When I realized my marriage was falling apart, I begged my ex to try harder for the kids, to go to therapy for the kids, to stick around just a little while longer for the kids. And he did. He tried harder – for the kids. He went to therapy – for the kids. He stuck around just a little while longer – for the kids. Neither of us was trying for us and our marriage. He, a child of divorce, wanted to do better and end the cycle. I, a child of happily married parents, wanted to avoid sticking the girls with that label. We were both so terrified of what divorce would do to our children that we tried for longer than we should have to save what wasn’t meant to be saved.
When we agreed to end our marriage, I sat in my therapist’s office, crying those big ugly tears one cries when they’re surviving solely on chocolate malt milkshakes. I cried to him in exasperation, terrified of the stigma that would forever follow my girls now that they were children of divorce. He looked at me as he often does when he’s getting ready to point out how irrational I’m being and said, “So, you’re worried about what stigma? The one of them being just like fifty percent of their peers?”
A few months after our separation, our oldest started kindergarten. At Open House before the year started, the teacher asked us all to share any information we thought she should know about our children. As my ex and I sat there together, wondering how we would all be seen by the school, we felt the need to explain that our intelligent and talented little girl was a child of divorce. We explained that she sometimes got sensitive and teary-eyed – this was because of her status as a child of divorce. Never mind the fact that she had been that way from the moment her personality began to shine through or that her dad had been the exact same way as a kid.
First grade came around, and my ex and I again went to Open House together. And again, when the teacher asked us all to share any information we thought she should know about our children, we explained that she sometimes got timid and shy and unsure of herself and that this was the result of her being a child of divorce. Never mind that she was one of the youngest in her grade or that her mother had been the exact same way as a kid.
During all of that time, I would also catch others’ comments. News of my divorce was often met with something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m so sorry. The poor girls. Are they doing alright? It must be so hard on them,” or, “Your poor girls. It’s always the kids who are the victims.” Yes, it was hard on them. It was hard on all of us. It’s not something I would wish on anyone, but I wouldn’t say that the girls were suffering because of it. Struggling? Maybe. Confused? Sure. In need of some good play therapy? Definitely. But victims? No.
Fast forward two years. My ex and I have worked hard to create a co-parenting relationship that works for everyone involved, especially the girls. We’ve gone from me having full custody to their dad having them every other weekend to what is now a true 50-50 arrangement. If you were to meet our girls today, with two years of being children of divorce under their belts, you would never label them as “Victims of Divorce.”
Our I. is almost 7 years old, and she is kind, compassionate, helpful, sincere, full of questions, and incredibly curious about the world around her. She is an amazing student, always following the teacher’s directions, obeying school rules, befriending those who most need a friend, and pushing herself to reach new levels academically. Her grandfather has always called her “Bright Eyes” due to her sense of wonder. She asks questions that make me think in ways I’ve never thought before, and she reminds to slow down, to do handstands and flips in the pool. She is careful and observant, weighing all of her options before making decisions. She is unswayed by the influences of others, and she stands firm in what she believes in and wants.
And our M., just barely 4 years old, is the most goofy, considerate, loving, thoughtful, and socially intelligent child you’ll ever meet. She has become the resident nurse, tending to those who are crying, sick, or injured. When others hurt, she hurts with them. She is her grandfather’s sidekick, and she truly believes she can make his cancer all better. She makes sure he is always covered with his blanket that she and Big Sis made for him when he first went away for treatments, and she brings him food and drinks. She snuggles with him when he is too tired to play, and she runs to give him the most enthusiastic hugs when she sees him. She is also the goofball of the family, with a spirit to match her curly “crazy hair.” She is the one racing to the top of the water slides at the pool or to the tower for the zip line at the beach. We call her our wild child, not because she is out of control, but because she lives life to the absolute fullest, fearless and with confidence.
My children are so many things. They are young ladies. They are students. They are sisters, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, cousins, and friends. They are intelligent and talented. They are thoughtful, compassionate, and considerate. They are strong-willed and hard-wired for success. They are so many things. But they are not, and never will be, victims of divorce. To label them as such would blind others to the amazing beings that they are.
This year, when my ex, my boyfriend, and I go to Open House, I imagine I.’s second-grade teacher will ask us all to share any information we think she should know about our children. Together, we will explain that she splits her time between two households but that she will never be permitted to use that as an excuse for missing assignments. We will explain that she has a large family with many siblings from both homes and that she may talk about different sets of mommies and daddies, along with a plethora of grandparents. We will explain that she loves schools, strives to make her teacher happy, and works hard to truly be the best student she can be. And I believe that her teacher will figure out the rest: that she, like her sister, is thoughtful, kind, intelligent, talented…and anything but a victim.