwards she invited all of us, Bryan included, to lunch.  We all went, and we played nice.

Katherine doesn't say anything about it, but she sees it.  And she MUST notice how the tension is falling around here.  The tension is less than it was when Bryan and I were actively trying to stay married, as a matter of fact.

I'm packing all of Bryan's household stuff; he can't appear to get off his duff to do it, and I'd rather do it an hour here and an hour there than all in one mad rush (I really do dislike chaos).  And I've refrained from badgering him about it, and I've actually been pretty pleasant to him, despite the fact that it's a royal pain, and blatantly unfair (I have my own massive to-do list, and I'm doing his, too).  Katherine sees this, and I think she notices.

The funny thing is, Bryan is noticing too.  He has been much more pleasant to be around lately, and he has snapped at me much less than usual.  The tension is so much less, I actually told my mother "I think I like Bryan more now than I have in five years!"

Make no mistake: this is not a like of the "maybe we can make it work" variety.  Actually, the thing that makes it easiest for me to like Bryan right now is the idea that I no longer have to be married to him.  His problems are no longer my problems: I do not have to care about his mood swings, or his laziness, or the fact that he expects me to pick up his slack.  He has lost most of his ability to hurt me.  When there is some emotional distance, I simply don't care what he does, because it doesn't impact me nearly as much, and I'm not invested in making him be the kind of person I'd want to partner with.  We have little in common, but it doesn't matter any more.  We are not partners any more, and this frees me to like him in a casual way, from a distance.

What Katherine will see is that I will buy him a housewarming present.  She will see that I will help him move.  She will see that I bought him a nice Father's Day card.  She will see that I am not arguing about possessions - I would honestly rather give him every last stick of furniture than fight any more, and fortunately he's not choosing to fight over "stuff," either.  She will see us side by side, cheering for her.

I have coached my friends and family to accept him, too.  I have called them and told them that they have my explicit permission to socialize with him, to call him, to support him, because he's Katherine's dad, and excluding him would exclude her.  I have asked my family to include him in holiday events, because it's good for Katherine.

If we did not have a child, I would try to divorce on a handshake and walk away, possibly never seeing him ever again.  I've got anger and sadness in spades, and I'm not confused by that....I do not always feel Zen about our divorce.  But we do have a child, and that makes us a family, and family is forever.  Our marriage is over, but our family is not.

And it's working.  Katherine is doing better than I could have dreamed.  Her grades are higher than ever, and she's become an amazing reader.  Her counselor has said we can scale back on sessions because she's doing so well.  She's doing well with her friendships.  She's sleeping well - not too much or too little.  With the notable exception of the one giant fit (blogged earlier), her behavior is utterly normal.

My life is complicated, and I struggle daily.  Being a single working mother is exhausting, and the financial ramifications of this make my head hurt.  I have no idea what the future will bring, and while I'm filled with hope, I also have fear.

But maybe I will get my good divorce.  Divorce was not my dream, but as divorces go, maybe I can make this one as good as they come.


  1. All I can say is - it sounds like your focus - both you and Bryan - is in the right place. And that's reflected in your behavior, your responses to each other, and your daughter's feeling less tension as well.

    Good for all of you!

  2. BLW, thank you. I'm trying so hard...and it's so hard! But it's worth it, and I'm glad Bryan is following my example right now. There are advantages to having a passive ex, I suppose.