Sometimes the biggest lessons in life come from the littlest people. At a “staggering” five feet tall, I suppose that I would technically be considered one of those little people, but for clarification’s sake, let me just start by saying that the little people I’m talking about here are children– my children. And in this case, that lesson was about divorce.
From the moment my ex and I decided to separate, I obsessed over how we were going to break the news to the kids. When we’d do it. How we’d do it. The first thing we decided was that it was going to me and not we doing the talking. Not necessarily because I’m better at these things than he is…. No, that was it. I’m just better at these things than he is. And I imagined that if it were both of us, it would be this Huxtable-style family meeting that we’d go into with good intentions, but come out with four children forever traumatized by the sight of all of us sitting in a circle with our tacky sweaters and Jell-O pudding pops, crying.
That was my view of it. But the truth is that growing up, I never had to go through anything remotely close to this, and I couldn’t even imagine what it was going to be like for the kids; how much their lives were going to change from the instant we said the words: “We’re getting a divorce….” The years of therapy they’d spend talking to a psychologist about how I’m the root of all of their problems in life (which will likely happen divorce or no divorce).
For days I cried, and cried…and then cried some more. I stressed, and stressed…and then stressed some more; because I knew that however I did it, this was something they’d remember for the rest of their lives.
Because I was dealing with two older children and two younger ones, I thought it would be best to tell them at different times so I could handle two different kinds of questions that I knew I probably wasn’t going to be able to answer the right way anyway.
I talked to the older kids first.
I walked down the hallway to my oldest’s bedroom where the two were playing video games (a rare moment where they were actually getting along). I stood in the doorway and asked them to pause the Xbox for a minute.
Not giving myself the chance to back out, I blurted, “We’re getting a divorce,” and I braced myself for the tears and the screams of “Why God? Why?” Because after all, they are my children and they have my tendency to be a little on the dramatic side. There weren’t any tears though. It was just quiet. I thought that maybe they were expecting me to say something else. So I did.
“It just wasn’t working out,” I said. “So your dad’s gonna be moving into his own apartment.”
“We’re still friends though!” I rushed to add. I thought it was important that among all things, they knew that.
I waited for them to respond. They both stared at me, and then the younger one finally spoke.
“Can we un-pause the game now?”
It definitely wasn’t the question I was expecting, but I was relieved that at least it was one that I could answer.
“I guess. Go ahead,” I told them. “Just don’t say anything to the little ones. I haven’t talked to them about it yet.” By that time they were already mesmerized by Madden again.
I didn’t chalk that one up as a success for me, but I was glad it was out of the way. The only problem was that I knew the two younger children were next.
I waited a couple of days to talk to them. In part because I needed to give myself a mental break, but I also wanted to wait for the weekend when I’d have more time with them to dry their tears and help them process all of their emotions; even though I hadn’t been very good at processing my own.
Once again I walked down that hallway not knowing what to expect after I said those words.
I can’t say that I even remember what came out of my mouth to start the conversation, but I’m sure that whatever it was, it probably wasn’t the best thing that could’ve been said at the time. The important thing was that I said it. It was out there.
“What does divorce mean?” my daughter asked.
“It means that mommy and daddy won’t be married anymore.”
“Do you have a boyfriend? Because I don’t want two moms and two dads.” That was my son; always one to cut the crap and get straight to the matter at hand.
“Nobody is getting married again right away. You don’t need to worry about that right now,” I assured him. But what I needed was someone to assure me, because all of a sudden I was freaking out on the inside, terrified at the thought of being replaced.We talked a little about how daddy and mommy were still friends; how they’d still see him all of the time and other important things that I can’t quite recall.
I do remember, however, that there weren’t any tears. No “Why God? Why’s.”
There was only one more question: “What’s for dinner?” Dinner. All of this going on and they wanted to know about dinner.
Did I do it wrong or something? Should I have made it out to be a bigger deal than I did? And what is for dinner? Later, as I was cooking, I thought about it all over and over again.
Why weren’t they broken up about this like I was? Why didn’t they have all the questions that I had?
I’d like to think that a large part of it was that I might have actually done something right. But I think there was also something those little people knew that I hadn’t yet figured out. In all of my obsessing over what went wrong in the marriage and whose fault it was, I didn’t realize that I couldn’t spend my time dwelling on things. It happened. We got a divorce. But life goes on.
Madden has to be played. Dinner has to be made.
As the days have gone by, there have been questions. I know there will probably be many more. And it’s likely that I may not always have the answers. But that’s okay. We’ll get through it. We’ve made it this far, and we’ll go even further as we live our lives. And as for whether I did it wrong or not– only time and their therapy bills will tell.