If you throw a rock in a pool of water, the stone leaves a round impression at the point of entry into the water, which then creates a ripple effect as the disruption to the water’s surface spreads in concentric circles around the entry point. Circle surrounds circle as the force of the rock shimmies across the glass-like top layer of the body of water and it makes effort to return to its original smooth state.
Just as a rock leaves its temporary impression in the water, a divorce shatters the once peaceful stillness of a marriage and a life. The concentric circles of ripples created by the stone’s entry mirror the orbit rings of people whose lives surround ours. The crash of divorce into the center of your life cascades into the orbit of parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and others around us.
Though the assault felt by a divorce affects us most directly and powerfully, other people who care about us and who are involved in our life can’t help but be rocked, even if just a little, by the chaos in our lives.
The significance of the ripple effect became painfully clear to me as I noticed my mother-in-law struggle to find her best course of action for this coming week when my eldest stepson, and her eldest grandson graduates from high school.
As most family and friends do after a divorce, she typically associates with her son and his children rather than her former daughter-in-law since their divorce several years ago. She still has occasion to encounter her grandchildren’s mother, as she is sometimes asked by her to babysit; otherwise, they’re not particularly fond of one another or comfortable being around one another.
Divorce has a way of drawing a line in the sand between “his” and “hers.” Some people, especially children, straddle the line between sides; but, most find themselves drawn by loyalty or comfort to the one they are related to or were friends with first. The events of the divorce may cause some natural allies to change sides; but, it’s typical to lose people from our lives as a consequence of divorce.
In my situation, I don’t hold any significant ill will toward my former in-laws; however, they are clearly my ex’s “property”, and I respect the unspoken boundaries. They are very important to my children, so I will always respect and appreciate them for that reason; but, as in most divorces, things were said and done by many on both sides that may make it impossible to return fully to the way it once was. Sometimes this is a sad fact, other times it is reason to celebrate.
So, back to my (now) mother-in-law and her dilemma about graduation. My stepson, who is 18 and mature enough to know better, requested to have two separate graduation celebrations for each side of his family because he feels that he will be more comfortable and at ease (and so will everyone else) if two groups who have a shared bond of an ugly divorce don’t have to spend an afternoon together.
Although both sides of his family could probably paste on smiles and go through the motions of getting along for his sake, he would rather not feel the tension on his special day or hear the flood of rude comments released the moment these people are separated again. I can’t help but feel bad for him and any other kid in his shoes who has to worry about so many other people on his special occasion.
His grandma’s predicament is that she doesn’t care for her ex daughter-in-law (a natural reaction to a woman who left her son and four grandchildren and has been a handful for everyone to deal with the past several years); but, she doesn’t want to let her grandchildren down who would like her to attend their mom’s party.
The graduate’s younger siblings don’t have the social sophistication that their brother does to realize that exes have a way of becoming outlaws in most people’s books. All they know is that there’s going to be a fun party at mom’s house, and what could be better than both sets of grandparents in one place? They don’t get that even though the people they love wear smiles, they are secretly in agony to share a room with a collection of people they can’t stand. Mom’s parents will take her side, dad’s mom will take his side, and they’re left standing in the middle wondering why everyone can’t get along?
So, divorce is no longer just about two people who were once married who actually went to court to make sure they no longer have to share a life. Of course, it also effects the lives of the children they share who can no longer have mom and dad under one roof and now travel between their respective homes.
Consider all of the other people who felt the ripple effect of the divorce stone hitting your life. How many people that you know now feel pulled by loyalty, question how to handle a social situation, or dread spending time in the company of others all because you and your ex divorced? How far did the impact of your life change spread into the world around you? Divorce happens, and it is usually necessary; but, how sad that complete circles of people must now avoid one another because of you and your ex!
I do have to hand it to my mother-in-law for acting out of what she feels is best for the kids. That is the most important lesson all of us can learn about divorce and co-parenting. I will never cease to be amazed by the global effect divorce has on an individual and every aspect of their life! Ripples to all of the people you know and love is just one more way life will never be the same!