Recently, Hannah, a young woman and old friend on the brink of divorce, wrote me asking for advice. Her questions brought back some memories of life during one of the most difficult periods in my life. Today, I am thankful those days are behind me, but for Hannah, they’re just beginning, and I think I understand what she’s going through right now.
Divorce cuts you to the core, but I believe it also leads to a rebirth and discovery of who you really are. Of course, I learned this the hard way. Misery settled into my life for a few years, but out of that misery came something better–my life today. Seems to me that sometimes, the only way to get something really good, is to first go through hell and back.
So, herewith, is my open letter to Hannah:
Hannah writes, “I was hoping you could give me your advice or share what you wish you’d known. Thankfully, I’ve had time where I don’t really have to share custody of Chelsea, but that all ends in November. John will be moving back….I’ve had time to attempt to work out in my mind trying to come to terms with sharing her for any time, especially holidays. I know its best for her sake for me to be as amicable with her father, especially in front of her and I am trying, hard as it is sometimes. But I know having to give her up to him for weekends at a time or whatever is something I’m not ready for and trying to prepare myself. Any advice on things you regret not having in a custody arrangement? Or what worked for you in arrangements? I appreciate any wisdom from your years of experience.”
Few of us are ever ready for shared custody. Seems incomprehensible and so unfair to have to give up our child for a week, a weekend or even for a day. You didn’t bargain for this. You went into the marriage believing it was forever, till death do you part, and that you’d raise your children together. Then divorce happens and frankly, it’s rotten. But you are stuck with it. So, it’s up to you to decide:
Will you let it eat you up? Will you softly weep every time you have to drop Chelsea off with her father or will you accept it and perhaps see it as an opportunity?
Sharing custody is not the worst thing in the world. Be thankful that Chelsea has two parents who love her and want to spend time with her. Instead of dreading it, see shared custody as an opportunity for growth, exploration of a new you, post-marriage. A time to discover who you are.
For, when Chelsea is with her dad, you can take time to be with you. To nurture yourself, indulge in things that make you happy but are difficult to do with a child in tow, like going out for drinks with your friends, or seeing a movie for grown-ups. You can join a book club or a church group, or anything else your heart desires. In other words, it’s “Hannah Time.” Do whatever pleases you, whatever makes you feel good and whatever empowers you and gives you strength.
I won’t kid you. This isn’t easy. Holidays are going to be tough. You will probably need to alternate Thanksgivings, and take turns having her on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If I could go back in time and change anything about the custody agreement, I would make sure it includes more specifics about holidays including drop-off times. One Thanksgiving, my ex decided to keep our kids all day and didn’t return them until nightfall. We had never formalized a drop-off time, so I had no recourse but to wait.
You are about to discover just how different is your parenting philosophy. Things you would never allow her to do, he may think nothing of it. My ex and his girlfriend decided to dye my daughter’s hair red one day, when she was only five. They also took her to an R-rated film.
When these things happen you cry, you get angry and frustrated. You want to scream, and by all means do that if it makes you feel better. But not in front of Chelsea and don’t bother to yell at him. It will likely fall on deaf ears and he may do it some more, just to annoy you.
This can and most likely will be the most trying time of your life. It will take a long time to get better, but trust me, Hannah. It. Will. Get. Better. This, too, will pass. Have faith.
So buck up and accept it and try to work out the best custody arrangement you can, one that is not too disruptive for your child. To help you through this you need to learn to compartmentalize, and the best way to do this is to live in the moment and not fret about what’s going on at his house. Instead, focus on what’s in front of you. Know that no matter what you think of him, you daughter is in good hands. He loves her, too.
One day, she will know all the sacrifices you had to make for her along the way, and you will never need to tell her this yourself. She’ll figure it out because she’s a smart cookie. And, by the time she turns 18 and graduates from high school, the custody arrangement will be over, and you will have a completely different kind of life. It will be better. It does get better.
