We hear a lot in the media about celebrity couples, like Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, who are continuing to parent as a “united family unit,” even going on vacations or to church together and living on the same property, despite being separated. But this “romantic” myth of divorce is not the reality for most families.
It certainly wasn’t the reality for my family, even though my parents—who split when I was two— had what some would describe as a “good divorce.”
For the first few years after they divorced, I never heard my parents say a cross word to each other. My father attended all my recitals and my birthday parties. And when he didn’t have enough gas money to make the hour-long trip to visit me, my mom made sure to bring me to him. Most importantly, my parents treated each other as friends.
But two years after their divorce, I was still having a hard time dealing with the fact that they were no longer married, especially when they both began dating new people. Even though I could not remember what it was like for them to be a couple, I desperately wished they would get back together.
When I was about four, my parents surprised me by taking me out for a special outing at a local park. We spent the entire day together, holding hands, and even stopping to have a family photo taken. It was the happiest day of my childhood. And my parents seemed happy too. I just knew that they were going to get back together!
But the next time my father picked me up, my dad told me he was going to marry his girlfriend. Shortly after that, my mom remarried too. My fantasy of my parents getting back together was shattered forever.
Not only did their re-marriages change my parents’ relationship, my life with both of them changed as well. Suddenly, my parents rarely spoke to each other alone. My father was no longer “allowed” to attend my birthday parties or to even pick me up at the house for our weekend visits unless my mom and her new husband were not at home. My mom and stepmom sometimes got into arguments over me.
When both my parents and their new spouses began having babies, my family life became even more complex and confusing than it was before. Even though I loved all my new half-siblings, I never felt like I completely fit into my parents’ new worlds.
Then, my mom and her new husband moved us six hours away from my father, which meant I saw him even less. A few years later, he took a job in another country, a move that was good for him and his new family but emotionally devastating for me.
This is the reality of divorce for most kids—even in so-called “good divorces.” It looks and feels a lot different from the way divorce is often portrayed in Hollywood. Most divorcing parents don’t have financial resources for good lawyers, divorce therapy, and huge mansions with extra houses on the property where dad or mom can live near each other, nor do most parents have the option (or desire) to remain in the same city or state after a divorce.
We should be careful not to buy into the myth of the “good divorce.” There are exceptions when divorce is better for a family,like when there is domestic violence or child abuse. But the best family for children is one where their parents stay married and find a way to work their problems out.
Instead of trying to romanticize divorce, let’s romanticize the marriages that last, the ones that struggle but make it—so those of us who want to give our kids the family life our parents failed to give us can work toward an ideal that is still worth fighting for.