Divorce is hard. This we all know; some of us know the pain more than others. Some of us deal with it better than others. Some of us bury the pain only to have it come up at a time we least expect it. And included in the "us" is kids. Kids and divorce: Perhaps the worst of the divorce part. There is a part of me that feels like I failed my children because their father and I cannot be together. They are part him and part me and the two parts that made them are no longer in love. Like I said, divorce is hard. It's also confusing for everyone.
My twins were 3 years old when their father and I first separated. They were 3 and a half when we sold the house we lived in and moved. Now they are 4. When sitting on my bed in our small NYC apartment recently, my son asked me what happened to our old house. I reminded him we said goodbye to it. That we have a new house now. That this is our new adventure. He looked at me confused.
I had tried to make the move a big adventure -- because it was. It was all new for me, for them, for their dad. A new journey in our new lives. Uncharted.
"But what happened to our old house?" he asked.
"It's still there. There is another family living there now," I told him.
He seemed excited. "Can we go back there?"
"No, it's not our house anymore. This is our house."
"But you painted it like our old house. And it has the stuff from our old house. And then we made Daddy's house. How did you turn that house into this house?"
And there it was. The reality of my children's two homes. The feeling that my son misses our old house, of all it represented.
"We hired movers. It's like magic. We had them move everything for us and this is our home now. And Daddy has his home, too. And you have two homes. Do you know why Daddy lives in his house?" I asked him. Psychologists may not approve with my approach, but this was a fluid conversation at 6 in the morning before I had any coffee.
"Because he works a lot," my son said.
"He does," I smiled trying to hold back tears.
My ex and I haven't said the word "divorce" to our kids yet. We tell them that Mommy and Daddy love them, that we are still a family, but we just live in different places. The concept of divorce is hard enough for me to understand, to navigate. I didn't -- my ex and I both didn't -- want the kids to be confused. We didn't want them to think something is "over" and to think it changed how we felt as a family. Because even though my marriage is over, my relationship with my ex is not. It never will be. I respect him as a father, as a person. We are learning how to be together without being together. We both put our kids first and are working on figuring this new normal out ... together, but apart.
A few days after the talk with my son, my daughter had an art project at preschool where all the kids drew pictures of their houses. The teacher hung them on a string across one of the walls in the classroom. One after another there were 4-year-old drawings of box houses, similar but different, but all of them looked like houses or apartment buildings. Except my daughter's. She drew many circles. Like a map. Her teacher told me about it at pick-up. That's when I revealed that I was getting divorced and we were all adjusting to living in a new apartment, or in my kids' case, two new apartments. She told me to ask my daughter about her drawing. I was worried. Worried that this was the moment I was going to realize how badly I screwed up my children. How my daughter must feel scattered and broken and sad.
We went over to it, and I asked her. "Can you tell me about your drawing, sweetie?"
"It's my houses!" she said, excited. "This one is our house. This one is Daddy's house. This is Mema and Pop Pop's house. This one is Aunt Jen's house with Uncle Phil and Dylan and Tennessee. This is Pop and Hattie's house ...."
Those tears were happening again. This time in public. In front of the teacher. "She feels at home at all these houses," her teacher told me, smiling.
I was so relieved. And happy. And proud of myself and my ex. We did it. We are doing it -- we are doing something right. We may not have been successful at the marriage part, but we are going to be successful at the divorce part -- the divorced with kids part. There are resolutions all divorced parents need to make -- on New Year's and every day. My ex and I are going to respect each other, honor the fact that we loved each other so much that we made two little lives. And we are going to strive to be the best divorced parents we can possibly be. And even through the pain and hurt and confusion, we wouldn't change a thing about getting married, we don't regret it. Because what followed is two of the most incredible loves of my life, of my ex's life. We all still love each other, we are still family. Just in a different way.
Can you relate? How have your kids been dealing with divorce?
Image via Michele Zipp; art by daughter Penelope