It’s a typical Friday morning and Johnny wakes up to the sound of his alarm clock. After getting dressed, he goes to the kitchen where his dad is up already packing lunches and his stepmom is making eggs and bacon for breakfast. His step-brother comes in and pushes him jokingly – teasing him about a girl. Smiles abound.
Johnny’s dad reminds Johnny, “It’s your weekend with your mom, so if you have anything you want to take, you need to throw it in a bag now. She is picking you up from school, but we will see you tonight at your brother’s baseball game.” They load up the car and head to school.
Three class periods into school, Johnny realizes he forgot his lunch. He calls his dad, but his dad works too far away from the school to get there quickly. Johnny’s dad texts mom, “J forgot his lunch. Do you have time to run something to him?” After a minute or two his phone buzzes and Johnny’s mom says, “I can head there in a few minutes. No problem.”
At the end of school, Johnny and his brother walk out to see their mother’s smiling face in the carpool line. They haven’t seen her since they went to school Wednesday morning, but they have spoken to her each day and talked about their schoolwork and their after school activities. She has been a consistent part of their days even though they have not physically been in her custody. That contact is encouraged on both sides.
On the way home from school, dad texts Johnny saying, “How was your big science test?” So Johnny calls dad and proudly tells him about how well he did on his test. His dad tells him, “Tell your brother I love him and I will see y’all at the game.”
Later, when they pull up to baseball, their mother pulls into the spot next to their dad’s truck. Johnny’s brother runs to join his team while Johnny and his mother look for a place to sit. They see Johnny’s dad, his wife and Johnny’s step-siblings, so they go sit by them so that Johnny can sit with his whole family without feeling the anxiety of trying to decide who to sit with. They all laugh and joke and cheer on the team.
While this whole scenario may seem too unrealistic to you, it is absolutely possible and in the best interests of all of the children involved. As you know, this could have gone completely differently with only a few small changes.
When Johnny walked into the kitchen first thing in the morning, his father could have said, “You’re going to your mom’s tonight, but don’t take anything to that black hole, because nothing EVER comes back.” His stepmom would then hug him and say, “I love you Johnny. Sorry I can’t come to the game tonight, but you know how your mom gets…” Johnny would start his day feeling torn between his parents.
When Johnny realized he had forgotten his lunch, his call to his dad could have been brutal. His dad could have breathed hard and chastised him for causing trouble. It could then spawn a cruel text exchange between Johnny’s mom and dad as they argue over who will take the lunch – reminding each other of past ineptitudes and transgressions and fueling more anger for future arguments.
On the way home from school, when dad texts Johnny, his mom (still angry over the lunch exchange) could say, “Why is HE texting you? You have been with him for the past two days. Can’t you focus on us when you are actually with ME?” Johnny would feel terribly guilty for loving his father and would not feel comfortable calling because he wouldn’t want to upset his mom.
At the game, Johnny would have anxiety deciding who he should sit with. His brother would have to search the crowd twice to find his parents since they try to stay as far away from each other as possible.
Johnny’s day could go one of two ways and all too often parents poison their children and burden them with undue anxiety solely based on their anger toward their ex-spouse. It’s clear that everyone in the second scenario is angry. The worst part is the overwhelming anxiety that Johnny feels all because of his parents’ behavior.
WE control how our children survive following a divorce. You may call your friends and complain about how hard your divorce is, but the only true victims in divorce are the children. They didn’t ask for it and they are completely out of control.
There is no winner in this situation, but the one true consolation prize you can give your children is to be the best co-parents that you can be.