Our trip to the beach last week was absolutely perfect. We stayed in an old cottage that belongs to some dear friends of my parents. I love everything about that place. There is only one television, which I believe was turned on only once very briefly during the entire week. The remainder of the week was spent rocking in the rocking chairs on the front porch or just laughing around the table together as a family. I imagine that cottage has seen many nights of endless laughter and bottomless wine bottles.
The kids were happy and they didn’t even need all of the modern conveniences that we are all so accustomed to in our lives today… we just needed our family. They never even asked to watch television.
When we first got to the cottage, I went upstairs to put our stuff in our rooms and I made a quick stop in the little upstairs bathroom. First off, this little bathroom is UHHHH-MAZING!!!! It has a claw-foot tub and has wood paneled walls. There is a cute little brick doorstop that is decorated with some fancy needlework, but what really caught my eye was that the door lock did not work, so there was a small hook and eye lock. Just like the bathroom at my grandmother’s cottage in Minnesott Beach.
Then I went downstairs and saw the little closed in back porch with a clothesline across the room and I felt like I had been teleported back to my childhood. All of a sudden I could visualize myself at my grandmother’s cottage. I could even smell the smells. And those were the smells of summer…
Waking up early in the morning the cottage always smelled of bacon. What an amazing way to wake up in the morning to the sound of bacon frying in the frying pan in the room with you! The cottage had two small bedrooms, but my brother and I slept on the twin beds that were in the family room which was open with the kitchen. There was no air conditioning, so the blowing fans would increase the tasty smell of bacon as it oscillated back and forth.
Midafternoon, after spending the entire day swimming in the tide or fishing on the pier, the house would most likely smell of crab. Mammy would usually boil a pot of crabs every day and cocktail hour would be spent on the front porch looking at the gorgeous view of the Neuse River while picking crabmeat. Mammy knew that I loved to help but my labor was more selfish than anything else and there would not be much left in my bowl once my task was complete.
I recall that it would be warm at times, but most of the time the breeze coming off the river would keep the cottage a moderate temperature. Of course we were typically sunburned after a day on the beach, so we may have felt a chill because of that anyway. If a storm blew in it would cool down quickly… I remember learning how to tell when a storm was coming by how far we could see down the river.
Our summers were spent with freezer pops and sand spurs and catching fish off the dock. If the wind was blowing in the right direction then we could spend all day filling holes in the sand with jellyfish to make our own homemade “jelly.” A day without a jellyfish sting was a lucky day in our book, but if we were stung we always knew there was someone nearby with a cigarette so we could rub tobacco on the sting.
Our feet were tough like leather from the hot pavement, our skin on our backs was peeling, and our hands had cuts from crab shells, but the memories I have of my childhood will be carried in my heart for the rest of my days. Childhood is supposed to be just like that… carefree and fun. When parents divorce, we feel like we have “robbed” the childhood from our kids.
I think that the theory that divorce robs a child of his/her childhood is not definitive. I agree that it is certainly possible since some parents choose to burden their children with “adult issues.” Divorce in and of itself does not have to rob anything from the children if the parents behave correctly. Talking about money issues or trying to explain your divorce reasoning to a child is not appropriate. If you focus on the children and making sure their innocence remains, then they can grow through a divorce just the same as we can. They can even be better than before.
In our case, we have not robbed our kids of their childhoods. Joe’s kids have memories of their lives with their mom and dad together just like my kids have memories we made before Joe and I got together. We all enjoy sharing our memories and in no way do we minimize time that was spent or is spent with the other parents. My stepchildren like telling stories about when their parents were together and rather than get quiet when they do, I engage them in conversation and smile and listen to their stories. Those stories are what have made them who they are. And I LOVE who they are.
More importantly now, we focus on making new memories as a new family. We are still new to this, but we have already established new traditions that we want to continue to do each year. We focus on our kids BEING KIDS…
When they are my age, I want them to remember how much fun it was being kids. I want them to talk about fishing on the lake across the street or running on the greenway with Joe and me or our yearly trips to the mountains and the beach. I want them to fondly remember going to concerts together and Durham Bulls baseball games. I want them to think about how much fun we had at supper club cookouts and church and eating together at the table. I know they will never forget when Joe asked me to marry him during a fun game of flashlight tag on the golf course.
If you are divorced, don’t let parental guilt creep in to make you think you are robbing childhood from your kids. Just spend all of your energy in making sure you focus on your kids and make new memories with them. No one ever says on their deathbed, “I sure wish I spent more time working,” but they do say, “I wish I spent more time with my kids.”
Even as a single parent, you can do plenty of things to create memories that don’t cost money. You don’t have to go on extravagant trips to create memories. One of my children’s favorite memories so far is when I woke them up in the middle of the night and we climbed out onto the roof with blankets and watched a meteor shower. It didn’t cost a thing but they will remember it for the rest of their lives.
And never minimize the memories they have of you with their other parent and never minimize the new memories they are creating with their other parent. Show interest if they want to talk about fun things they do with the other parent, but do not be intrusive. Show them you love them and are interested in everything about them and they will be able to enjoy their childhood in spite of the divorce. They should never feel like certain topics are taboo. They should be able to talk to you about anything without fear of your reaction.
LET THEM BE KIDS… they will have their chance to worry about adult problems when they are adults.