Let's get this out of the way right now: I don't have human children, and I don't know exactly how you feel. However, I'm not trying to speak as a parent. I'm writing this letter as a child (and student) of divorce.
Now, I know divorce is hard. I know it represents the death of a dream. I know it can turn your family upside-down and your friends against you. I know it leaves you with a loss of identity and a lot of unanswered questions. And I know that, as a parent, you feel a tremendous sense of guilt.
In a way, your guilt is admirable. It means you're taking your job as a parent seriously. And what I'm about to say might come as a surprise... But... um... stop it.
We live in a culture that thrives on shame, blame and other negativities. We're taught to believe that marriage is "good" and divorce is "bad." And this is a huge problem. When people (especially parents) finally make the heart-wrenching decision to divorce (often after years of seeking alternatives), they feel so ashamed of themselves that they wage war with their former partner in an effort to shift the blame and boost the ego. It's a crazy dance of self-preservation, and it feeds on guilt while destroying families. Remnants of the vicious cycle are all around us, yet you don't have to succumb to the madness.
I regard my parents' divorce as one of the best things ever to happen in my life. Through the process, I watched my mom and dad go from miserable housemates to cooperative teammates to, eventually, friends. I saw them grow as individuals, and I was happy when they found happiness with new partners. Of course the journey was fraught with some awkwardness and uncertainty, but isn't that what life is about? Over the years, my family grew in ways I couldn't have imagined. And decades later, I wouldn't exchange the experience for even the most ideal 1950s-style home life.
As parents, you know that your job is not to protect your children from the world, but rather to teach them how to live in it. Divorce presents an immense opportunity for children to learn about respectful (or not) communication, dignified (or not) conflict resolution and the importance of having a positive (or not) attitude. While they watch you, they'll also learn how to criticize and how to accept criticism. They'll develop their own habits of shifting blame or accepting personal responsibility.
Yes, I realize this kind of education comes with a painful (and some would say, "avoidable") price tag. But that still doesn't mean you should feel the need to apologize to your family. Divorce isn't the worst thing that can happen in a child's life. And families come in all shapes and sizes. Some kids live with grandparents while others live in foster care. Some children live with two moms or two dads and some have neither. A family is a family, no matter what form it takes.
So, please, stop indulging your guilt. I know you never wanted this to happen; nobody does. I know you tried to avoid it, and maybe you're still not sure you want it. But if you're ready to announce your separation, it's most likely the appropriate course of action.The world might be full of PhDs who spent years studying marriage and family relationships, but when it comes to your family, you and your partner are the true experts. Trust that.
I hope you're able to stand up to the societal shame and feel confident in your choice. I hope you can move forward and show your children what a GOOD Divorce™ looks like. I hope that one day your children will (like me) view divorce as a positive and enriching experience — one you should be proud of.
What advice would you give to parents going through a divorce?
photo credit: Bread for the World via photopin cc