Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What We Got Right: a visit with my ex-husband

The Magical

It started with a dinner that turned into a date.  Tim and I had known one another for a while, but our relationship had always been professional.  When that changed, our courtship was fast and furious. There were weekend adventures and lazy Saturday mornings.  We threw dinner parties and went to galas. Our first Christmas together, he gave me a first edition copy of To Kill A Mockingbird; I cried because I knew he understood what I valued. I opened my heart to another person in a way I never had before.  It was magical.

Our wedding was exactly what we wanted it to be: intimate and original.  He planned the honeymoon; it was perfect.  But then the magic of the courtship was over, and we had to figure out how to function as a married couple. 

What Went Wrong

The list of things we did wrong is lengthy.  There were choices made along the way that we both regret.  We soldiered on denying the inevitable.  Then one day I woke up and realized I didn’t like who I had become.  It was time to move on.  Our divorce was anti-climactic; by the time we filed, we had simply fallen out of love. 

What We Got Right

Since we share the responsibility of raising another human being, I had to learn the art of collaboration in ways I never imagined. Tim is a good dad and is as present as he can be considering the distance between us.  He respects what I do and when he can he steps up to help with childcare when I need to travel for work.  When there are issues, we have family meetings – the three of us – over Facetime. It’s not ideal and it’s not what either of us imagined.  But most of the time, it feels like it works.

We made a commitment to celebrate birthdays and holidays together.  At some point that might change, but for now it allows us to both share in those magical moments together.  He stays at our house, and at night he and our daughter pile up in bed together and watch movies. 

It’s not the family dynamic I hoped for.  I still grieve that loss.  But what our daughter sees are two people who have been able to set aside hurt and resentment to parent as a united front.  She sees that two people can love one another without being in love.  She sees her dad as a model of a man. He sends thoughtful gifts on Mother’s Day and my birthday, and when he is with us he helps out by fixing things around the house. She watches him cook her dinner and do her laundry when they are together.  When he takes her to work, she sees his impeccable work ethic.  Which isn’t to say there aren’t still conflicts.  It’s not easy; I still struggle with letting go and not micro-manage.  Sometimes I’m more successful than others. However, my married friends are quick to point out that many of the issues we have with co-parenting are the same that they have in seemingly solid marriages.  

Like Any Other Family

I send him a message asking if he’d be willing to be part of the project and he quickly agrees.  He responds saying, “If the tough moments make sense to write about, please do.  Sometimes our shortcomings (at least mine) give us the greatest growth. I have always and will continue to support you in your art.”  So on this Sunday afternoon, instead of lunch, we meet in Atlanta and take our daughter to the aquarium. We each hold her hand as we walk through the crowds of people, and for just a moment we look like any other family.

There have been a lot of difficult questions lately, and we struggle to find the most appropriate way to address them.  As we leave she says, “If you still like each other, why did you have to get divorced?”  My heart breaks.  And honestly, I’ve asked myself that question too sometimes.  There are moments when we are all together and something about it feels easy, natural, and right.  We always did fun well; it was the challenges that we couldn't navigate.  It's hard knowing that our inability to stay married has caused our daughter so much heartache. But I also know that our failure of one another doesn't mean that we are a failure as parents.  I know that in the end we made the right decision - for us and for her.

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  1. So beautiful. Parenting is hard under any circumstances. The fact that you two are doing it together, and well, speaks highly of your love for your daughter.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. This was a hard one to write.

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  3. So impressive and a breath of fresh air in the tense world out there.

    1. Thanks, Nina. I appreciate all of your words of encouragement along the way!