Sometimes things catch my eye, or my ear, and in an instant, a moment is born. For example, I was just thinking about the events of a recent evening, when my husband and I joined my husband’s ex-wife and her boyfriend for a beer at the local pub. That’s not the interesting part, though to some it might be. To others, it should be a lesson, which I’ll get to in a moment. The interesting part was the look.
The look was on the face of the bartender when the four of us walked through the door together. It being a small town we live in, and the fact that we’ve been in that bar once before, our bartender knew all the players. She’s also an ex-wife herself, and at the time of this incident, was engaged to a guy with children (and an ex-wife), so it’s a topic she knows a little bit about. (She’s since married him, and for purely selfish reasons that have to do with the world’s best Margarita, she better not get knocked up and quit her night job.)
Being an ex-wife myself, as is my husband’s ex, I guess it was a little like a bloody ex-wife convention, which I think is what prompted the look, because those are two groups that (unfortunately) do not go out drinking together nearly enough.
As we sat down at one of the high bar tables, I looked across the room and caught the eye of the bartender, from where she stood on the other side of the room, facing me, holding a couple of pitchers of beer. I did indeed catch the almost undetectable smile as it slithered across the lower half of her face. At the same time, one eyebrow lifted just a fraction of a millimeter, and her left boob twitched. Just kidding. Her eyebrow didn’t move. Regardless, there was no mistaking the non-verbal message shooting across the room to me: “Well, well, well, what do we have here?”
Which brings me to my main point: what did we have here?
Well, we had four people. That we know. We had exes. We had a new spouse. We had a boyfriend. We had loving parents and step-parents. We also had what is missing in so many ex-relationship situations around our little town, and consequently, the world: trust. I need most of the fingers on both hands to count the number of local families that I know personally who are embroiled in nasty push-pull wars in which the children are losing ground rapidly. Yes, we could have just stayed married, say all of you divorce-ophobes. To that I say nothing. I take that back. I say this: I know plenty of screwed up families with miserable children. Regardless of the marital status or flavor of a family’s dysfunction, if everyone concentrates on what the children need (loving, happy, supportive adults who are stronger together, than separate) the room for nonsense diminishes to nothing.
I know the bartender loves her step-children, because I see them engaged in loving, happy conversation and interactions; I see her rooting them on at sporting events, picking them up and dropping them off at school, attending back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences. I see her being a mom to them, wiping tears, taking them shopping, showing them how to eat right and helping them to become better athletes. I see a mom. Why doesn’t the ex see that? Insecurity? Denial? Fear? Does she only see the missteps? (Trust me, step-parenting isn’t easy. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve learned from them. I’m trying to make fewer mistakes and my husband’s ex knows and believes that.)
My interaction with my step-daughters’ mom started when I came into her children’s lives, almost ten years ago, so our history begins there. But our relationship began when we both stopped pushing the other one away and raised the white flag. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight, but my husband’s ex and I can call, e-mail or text when we need to share information so that the kids have what they need. We also help each other out as human beings, too, just because.
In my opinion, our story stayed in the “mild zone” compared to some of the craziness I’ve been hearing about that’s going on in the lives of my children’s friends, amongst their divorced parents, but craziness is relative. A little bit can go a long way. All I know is that we can walk into a bar and have a beer together. Turns out, beer goes great with exes.
My point is this: divorce is painful. It’s painful for everyone—especially the children. Whether you are a new spouse dealing with an ex, or an ex-spouse dealing with a new wife or husband, your job is to lessen the sting of divorce for your children and/or step-children. (Big shout out to my ex-husband, who early on in my second marriage recognized the importance of my new partner who was willing to care for another man’s children as his own when my ex couldn’t be there.) If you want less pain for your children, embrace the ex. Encourage your spouse to embrace the ex. Trust the new wife or husband, unless he or she is a dangerous criminal, or watches Fox News. Just kidding. Criminals can often be rehabilitated.
If you think your child could not benefit from having one more loving presence in his or her life, regardless of title, please let me know. If you can honestly say that your child or children love hearing you bitch about the ex, or the new spouse, do me a favor: sit down, look your children in the eye and ask them how it feels in the pit of their stomach when you fight with or criticize their other parent, someone they love unconditionally, or the people that parent chooses to love. Let me know how they respond.
When you bash the person a child loves, you are bashing the child. You are bashing their feelings for another human being. You are bashing love.
Don’t wait another day. Drop all the instruments of destruction, whether it’s your words or facial expressions at a weekend soccer game, Facebook posts, or nasty text messages. Drop it all right now, and wipe the slate clean, for your children.
Someday, maybe you’ll be having a beer with the exes, who don’t all live in Texas.