For my current series, I talked to author and marriage and family therapist, Judy Osborne about her book, Wisdom for Separated Parents. The book is a collection of stories from divorced parents, about how they’ve stayed connected over the years and seeks to create a new model for families after divorce, a model on continuing kinship. In my interview with Judy, I asked her what it took for former spouses to stay connected. Here’s Judy:
I think it has to be a very deep intention. Some people have that commitment right from the beginning and some people find it later, like one couple whose story is in the book. They had a rather chilly relationship as the boys went through adolescence and into adulthood, but then one of their three boys had a very serious accident. He was in his late 20’s I think, at that time, and the woman just assumed she would be slogging through this by herself. Then lo and behold her kids’ father showed up with his new wife and the new children and everybody pitched in. From that point on, the original parents had quite a different understanding of their connection with each other.
It can happen at any point. It sometimes happens for people when they have a grandchild and they’re looking across a crib at this person who used to be looking across at them over their child and see this connection in vivo sort of. Some people get it after long, long, long, long struggles and custody cases and struggles over support and one or the other of them just decides,
“It’s not worth it anymore. I’m going to see this person as somebody who’s going to be in my life forever and I’m going to do my part to not continue the fight,”
because the fight hurts everybody, really.
I do believe there’s something to do with time elapsing but it also has to do with events that sort of catapult you into these awarenesses. It’s happening, sadly, in war today. This is the first war in which there are more divorced families than ever— congress had to change in 2006 the rules of people entering the military and they had to designate a person as the responsible person should they be killed in action because the assumption before that was it was the older parent, which usually meant the man and they can’t make that assumption anymore. There was a lovely piece in The Boston Globe several years ago about parents coming back together and understanding that they were grieving together and they just set down the battle.
It doesn’t mean a cozy relationship and it doesn’t mean a daily relationship. It just means a recognition that once you have kids together, however you look at it, you’re connected for life through the children.
The Divorce Coach Says
I don’t think there’s a magic formula for creating that lasting connection with your ex. Some people never get there. I think reading about the possibilities does help us to see that relationships with exs don’t have to follow the hostile, broken family model. With a model of on-going kinship, connectedness can become more of a conscious desire rather than organically evolving. It isn’t likely to be the day-to-day events in your adult child’s life that foster kinship but rather milestone events which aren’t limited to the sad, devastating occasions Judy mentions above. What I don’t know is how you get that connectedness if it’s something you want but your ex remains hostile. Does it take a truly gut-wrenching event to let the conflict go? Thoughts?
This past weekend I heard from two friends who are both embroiled in what seem to be very angry, parenting arrangements. This was the first time I’d spoken to them about their divorces. As they each shared some of the details, it was clear to me how damaging the parents’ fighting was to their children. I wondered if they’d thought about what it would be like when they were grandparents or attending college graduation or their child’s wedding. I wondered if it would help them in their current struggles if they could picture the future and then look backwards to see what they could do today, to secure that future? Would it change their behavior? Oh, for a crystal ball.