My daughter has been struggling lately with everything: boys, friendships, school work, and going back and forth between my house and her dad’s house. She just turned 14 and is ripe with hormones, backtalk, and feeling really shitty about herself at every second.
I know this because I remember feeling it myself at her age. Throw her parents’ divorce on top of the pile of shit she is shoveling, and it feels like doomsday in our house. I’m not exaggerating.
My ex and I have been apart for over two years, but we are very much a family. This was a choice, and a promise we made when he was getting ready to move out. I knew I didn’t want to parent our kids alone, ever. And because my ex is around, very present, and a fantastic father, I don’t have to.
“Promise me something,” I said, standing in the bathroom watching him brush his teeth over his sink for the last time. “Even if we hate each other, even if there comes a day when we can’t be in the same room, we will still act like a family and come together as their parents for those kids.”
“I promise,” he said.
So, when she came to me and told me she didn’t want to go to her dad’s as much because she was having problems with his live-in girlfriend and her daughter, I had to get him involved.
I listened to her, let her cry, and then I told her we’d figure it out. This problem could not be solved by me making a decision about the way things should go by only listening to my daughter’s side of the story — as tempting as it was.
Instead of getting heated, I forced myself to pick up the phone and call my ex-husband to get the whole story. He thought it would be best to come over for a meeting so it could be talked out with all of us, because something like this affects the entire family, and everyone should have a voice here. Together, we came up with a solution, one that we were all comfortable with, including my daughter.
A few weeks earlier, I smelled gas outside our house and immediately called me ex . He was there in 20 minutes to figure it out — and not because he is at my beck and call, or because I depend on him too much, or because he still wants to be married to me. He came because his kids live there and he wants us all, including me, to be safe. Those feelings don’t dissolve when you sign divorce papers, even if you pretend they do.
We couldn’t keep our marriage together, but we’ve been able to keep the promise to one another for those three people we gave life to, those kids who never asked to be in a situation where they are being shuffled back and forth and splitting up their holidays.
It hasn’t been an easy promise to keep some days. There are many times where I’ve felt angry with him because I feel like I do all the heavy lifting. I remember the doctor and orthodontist appointments. It is me who checks their schedules and picks them up from school every day. Sometimes I get mad at him because he doesn’t really know what’s going on unless I fill him in and it takes a lot of time and energy to keep us all on the same page. It would be easy to drop the ball and take it all on myself and leave him out of it.
But I’m determined to still be a family no matter what it takes, no matter what it looks like, even if we aren’t married because it has been the one thing that makes all of the mess divorce brings feel semi-okay to all of us.
There is constant communication with us between text and phone calls — we have teenagers who need their parents to be on the same page about everything. And right now, that is what matters the most. In my book, that’s called a family.
There is no, “Well, dad lets me do this.” We do not put up with, “I’ll ask mom since you said no.”
It’s hard. It gets confusing. We don’t always want to come together and talk about the dynamics happening in our separate households.
If he’s had a chunk of time with them, he calls to give me the rundown and tell me about any issues or things that have happened during that time. And I do the same.
But we keep on because it works, it has helped us all tremendously, even during the days I feel like throwing up my arms and giving up because being angry and blaming him would be easier than picking up my phone, calling a family meeting, or telling him I need his help or parenting advice about something.
We loved each other once. That love has flooded onto our children, and they still need us in many of the same ways they did when we were married. We decided not to give up on that slice of our family life when we parted ways.
We don’t do it perfectly, but it’s the best we’ve got, and I’m proud of us for being able to come together and figure out the really tough stuff together. Things look different now, but we are still a family, and that kind of love is still very much alive no matter where our kids are.