So, when it’s time to send her off to her dad’s, pack her things, her favorite toy, too. Give her oodles of kisses and hugs and let her know that you’ll see her soon.
Finally, don’t forget. He’s got a job that can take him away on business for extended periods, so when that happens, she’s all yours!
Well, that’s my advice. Hope it helps you. Come visit and we can talk more.
Readers, what advice would you share with Hannah?
I learned from my parents what not to do. Theirs was an acrimonious and nasty divorce and their bad behavior lasted to the day they died. Though I was already gone by the time they divorced, my brother was still home and had to live through the push-me-pull-you of their ugliness. When I returned to the fold I laid down the law to both of them, ‘don’t want to hear it, if you talk about the other one do it out of my earshot. Not interested. If you can’t be pleasant for 3 to 4 hours 2 days a year, you will not see your grandchildren on holidays since I will not hold two holidays for your convenience.’
Having learned that lesson, I was friendly with my husband’s ex (the mother of my two sons). We shared custody and spent holidays together rather than trying to figure out who got them and when. Now over thirty years later, she and I are the best of friends. There is far more to the story, but she and I learned we needed to do what was best for the boys, not for ourselves.
Ah, learning the lesson the hard way. As a child. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Val, but it sounds like you handled it well and that you were very brave to talk to your parents in such a candid way. Takes strength.
My son is going through this. My grandson is only 17 months old. I tell him it’s not about him or her but my grandson. Sharing never is easy but my grandson is loved and happy by both parents and if that remains then everyone wins!
You’ve got a great attitude about it and I hope that it has rubbed off on your son. With you giving him advice and understanding, looks like your grandson’s going to be okay. 🙂
Monica, I think you gave her GREAT advice! Have you ever thought of going to counseling school?!! You’d make an excellent one, you know!
I suppose every situation is different. Laws and custody arrangements are particularized so everybody will feel warm and fuzzy. As time goes on, however, changes might need to be made. For example, if Hannah’s ex really is spending lots of time away on business, he could drift away from their daughter (either physically or emotionally), and Hannah could be the beneficiary of lots more time with her!
Counseling school. I wish I had because I do love helping people sort through issues. When I was relatively new at divorce and had just survived the worst of it, someone suggested I give talks about it. I think I would’ve enjoyed that, too, but besides the personal experience, I don’t really have the credentials. Sigh. I could’ve been a contender!
I can give my advice as I have gone through this. I was determined to take the high road after my divorce. I resisted talking badly about their Dad and I encouraged their spending time with their Dad whenever possible. I am glad now that I took the high road, no matter how tempting it is to do otherwise. This holds true even if the Dad doesn’t act likewise.
I can remember an incident when my ex husband wanted to come into my house uninvited to help my son collect some things. My son stopped him without a word from me and said to his Dad that he had to respect my space and he had to stay outside. Let your children figure out things for themselves.
You’re a very wise woman and I’m glad to hear you took the high road. It’s not easy. Only those of us who’ve been through it know the pain of it and how hard it can be to take that high road. Which is why, in my book, you rock!
Well I can’t really offer any personal advice as I don’t have any children and I have been married 29years.
However, I can recall when I was an instructor for 17 years with a youth organisation, and where we would on parents evenings get both parents often with their new partners, sometimes they would be friendly and sometimes they would bicker, the most relaxed children were where the parents were friendly to each other and generally got on.
The worst were where the parents tried to outdo each other with gifts, holidays and the like, children are generally not stupid, in cases like this they tended not to like either parent.
I remember quite a few children talking to me because I would listen to them without judgement either way, trust me they knew what games their parents were playing and they were often appalled by their behaviour.
Over the years I have come across friends who have got divorced and generally if one of the two resorts to being childish it has been the guilty party in the split.
It’s hard to keep emotions in check when dealing with children and divorce. It’s hard to look at it rationally when all you want is to hurt the one who hurt you. Children too often become collateral damage.
Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.