The 1 Thing That Surprised Me Most About Divorce

older woman using a smartphone

Last week for my birthday, I received many sweet wishes from friends and family. But one call completely disarmed me: The one from my mother-in-law. I should say former mother-in-law, since I'm going through a divorce. I've left her youngest (and possibly dearest) son, and she still called me up to wish me a happy birthday. It was one of those moments you just don't expect, and it hit me: You may divorce a person, but you don't necessarily divorce a whole family. Not if you -- and they -- don't want to.


"You're still family," my mother-in-law said. And I'm so glad she said that. In spite of the cliche, I love my in-laws. They've always been sweet and welcoming, but never intrusive. The perfect balance. They're also terribly old, in their mid- and late-80s now. Just this year they moved from a house to an assisted living center, and we're not sure how much longer we'll have them with us.

I've talked with my in-laws from time to time since I separated from their son, though probably not often enough. It's always felt just a little bit awkward for me, because I'm not sure how they feel about all this -- and they're not the type to have a long conversation about feelings. But they did express a little sadness. And a sense of resignation. At their age, they've seen it all, been through it all. It's just life. It was good to get their perspective.

My mother is similarly welcoming to my ex-husband. She's offered to put him up when he's in town (he hasn't taken her up on it, but it's appreciated). In fact, when I gave my mom the news that we were splitting up and told her exactly why, she ended the conversation by asking me to send her love to him. What?!? I was still angry at that point, of course, but I was also touched by her open-heartedness.

Maybe we're just lucky we both come from reasonable, loving parents. It's not like we've kept in touch with all of each other's family. My ex doesn't call up my sister, and I'm not chatting with his brothers. (I kind of feel like maybe siblings take sides more quickly.) But staying connected to each other's in-laws makes it much easier to keep up our son's relationship with his grandparents.

It also helps give us a longer perspective on life. We are all so much more than our immediate nuclear families, even if we live thousands of miles away from extended relatives.

Did your relationship with your ex's family change after divorce?


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