“We couldn’t talk to each other. Well, we talked because we still had to talk about the kids. It wasn’t cozy. It was civil. I don’t remember ever not being able to talk about the kids. That was just unquestionable. We put the grownup anger aside. We’re friendly now. I wouldn’t say we’re close. You know, in a very strange way I love her. I still love her. But I’m not comfortable with her.”
(married 1974, separated 1995, divorced 1998, interviewed 2006)
This is a guy who, in 2005, showed up on his ex-wife’s doorstep on Mother’s Day with a bouquet of flowers and some loving words about how much he appreciated her as the mother of his kids. They had struggled about time and money for many years. But, suddenly, in 2005 he made this gesture. He wasn’t able to say why it happened just then. He just changed in his notions of how to connect with her. She was surprised and touched.
In my nearly 30 years of professional experience as a marriage and family therapist, I have heard countless family stories about such changes. Parents feel a respectful caring and shared pride in continuing to parent. They no longer are at war or desperately abandoned.
I have been a separated parent for 35 years and there have been lots of changes. My family was never “broken.” It changed.
That phrase – “broken family” – haunted us all. The peak of divorce was in the early ‘80s and parents who separated then were pioneers in changing notions about family and parenting and separation.
As a family therapist and a separated parent I wanted to know more about other parents who had lived that long history. I began to talk with friends and former clients. I chatted with anyone willing to share their story about ties to an ex-partner. The men and women I spoke with wanted to tell me how their relationships untangled and then rearranged over many years. They felt like successful parents rather than exes. And when the grandchildren began to arrive they knew they were kin.
“I think it’s because of the children. Just because you get divorced does not mean you end the family. Just because you have your differences and you are not a couple anymore does not have to affect those kids negatively. They see that you’re adults and can take care of your own problems and laugh and talk together.
(married 1969, separated 1992, divorced 2000, interviewed 2006)