Sometimes things catch my eye, or my ear, and in an instant, a blog 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, and what it meant.
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, was engaged to a guy who has both 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.
So anyway, as we sat down at one of the high bar tables, I looked across the room and caught the bartender’s eye. She was facing me, about to set down a couple pitchers of beer. I saw the almost undetectable smile slither 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 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 stayed married, say all of you divorce-phobes. To that I say nothing. I take that back. I say this: I know plenty of fucked up, “intact” 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 regardless of configuration) the room for nonsense diminishes to nothing. We are all stronger together than we are separate.
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 sheltering and defending them, wiping tears, taking them shopping, showing them how to eat right and helping them to become better athletes. I see a mom. Why is it so hard for the ex to see that?
Conversely, many of us mothers and stepmothers, me included, don’t know the anxiety of knowing another woman will tuck our babies in at night. Will she be there in the middle of the night for them if they have a nightmare, or a tummy ache? Will they be comforted the way we would comfort them? Even a weekend is a long time for moms or dads and kids to be apart. If they feel sad, will she be responsive? I’ve never been put in the position to feel this anxiety because my ex has never remarried. It’s got to be very difficult.
My interaction with my step-daughters’ mom started when I came into her children’s lives, nearly 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. Being supportive of one another makes the kids healthier.
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, among 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, exes go great with beer.
My point is this: Go get some beer. Wait, that’s not it. Divorce is painful. Yes, that’s it. Divorce is 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, (and this goes for you ex-husbands out there, too; check the ego and be happy that there is a man who wants to help), your job is to lessen the sting of divorce for your children and/or step-children. 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 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 them in the eye and ask them how it feels in the pit of their stomach when you fight with or criticize their parent, someone they love unconditionally, or the people their parent chooses to love.
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.
Today’s a perfect day to 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. Wipe the slate clean, for your children. If you know someone who might benefit from this, share it with her (or him).
Someday, maybe you’ll be having a beer with the exes, who don’t all live in Texas.