I never understood why my parents decided to divorce, and it haunted me for years. Why did I suddenly have a 'broken' home? Why couldn't I have two parents like everyone else?
When I began to build my own home, I stopped asking why. I realized that I still have two parents, and that the way my parents handled their divorce was a real blessing. When they decided to share custody, they really meant it.
They went together to every parent-teacher conference. They made our bar and bat mitzvahs together. They sat next to each other at graduations and holiday tables and in the bleachers at my basketball games. They both attended parents' weekend at my university, and they walked me down the aisle together at my wedding. When their first grandchild was born, they traveled across the world to be there. Over the years, they have taken grandchildren to the zoo together and shared Seder tables in our home.
I once spoke about my childhood in my class as part of my Masters in Family Therapy. Afterwards, a colleague said to me, "Wow, that is extremely rare. You are so lucky." I was shocked that she used the word "lucky." Lucky was for children who grew up in 'normal' homes. Lucky was for kids who didn't have a 'father's house' and a 'mother's house.' But then I realized that it was true. I was lucky.
I was lucky that my parents walked me down the aisle together at my wedding. I was lucky that they could enjoy their grandchildren together. And I was lucky to learn these lessons from my parents' divorce.
An Ordinary Marriage Doesn't Exist
Since my parents' divorce all I wanted was to build a family. Though I poured much of my time and effort into my professional development, I dreamed of a house full of children and a marriage made of steel. In the silent, soft light of the Ivy League library, I wondered how I would find a spouse who would insure that my own future marriage would be forever. And then I realized that I knew better than that. There are no guarantees that a marriage will last no matter who you marry. I would have to make my marriage and my home my first priority. And each day I knew that I would have to make a conscious, ongoing investment in it. Because I had learned that there is no such thing as an ordinary marriage. A marriage is either going up or going down. If a marriage feels like it is on a plateau, it is at risk.
A Child Needs Both Parents
I have seen too many cases where a mother or father only becomes an active parent after a divorce. Until then, they did not have a 'his' or 'her' slot with the kids and didn't feel a need to spend quality time with them. After parents separate, they often feel guilty and try to make it up to their children somehow. But children need both parents' love and attention, even when there is no divorce and no need to compensate.
A mother can't take the place of a father, and vice versa. When I was growing up, there were times when I was at my father's house, but I really needed my mother. And there were times when I was at my mother's house when I really needed my father. I can recognize this need in my own children. They need me, but sometimes they need my husband just as much, and sometimes more. We can help children build strong relationships with both parents by setting aside some time with each parent and complimenting each other in front of them.
Brokenness Can Make You Stronger
Children of divorce never forget the pain of the day that their parents separate. It doesn’t heal. That’s the day that they lose their basic sense of security. That’s the day they realize that the walls of their home are not as strong as they had always believed them to be. They lose a part of their innocence, no matter how young they are. They learn early on that some stories do not have happy endings. And they carry this sense of brokenness with them everywhere.
But when I was little and still confused about my parents' divorce, I began to see that the brokenness could also make me stronger. It could help me see others' pain. It could lead me to search for wholeness and truth in a place where others weren't searching at all. But most importantly, the loss could teach me to be resilient. As I grew up and faced the inevitable obstacles in life, I had a secret. I knew I could survive. I had learned that pain is a powerful teacher, and that I could choose to use it to succeed.
The greatest lesson I learned was this: If you have the genuine love of one parent, you’ll be okay. If you have two parents who love you, you are fortunate. And if you have two parents who love you and love each other, you’ve won the jackpot.