When I got divorced, my kids were young – ages 14, 12 and 7. The tangible technicalities of the divorce process left me enough to worry about, let alone the intangible emotions of how day-to-day interactions would be with my ex who didn’t want a divorce.
The idea of long-term milestones as my kids got older also created anxiety for me. With three girls, would I miss first dates if my daughter's date picked her at her dad's house instead of mine? Would a new girlfriend/wife help us move her to college? Would we sit together at her wedding even though we couldn’t currently sit in the same room?
Most of these milestones I haven’t reached yet, but I sure continue to ponder. One I recently survived, however; was high school graduation. I decided I could tolerate having one party to make it easier on my oldest and first to graduate. My ex agreed – which of course he did because he knew I’d do all the work and foot the bill. I booked a small community building at a neutral location. I barked orders at my ex-mother-in-law on what to make – take my advice, accept any help you can get on these events when your ex offers nothing! I addressed invitations, stressed over decorations, and labored over desserts. This had to be perfect at so many levels.
Then I worried...
1. How awkward would “one big happy family” be after three years of being divorced? He seems to kiss my family’s ass when we’re all in the same room and they seem to buy it - or at least act like they do.
2. Would he be sober? Would I call him out if not? He’s even more annoying when he’s been drinking.
3. Would “our” friends feel like they had to pick who to talk to? I was sure the room would split like a junior high dance.
4. Could I really get through the party set up, the party itself, and how I felt after it was over alone? I don’t want him back, but I never pictured myself facing stuff like high school graduation without someone to hold my hand and whisper "everything will be ok" as I shed tears over my baby growing up.
Then I decided it was time to stop worrying.
I decided it was time to take control of how I handled myself. I wasn't about to not let my worries, his behavior or the behavior of others dictate how I wanted to be on this special day.
I sent him a text:
“I don’t know how to say it face to face without getting emotional so I’m going to text. I’m so proud of our daughter always, but especially today. I’m also proud of us for getting her there. Married, divorced or now friends, I’m glad we are there for her. I know we’ve had our ups and downs the last few years and we’ll continue to have both, but I’ll always be grateful for the gift of our girls. And I’m so glad they have your girlfriend and her kids in their life. Enjoy the day.”
Itt took all the soul-searching I could muster to send that text. Not because it’s wasn't the truth. That's how I felt. But because I spend so much time worrying about how things will be if I say what I really think to him (both good and bad).
Will he take it the wrong way?
Will we fight?
Will he think I want him back if I say something nice?
Truth is, he wasn’t a great husband and I wasn't really a great wife. I have no desire to be friends with him honestly, but the gift of these milestones and my children would not be possible without the marriage we had. Making the first move to reach out with how I felt instead of snipping at the things that annoy me about him put ME in a better place. And that is what’s most important.
My ex responded to me. He said he felt the same way; that he’d also been having a tough time keeping it together knowing graduation was just around the corner. I honestly never really thought about him feeling like I did. He couldn't feel like I did! I know he’s their dad, but I am the primary care taker and decision maker so I feel entitled to care more, love more and do more. I put his feelings to the side most of the time and maybe, just maybe, this one time I shouldn't have.
He texted me back:
“Without making it awkward and weird for everyone, just know I wanted to give you a hug and tell you thank you for the three amazing blessings we have. Thank you.”
I cried. I cried hard.
This major milestone in our daughter's life wasn't about a big party or even the graduation ceremony. This was about a wonderful, hard-working 18-year-old who made it through some tough times and graduated cum laude in her class. This was about a baby we brought in to the world and raised the best we could in spite of two houses and picking up broken hearts.
This was about grieving the loss of a marriage that didn’t survive, yet realizing life interacting and feeling the same way could continue. This moment wasn’t the end of bickering or worrying about future milestones, but it was certainly a defining moment for my healing process.