I came home early from a meeting the other day to find my kids FaceTiming with their dad. For a while they were having fun and being silly, but then the conversation turned. Just like it used to at the dinner table or in the midst of a conversation or family outing.
Unlike the days of old, though, the kids told him they didn’t want to continue that line of conversation. When the topic didn’t shift, one stated that she was leaving because the topic wasn’t appropriate. The other said he agreed with his sister and was going to end the call. He told his dad he wasn’t mad but that he didn’t want to talk to talk to him while he [dad] was drinking. He said he loved him and would talk to him again soon.
My initial reaction (I was in the next room during this time) was that it felt invasive. Their conversation reminded me of how things were when I was still married, and the experience brought up some unpleasant memories. I was pleased to see that the kids could handle themselves much better than I ever did, but I felt a bit unsettled.
I shared my feelings with a friend. She pointed out that while the experience churned up a lot of “dirty water” for me, I’ve shown my kids that they don’t have to engage with someone who has been drinking (or otherwise being inappropriate). She said she was glad I got to experience that interaction.
I’ve been thinking about that perspective, and I realized that it held a gift. I always thought divorce was the worst thing that could happen to me and my kids, as I wrote about in another article on DivorcedMoms.com (“The Long and Winding Road: My Decision to Divorce“). But today I believe it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Maybe.
Although I have always thought that my kids are far savvier than me, and more likely to speak up for what they need, perhaps my decision to divorce gave them permission to set limits with their dad and to do so in a respectful and loving way. My divorce set an example that I deserved better – and they did, too. And that you can take care of yourself without being mean or spiteful to the other person.
So if the thing I thought was awful turned out to be a blessing in disguise, what other clouds might hold a silver lining for me? This brought to mind a Taoist story. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a short version:
An old farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
I love the farmer’s attitude of non-judgment and acceptance. I don’t have that level of serenity (at least not yet!), but in reflecting on this recent experience, I have seen other places in my life where things I thought were “bad” led to things I consider “good.” Here are a few examples from my past:
- The bad: I didn’t know anything about choosing a college or a major, so I wound up at the state university. I didn’t have a good experience there; it was not a good fit.
- The good: I got a degree and met my first husband.
- The bad: The first marriage didn’t last long.
- The good: I moved to the East Coast where he was working and got a good job.
- The bad: One of my projects included clients who made sexual advances.
- The good: One of those men let me know about a church in his neighborhood where I rediscovered my love of music and met my second husband, the father of my children.
- The bad: When I began dating my former husband, members of the music group at the church were unkind to me.
- The good: We left that group and joined a healthier one at another church. Members of that music group became lifelong friends. The music was also some of the best I’ve ever been part of.
- The bad: After my third child was born I wasn’t able to participate in the music group at that church. At the same time, the leadership changed, and the community was no longer healthy and spiritually nourishing.
- The good: The search for a new spiritual home led us to move to Colorado, closer to my family.
- The bad: I lost my job after we moved.
- The good: I started my own business, which successfully supports me and my kids today (and has for the past 10 years).
- The bad: My former husband’s drinking caused a lot of problems for him and for the family. Nothing I did fixed the problem.
- The good: I found a program for families and friends of alcoholics that has helped me grow and become more healthy. With the support of people I met in recovery, I found the courage to divorce.
I could keep going as the “good” and “bad” continues in my life today. It helps me to keep in mind, though, that what looks bad today may be just what I need for tomorrow.
Divorce really is one of the best things that happened to me, both because of what I gained from my 20-year marriage and because of the freedom I’ve found from leaving it. Good? Bad? I’ll stick with “Maybe.”