Today would have been my 14th wedding anniversary.
Like 50% of the married couples out there, we didn't make it.
He and I married in 1995 after dating for six years and living together for two. We were settled in our lives and figured that marriage was the logical next step. After two years of “wedded bliss” we had our first child, and three weeks later moved to a military base for 10 months while he attended an Army command school. I finished up my maternity leave and telecommuted, hiring a nanny to help care for my newborn son.
Ten months later, we moved to Chicago and I became a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed the role to an extent but missed working terribly, but could not find a job that would equal what I would end up paying for a commute and childcare in the big city.
My husband, unhappy with his position as well, moved us back home to Peoria in 2000 and took a job in Springfield, commuting each night. Our second son was born in 2001, and from there it became a blur of unhappiness for us both. Jobs with odd schedules, busy lives, raising small kids coupled with our own miscommunication unraveled our marriage beyond repair. We were husband and wife turned father and mother, reduced to mere roommates. We divorced in 2004.
But the story actually begins rather than ends there.
After we made the difficult decision, we entered what is termed as “divorce counseling”. Not unlike the marriage counseling we had dabbled in over the years, divorce counseling focused on the fact that we had made the decision, and the best ways to go about it – financially, emotionally, and most importantly, how to tell the children, then ages 2 and 6. As gut-wrenching as this was overall, it was accepted as positively as it could have possibly been.
The day after we told our oldest son (which was one of the toughest conversations we have ever had to have), we all went out for lunch together then went shopping for furniture for daddy’s new apartment. The kids were actually excited to be a part of planning his new place, though I know that they still probably had no idea what the whole “divorce” situation meant. They toured apartments with dad, and picked out their own bedding and decorations for their rooms. I made each of them blankets for their beds at dad’s, and made sure there were photos of them with their father in their rooms at my house.
We were told that because the kids were so young, that they would be more accepting of the change in routine and more resilient to the effects. We were lucky – for the most part that was true. Though there were some tears that first couple of weekends away from mom (mostly from mom!), they adjusted like troupers, and my ex took over the challenges of caring for two boys on his own for three or four days at a time; fixing lunches, doing laundry, and getting them to their appropriate activities. I picked up freelance work to fill my weekends without them, and we settled into our divorced lifestyles.
We both knew that it wasn’t going to be easy - no one wants to "be divorced". We both knew that our children would suffer some ill effects, but in the long run it was the best decision for our family, and it was not entered into lightly. Most of all, we both loved our boys and wanted to make situation as minimally invasive to their normal lives as possible.
It started slowly... phone calls and emails back and forth between my ex and I, tweaking schedules and visitation. We share an online calendar, so he knows when all the school functions are and I can see changes to his work schedule. I add local events that are going on during the weekends for ideas of things to do. We are a united front at their school and sporting events, parent/teacher conferences and other extracurricular activities. He took over as den leader for our oldest’s Cub Scout troop, and I stepped up my volunteering at their schools.
As they got older and discipline issues emerged, we discussed them with each other, knowing that we didn’t want to fall into the trap of “mom’s rules” vs. “dad’s rules”. Even though we disagreed in marriage, our concurrence on child rearing issues was a team effort.
I’ll never forget sitting together at one of our son’s baseball games a few summers ago. We were laughing hysterically about something our younger son had done earlier that week when someone commented, “You know, you guys get along better than most married couples.” And it hit me – we were friends.
Since then, my ex-husband and I have formed a unique relationship that we both seem to be comfortable with. We talk frequently throughout the week about the kids’ activities and our own schedules, and even get together for dinner occasionally as a family when he is in town on his weekends with the kids. We’ve gone to Starved Rock, Six Flags, and even Disney World – primarily because neither of us wants to miss the experience our kids will have at these places – and secondly because we honestly enjoy each other’s company. And though traveling out of town with your ex-spouse can be uncomfortable at times, it is made up for in being able to see our children enjoy these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities together. And our kids see that their parents CAN get along and CAN be friends.
I'll add a disclaimer here. Every divorce is different. Some have circumstances that preclude them from even possibly having a civil relationship - that I do understand. However, there are many that are in situations that can be changed for the better if they simply put their own personal emotions aside for the well-being of their children. That is something that is fixable... workable... changeable.
Some may wonder why my ex and I don’t just get back together, and that I can’t really put into words. Did we make mistakes? Hell, yes. Do we have regrets? Until the day we die. But I can say that we are better people, better parents and better friends the way we are now, and I wouldn't change that for the world. And though we've each dated over the past few years, neither of us has gone down that marriage road yet again. But I am hoping if and when that happens that we will be able to handle it with the maturity and foresight that we handled the divorce.
And though I say I do it for my children, I think I do it for myself as well.