My parents got divorced when I was 8 years old and my brother was 5. What I vividly remember is the four of us sitting on the couch crying after they told us they were separating.
My father moved into a decrepit apartment a few miles down the street because that was all he could afford at the time. He would spend Monday and Wednesday evenings with us at our house while my mom was out, and we spent every other weekend at his place. For awhile, this was status quo until he began dating again.
Eventually, it became more imperative to him (at least that’s how it felt at the time) to begin his life anew by enjoying more bachelor-type activities. This included playing softball in a league that often went out of town for games and parading several women he was dating into and out of our lives. The best one was when we spent the weekend at his then flavor’s house, and she was so put out by our presence that she made us pick up the non-existent popcorn that “littered” her kitchen floor from the previous night. Having gone through these experiences (and more), I have come to realize how my parents’ divorce shaped me as a parent.
I try to be in the moment as much as I possibly can.
There are times when I want to mentally check out because there are only so many times I can tell him, “Good job!” for putting the blocks back in the bag. Nonetheless, I try to remember that there is a limited amount of time that this will make him happy and continue prompting him to do it again.
I plan for family vacations instead of personal vacations.
Which means window shopping for hotels and annual passes at Disney World and Universal Studios (he WILL love Harry Potter!) and going to Jacksonville for Thanksgiving to visit with extended family. Because road trips with a toddler are fun.
I will never bribe him. To lose weight.
My father would say to me (more than once), “How ’bout I give you $XX if you lose XX pounds before I do?” I realize he was trying to get us both to become healthier, but what I heard was, “I’ll love you more if you are thinner.” I sometimes wonder if I overeat out of spite.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I recognize his intention was never to hurt my brother and me. He loved us very much (and us, him) and tried to do his best under the circumstances. The problem was he was trying to live the single life at the same time.
He eventually got remarried (twice) and settled down with my stepmother to have my second brother. His chance to get fatherhood right. Unfortunately, he passed away several years ago when Forrest was 16, and that opportunity was tragically cut short. Nonetheless, in the time they did have together, my dad was extremely involved in his life. I’m grateful to know he learned from his mistakes.
So did I.
This post was originally written and published for Sammiches & Psych Meds.
Hil C says
It’s so evident in my life as a mom now, how the things I witnessed before my parent’s divorce, have steered me in a better direction. I’m not saying those long years (before, during, and after) were a blessing or welcomed in hindsight, but they’ve certainly helped me become more observant regarding marital queues allowing me to pick my battles better. I also notice the kids’ reactions to something as simple as tone and volume when I’m having a discussion with my husband. I remember very clearly the endless tug-of-rope from parent to parent. One week taking my dad’s side, and my mom’s the next. It was exhausting! And the constant criticism for anything from my choice of clothing to my choice of friends. I admit, this last one is a challenge with my own son, every day, but I definitely and proudly spoil my child, reward, and give lots and lots of positive feedback when great goals are achieved. (I never received any of these things.) Parents aren’t perfect, and that means me too, even the ones you did end up choosing to side with in the end. For the ones that don’t get chosen, the ones with the bulk of the mistakes, there’s always a silver lining and a lesson to be learned. Mine’s still with us, and I think about him a lot. I gained a lot of things from him. Good things. Makes me miss him… just a bit.