There are no two marriages the same which means there are no two divorces the same. There are a hundred scenarios, a thousand circumstances, a million variables and a billion reasons. Because of this it would be foolish to claim that I actually know anything about your parents’ divorce. I don’t. And I’m not going to pretend that what I’m about to say is valid in all cases. It is not.
What I will purport is that what I am about to say is valid in most cases. Most.
And here it is:
When one (or both) of your parents decided to end the marriage they didn’t do it to you. They did it because of themselves.
Can you understand that? More importantly can you accept that?
They didn’t do it because they were trying to ruin your life. They didn’t do it because they don’t love you enough. They didn’t do it because they don’t want you to have a Hallmark Christmas or family vacations at the lake. They didn’t do it because, looking ahead, they were thinking they don’t want to sit next to each other at your wedding.
They did it because they wanted something different. Period. In a grownup relationship way, they wanted something other than what they had. Whatever was on offer in the marriage was no longer suitable. I know that sounds like a lame word but I’m trying to paint broad strokes here. I can assure you that in most cases, when that one despicable (in your eyes, I’m sure) parent pulled the plug it was because they could no longer fake that marriage. Not for you or anyone else. So they pulled the plug to have a shot at something different. Something better. Something more suitable to whomever they had become while your other parent was becoming something else.
Now this concept goes to a few issues:
- In this day and age, when we know that over 50% of marriages end in divorce, why do we even bother? Well, we bother because we are ever-optimistic. We were raised on Disney movies and happily-ever-after. We reckon if anyone’s gonna do it, it’s gonna be us Dangnabbit! But the fact is over 50% percent of marriages do not go the distance. You, my dearest child, are not in the minority.
- When the institution of marriage was first … um … instituted, the average person lived to 40. You got married at 15 and 25 good or not-so-good years later, you’re done. No need to even contemplate divorce because you’re done anyway.
- There have been many times in history, many societies, many cultures and many just plain old people who turned a blind eye to adultery. People screwed around. Both men and women. They stayed married but they screwed around. And everybody was okay with that.
- Marriage was mostly a business arrangement. And I won’t even get into the ramifications of that.
But now we live in this modern age where people live to be a hundred and don’t need (or want) their marriage to be a business arrangement and they don’t need (or want) to commit adultery and they don’t need (or want) stay in something that no longer fits. For whatever reason.
And here is where we get to the crux of my dissertation: you, my dear child, were never in your parents’ marriage. Ever. You were in their family. In their home. In their daily existence. But you were never in their marriage. You were never in their bed. You were never in their doubts. You were never in their work lives away from each other and you were never in their heads or their hearts. Not their romantic hearts … with each other. You were never there.
So how can you possibly judge? When one of your parents says “Enough!” how can you possibly judge? You were never there to witness or understand what you are judging.
Okay, okay, I know a lot of couples scream and yell in front of their kids, and doors are slammed and who knows what else? But even if you have seen this chaos you are still not in it. You do not know its inherent causes. You are not privy to the months and even years of secrets (secrets to you) that have led to somebody throwing in the towel. Because even though you are all a family you are not all in the marriage. The marriage is special territory and your parents are its only inhabitants. They are the only ones who truly know the landscape. The hills that over time became impossible to climb. The valleys that sucked them into pits of despair. The plateaus that extended like a prairie highway, endless expanses of same old boring same old. Only your parents know the sum total of their married years.
So then there is adultery. One of them cheats, how dare they, scum-sucking turds, never again deserving of your love. Or maybe no one cheats but one of them moves on just a little too fast? This usually means a little too fast for you and even more so a little too fast for the parental unit left behind, not moving forward with equal momentum.
So now, dearest little one, you bring up vows. Promises. Commitments. Religious beliefs. Integrity. You will say “Work harder! Fight for this union! Go to therapy! Stay together for the family!” And when those laments no longer work and someone still walks out you will find any reason possible to slam that parent to the ground because they were bad. Bad enough to break the heart of your other pristine parent. You know, the one left behind. The one hurting. The one most likely leaning on you because they haven’t quite got to the place where they take ownership of their role in that marriage. You know, that marriage between them and your other parent that you were not in.
I’m not saying that both your parents should be given carte blanche to run naked through the streets doing whatever the hell they want. I am saying that if there is another party involved you don’t know what inspired that “delinquent” parent to seek solace elsewhere. You do not know. Because you were not in the marriage. And one other tiny point to consider: we are all human. We hang on, we fight, we don’t fight, we let go and then somewhere in the middle of that mess we are sometimes offered solace. Hope. An escape! Sometimes it works out, often it does not. But it has nothing to do with you because we are not nor were we ever trying to escape you. We are trying to forge a different kind of life. For us.
And now here comes the big one. You see, as much as you may conveniently forget it, we your parents are people. Human beings. Individual persons. We are not just your mother or your father’s wife. We are singular homosapiens given one chance to walk this planet. And we are trying to get it right. As right as we can. We are not here just here to meet your every need or look after our own parents or work to pay the rent or drive you around or stay married just because that’s what you want. We are trying to courageously and honestly live our lives, these precious and too-short lives (we’re older, remember, and we are already seeing the finish line) of ours in a way that makes sense. And sometimes a union that made sense ten or fifteen or twenty-five years ago simply does not make sense anymore. The players have changed. Changed differently. One of us has become a baseball player. The other a golfer. And you are now asking us to stay together and figure skate.
Oh that we could. I wrote a blog a few years back stating unequivocally that if I knew then what I know now I would have stayed in my marriage longer … just for my son. Only for my son.
Yeah. I would have given up my life for my son. Might have worked. Probably not.
Because I am reminded of these brilliant lyrics from Kenny Loggins:
I did it for you and the boys
Because love should teach you joy
and not the imitation your mama and daddy tried to show you …
These words I believe with all my heart.
I will never tell my own son who to love or not love. These choices must be his. I can counsel, advise, support and support some more. But I will never tell. I am not in his heart. I am not in his relationship.
As for me, my job is teach. Show. Lead by example. So yes, I could have demonstrated immense and pure altruism by staying with his father, misery be damned, and our family to this day would be intact. It would be dishonest but it would be intact.
I, however, choose to now show him something different. Not the imitation that …
Darling children of the word, please allow your parents to do the same. Allow them their own lives, their own choices, their own mistakes and their own victories. Do not take sides just because one parent is so obviously hurting. That other parent might have been desperately hurting for many, many years before they pulled the plug. They just were not allowed to share that with pain you. There is very little black and white in relationship, only a zillion shades of gray. You yourself will experience fifty shades at least. And when you have, and your parents are both long gone, you will (I hope) realize that no one did anything to piss you off or hurt you. We are just trying to facilitate the best lives we can for us, much like you will do the same for you.
In most cases I would wager both parents love you unabashedly. Both parents hate that you are hurt. Both parents wish with all their hearts that they could give you the Disney ending you so crave. But the cold hard truth is that if one parent can no longer live the lie – for whatever reason – there won’t be a whole heck of a lot you can do to keep them stagnant. The best you can hope for is forward motion with love. Acceptance. Gratitude for what was. Faith that the future is still filled with glorious possibility. Perhaps even knowledge that although love can change, diminish, redefine and change some more, it can also endure. And what you can do is still love both your parents, unabashedly, without judgment.
Because I’m pretty sure at the end of the day, that is exactly what you want from them.