It is a Tuesday evening in my home on the upper west side of Manhattan. My five year old is finishing in the bath. My thirteen year old is in her room doing homework and I am making turkey burgers for dinner. My 10-year-old bounds through the door from soccer practice with his Dad, who picked him up on his way home from work. We all greet each other hello, I hug my son and inquire about practice as our new and smaller dog Stella jumps on everyone. My five-year-old races down the stairs and flies into his dad’s arms and they discuss what happened in preschool that day. As my daughter appears in the hall, she too hugs her dad hello and they go over what her homework load is like tonight. We then all head upstairs to the dining room and sit down to share in a meal, discuss our days and weekend plans.
It sounds like the typical family sharing a meal and a life and in some ways it is. Except that I am divorced and this is my ex husband sitting at the dining table with us and he will head home to his own apartment and life after helping with the dishes and homework, story time and bed. Now this is not and has not been easy. At times, I have been filled with such rage and hurt that I could not be in his presence. But this is what I have figured out. People are like tables. They have four legs and some of those legs are stronger than others but the table can still stand if some of the legs are solid enough. For my ex, one of those legs is relationship to self, one is career and work ethic, one is parenting and one is relationship to me. Now those relationship legs are very weak, somewhat broken, but the other two are solid and genuine. He has worked incredibly hard to get his life together, to get a job and provide for his kids, to be in their lives as much as possible. But as much as I didn’t want to, I had to help facilitate that and if I didn’t I wasn’t hurting my ex, I was damaging my children. It is what we choose to focus on that matters. I can look at him with constant disdain but where does that get me? I can tell you first hand, that anger and spite take up an incredible amount of energy. And focusing on one event, instead of all the other broken bits of my marriage, fuels that anger.
The other day, my kids’ basketball backboard broke. They were so surprised and terrified I was going to yell at them. They both were climbing over each other saying they didn’t do anything, it just happened. I looked at them and laughed. The backboard did not just break; it had been hit time and time again (the are not that good at basketball). Some other backboards could withstand more, but because of the way my sons kept shooting; same shot, same miss, that backing cracked and eventually shattered. Same as my marriage. One event could not be solely responsible for the ending of my marriage. I have had to look back and own my own missed shots.
People often accuse me of avoiding and enabling, of not being strong or firm enough, of not setting boundaries. It is interesting that we find the qualities of forgiveness, acceptance and flexibility as weaknesses. In fact they are our greatest strengths. Think of a building. If it is built with no ability to settle, to adjust to the elements, to be firm and inflexible in all conditions, it will not sustain an earthquake. If you ask any architect, the buildings that are able to sustain small and large quakes are those that have systems in place to absorb the impact. I like to think I am like a well designed building.