I am surrounded by divorce. The lingering grey smudge, like a specter, hovers over every aspect of my life. I am the ex-wife. I am the mother. I am the stepmother. I am the stepdaughter. I am the stepsister.
In all directions divorce reflects back at me, showing me as a child, me as an adult, me in different roles, all chained to me by divorce. It is as though I am in a house of mirrors, not knowing which “me” is real, nor which reflection in the glass is of today versus yesterday, me or them.
I can view an image of myself and see the thoughts and feelings of my own experience as a child of divorce. I know how the little girl version of myself feels as she takes phone calls from a parent whom she has not lived with since before she could crawl or walk. This child knows the awkwardness of her name or appearance not matching the new people presented to her as “family.”
This little girl hears words like “child support” and the flip flop in her tummy going before a judge as her stepfather adopted her.
The little girl in the mirror remembers first calling a new man “daddy” and watching the frustration of her mother as she tried to adjust to life as a stepmother. The child’s stepsiblings were cold and unwelcoming to her mother, and she wondered why? She remembers her stepsister sending vicious letters to their shared father on father’s day, telling him how he was an awful father. She watched his heart break.
The girl grew into a woman, and the reflection of her as a young bride radiated from the mirror. The bride’s father did not attend her wedding, and her stepfather walked her down the aisle and danced with her at the reception. The stepsister threw a tantrum beside the dancefloor because “he’s my dad!” and “how dare she dance with him as his daughter?”
Many years later, the bride became a divorced mother, herself, and cried streams of tears when the man she loved betrayed her and when her children were away from her one week at-a-time.
Gloom and sadness eventually blushed with a new opportunity for love with a new man, a father.
The mother unlocked the door of her heart and wrapped the warmth of it around his three sons and daughter. She had not delivered them from her womb, but she was willing to love them and care for them as her own.
The next image in glass depicted the woman becoming a bride again, and making vows to a new husband and his family. She was now the stepmother. Her and his children were now those fragile youth struggling to overcome the pain of their parents’ divorces and to adapt to new family members and situations.
The scene unfolding in the mirror portrayed tears, disappointment, anger, and doubt as the stepchildren wrestled with loyalty, acceptance, and new roles. The woman, now stepmother, watched her mirrored likeness fade further and further into the shadows as she withdrew to protect her heart from more pain.
The girl witnessed divorce and experienced the fallout from her parent’s break-up as well as the presence of stepfamily in her own life.
She smiles tenderly at memories of her now elderly stepfather helping her with homework or singing her a silly song. Her heart is warmed by affection and gratitude to see the same sweet gestures performed by her husband toward her children. Neither man had to welcome another man’s children into his home or heart, but they did!
She scrutinizes the interactions between her mother and her stepsiblings, searching for clues. She is now the despised stepmom and can’t comprehend why? She gives, she cares, she tries, she cries. They can’t or won’t accept her, and she wonders now if this is simply the fate of a stepmother?
She studies her own stepdaughter and wonders if she will one day extend an olive branch of peace and apologies for past behavior, as her own stepsister has?
Are her actions those of a child bruised and battered by divorce, or simply those of an angst-filled teen?
At once, the dizzying collage of reflections turn dark, and I am faced, once again, with simply myself, as I am now, looking back at me from the mirror.
With the insight of divorce over a lifetime and from both a child and adult’s perspective, I must somehow make all of these voices, and stories teach their lessons and serve a purpose. Each facet of shiny glass somehow fits together in a dazzling mosaic.
Sometimes it’s too hard to look directly at the creation composed from so much brokenness and reflected light; but, the truth and the answers are all there!
I am, somehow, able to see through the eyes of each person and each vantage point as I explore the various emotions, needs, fears, and pain of each. I can only hope that knowing how it is to stand on both sides of the glass will somehow make more compassionate, patient, or wise. I plead with the woman in the mirror to tell me her secrets to prevent the next generation from following down the same path established by their parents and grandparents.
I am blessed to have personal insight into the agony and joy each player felt or created. My journey allows me to be more forgiving and understanding of how some of the players in my story behaved at times. I use this to help me catch my own mistakes and try to set them right.
I know that divorce touches us all in a unique way; therefore, I can’t be too quick to overgeneralize any one person’s motivations or think that I understand all the contents of each one’s heart. My hall of mirrors reflects a life made and shaped by divorce. It is my story; yet, I am awed at how the wheel keeps turning, bringing the same themes and pain around for another round.
I suspect that the story will continually replay itself until we all learn and finally get it right…until we can all love more than we hate and exercise infinite patience and understanding for the plight of others living the vision with us. I know that just as many good memories are contained within the glass as the bad ones, and I will focus on my reflection displaying the best that I can make of this life!