In the last week, my dad turned 61 and my mom turned 57. When I just typed that, I realized that those numbers sound old. And although my dad’s hearing is less than perfect (and his fashion sense has gone from sweaters and slacks to flannel-lined pants and Keith Richards hair) and my mom and her husband are building their “retirement home,” I still don’t think of them as old. They didn’t have children until they were in their thirties, which was good, considering they were both too busy with other things until then, but has become a problem now that they’re ready for grandbabies and my brother and I have had (between the two of us) one serious relationship in our lifetimes. And yes, it was Pete’s.
The other thing that has happened recently that’s made me think about my parents is that a good friend of mine has filed for divorce from her husband of 5 years, and they have a 1-year-old baby. This friend, who we will call Jean, has expressed to me multiple times her concerns of how this divorce and her relationship with her ex-husband will negatively affect her son throughout his life. And although my parents’ divorce was under very different circumstances than Jean’s is, I know what I felt as the child of divorced parents.
I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t hard. That would just be lying. I had a hell of a time when my parents split up. Just like any other time something significant happens in my life, I worried about how people would find out and what they would think. The idea of people talking about me behind my back in 6th grade was terrifying. I also didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, because that never does any good. Mainly I just wanted time to get used to my new life with two houses and two bedrooms and two curling irons and two kitchen tables.
The important thing to me now, though, is how my life has been affected by the divorce. The results were 100% positive. I believe that my brother and I became much closer to each of our parents individually because they were no longer a single entity. My mom couldn’t do all the talking for my dad. My dad couldn’t be the fun one that never made us brush our teeth. Instead, we saw all sides of them and vice versa. In addition, Pete and I became close in some sort of solidarity movement. When there is only one person who is a constant in your life, you inevitably start speaking your own language (ours is mainly quotes) and relying on each other more.
In addition, I believe that parents often forget that they lead and teach by example. Think of someone you know who has a remarkably great or remarkably disfunctional relationship with their significant other. Then think of his or her parents’ relationship. By getting divorced, my parents taught me that it’s important to try to work through the hard times, but that if you are truly unhappy, you need to leave. My mom found a wonderful husband (3rd time’s a charm) who makes her happy and likes to do the same things she does. They are a model of happiness for me and I am grateful to have that template in my life.
I told Jean that her son would grow up to be proud of his mom for getting out of a bad situation and that her future relationships would be his template instead of the marriage in which she was unhappy. He won’t grow up to make the same mistakes his dad did because he knows how it ended. He’ll also learn that it’s important to stand up for himself and what he believes in, even if doing so is overwhelmingly difficult.
Meanwhile, I’m waiting for Mr. Perfect. Thanks, Mom, for setting the standard so high.