Saturday morning my eldest daughter called me very early. I knew before I heard her hysterical sobbing that something was very wrong. “He died,” she wailed. She and my younger daughter had just lost a man who was special in their lives. A man I did not know at all. A man they called Grandpa Don.
Don was their stepmom’s dad. He joined my girls’ family 5 years ago when their dad married into Don’s family. So began an extended family that my girls would become close to, but would be basically strangers to me.
At first it felt weird. My own mom stiffened a bit when she heard her granddaughters refer to Grandma Cindy and Grandpa Don. It was one of those nuances of divorce we would all eventually get used to over time.
The purpose of my daughter’s call was not only to reveal the news to me, but to ask if I could pick them up from their dad’s and take them for the day while he supported his wife (I had missed my former spouse’s call a few minutes earlier to make the same request). Without hesitation I said yes, knowing that there would be plans to cancel and a party to miss, but this was now a priority – as supporting my daughters always is.
The next request from my former spouse requiring my flexibility came a day later. The funeral was scheduled for Tuesday. His parents – my daughter’s paternal grandparents – were arriving along with several of their stepfamily members. He asked – “Would it be okay if we switched the schedule for the week?”
“Of course,” I replied with not even a hint of hesitation.
I would need to grow a couple dozen more hands to be able to count on my fingers the number of times I witnessed, over the 20 years I have worked with divorcing parents, parents completely disregard the importance of their child’s new stepfamily. Several parents refusing requests similar to those my former spouse made to me in a moment of crisis. Other parents scoffing at the idea of their children attending a stepfamily member’s wedding. The list goes on with the common denominator being that these parents put their own feelings ahead of their children’s. It is an easy temptation, but a damaging one.
My daughters were able to come home and shed their tears to me, grieve openly without any fear of judgment from me, and not have to compartmentalize their healing to only take place with their dad. I see that in setting aside my own discomfort early on, I was able to provide this gift to them.