It is too dramatic to say I felt disbelief staring at my sixteen-year-old daughter’s handwritten words. But it was certainly on the spectrum of stunned. In a rare and fleeting moment of one-on-one time with my busy teenager, she was sharing with me the journal she had been tasked with keeping for her high school writing class.
I read the words again: “For me, the holiday season has been hard. With having divorced parents, I don’t think it will ever be easy. There is always guilt when leaving one parent on Christmas morning to go to the other, knowing that the parent you left will spend the rest of the holiday alone.” In a few sentences, my daughter had turned several of my beliefs as a divorced parent, into myths in a matter of minutes.
Myth #1: Kids love having 2 of everything.
I had always assumed that my kids and other kids of divorced parents, loved having two birthday parties, two holiday celebrations, and two separate summer vacations. I am sure on a surface level, my assumption was correct. However, my daughter wrote about the strain of “having to get two Christmas trees.” It never occurred to me this could quickly turn from feeling like a family experience to just another to-do. I had never once put myself in their shoes. How would I experience going to choose a Christmas tree with one family and then the next weekend having to do it all over again with another? It made me wish I had asked more questions of my girls around what experiences they most wanted to have with me, instead of just doing it because we always did it this way.
Myth #2: My kids do not think or worry about me when they are with their dad.
I assumed that with my daughters if I was out of sight, I was out of mind. I was never a parent that called my kids when they were with their dad, and he was the same. We maintained boundaries of our respective parenting time without interruption from the other. When I read my daughter’s feelings, I realized I had been remiss in creating opportunities to share how I enjoy the quiet mornings when they aren’t home – instead of always sharing how much I missed them when they were gone. I was afraid to let them know that I was living a fulfilled life when they weren’t physically with me and I see now that if I had, it would have supported them. It may have eliminated guilt and worry that they carried on my behalf.
Myth #3: If my co-parent and I are unified, any situation for my kids will feel normal.
My daughter wrote “My parents try hard every year to not make the holidays weird, but they always are.” I assumed that if my former spouse and I just moved forward with family business as normal, then it would be. I see that it would have been okay to lean into the fact that there was going to be a new normal and my daughters and I were able to create that together. I was afraid that if I pointed out the different that divorce brought to our family, I would add angst. I see I missed the opportunity to normalize the different and create something new.
I was reminded recently by my favorite greeting card creator, Leigh Standley, that “It is important to remember that the beginning can be anywhere along the way.” I am mindful now of erasing my assumptions and being willing to communicate wholeheartedly with my daughters about what they want our family experiences to be. I will take my daughter’s journal page and turn it to a fresh page where we can begin a new story.
Journal text shared with permission from my daughter.
Thanks for this blog. It has giving me new perspective that I may have never considered.