My own parents divorced when I was five years old, and in one of those great ironies of karma, I fell in love with a divorced dad and am now getting to see it from the other side.
I have a better understanding now of some of what my parents went through. It had never occurred to me, for instance, that my dad once had to have a conversation with my stepmother where he explained how much money he made, and how much got taken off the top in child support. And on the other side, there was the time my Beloved, after spending an afternoon dealing with an ex-caused frustration, angrily vented ‘well, at least I know that when he’s eighteen, I can tell him everything!’ I had to gently explain to him that HE couldn’t be the one to do that!
Here’s the thing: when kids are involved, you have to be the grown-up, and that sometimes means sucking it up. Sucking it up doesn’t mean staying married to someone you can’t be married to. But it does mean letting go of your own petty stuff in the service of a good life for your kid.
Between my childhood with divorced parents, my adulthood as a stepmom, and my career as a teacher, I have seen it all, and I think most divorcing parents would do a better job if they spent less time thinking about how much they hate their ex and more time thinking about how much it would suck to be the kid in the middle of the whole thing—the kid who is told they can’t go to the family holiday party with dad because it’s not his weekend; the kid who can’t keep a picture of Mom’s new baby in his room because Dad doesn’t want to hear about it; the kid who can’t go the baseball game with Grandpa and the cousins because his other parent won’t drive a little out of their way to drop him off; the kid who misses an appointment because one parent won’t let the other one pick him up a few minutes before the official access time; the kid who is housebound for a weekend because Dad’s car seat broke suddenly and Mom won’t loan him hers for the weekend; the kid who spent 20 minutes crying on the front step of her school because yesterday’s parent didn’t tell today’s parent that the usual pickup route had some road construction going on which would make them be late…
Please, divorcing parents, don’t be that person. Loan Dad the car seat. Tell him about the construction. Let the other parent swap weekends for a family party. Sign the consent form so they can take the child on a special trip. Let them have an extra hour so that an out-of-town relative can see the child during a visit. Don’t make your child a victim of your desire to be right, to win, to prove you know better. Maybe you do know better. Maybe you really are right. But please, be the grown-up and let your ex spend their emotional energy on being a parent, not on fighting you.