5 things I wish people would reconsider before they speak to divorced parents:
1. At least you get some time off
This is by far the worst offense. As if spending time away from your children is a treat. Well let me tell you, when your children are in the arms of a loving grandparent, it may be a treat. But when your child is in the care of the person who derailed your life, not so much. I can feel a distinct difference in my gut when D is with someone who adores her and when she is with her father. My situation is unique because of the terms of my divorce (abandonment), but never assume that a divorced parent is pleased with his/her “time off.” It’s no consolation for missing moments of your child’s life, and it’s insulting to insinuate otherwise.
2. Is the other parent still involved?
If the answer is “no” then you are surely bound for a generic lament about “dead beat dads” and how sad it is that your child will not have a relationship with his/her non-custodial parent. Which is something you potentially lose sleep over already and is not particularly fun to be reminded of. Or perhaps you are breathing a sigh of relief because that parent has exited completely, in which case you don’t want to explain why you procreated with such a loser to begin with.
If the answer is “yes,” then you get the “oh, well, at least your child has that.” Which implies that you alone are not enough (consider the prevailing notions about “single parent homes”) and that everyone is grateful that there will be somebody other than you. And don’t get me started on how “great” everybody thinks it is that the non-custodial parent show up regularly 25% of the time. How heroic.
3. Just never talk badly about the other parent
Wow there’s some sage advice that the average divorced parent hasn’t considered. I had full intentions of doubling up on therapy bills by degrading my child’s father and making her feel guilty for her desire to be loved by both of us. Doesn’t everyone?
4. Did you consider staying together for the kids?
Again, this is simply ignorance speaking. There are so many reasons why people get DIVORCED FOR THE KIDS. It’s simply not a phrase we’ve adopted into our vernacular. Maybe we should try it.
5. Don’t worry, so many kids come from broken homes these days.
All good intentions, I know. But I absolutely LOATHE the expression “broken home.” We could label all sorts of homes “broken” for all sorts of reasons, but it’s only socially acceptable to call a divorced home broken.
When you boil it all down, each of these statements/questions has a common thread. It’s the same common thread that I felt through the justice system. In getting divorced, you have done something wrong– criminal even. You have become a moral perpetrator who has unnecessarily subjected your children to pain and shame.
So instead, I suggest the well meaning folk try giving up those five expressions and take these on instead:
1. How great that you were able to make the right choice for your family.
2. That sounds like it was painful; I hope that things are getting better/easier for you.
3. I’d love to take a few pictures of you and your child together, or have you over for dinner.
4. It looks like a lot of work, but you’re doing a great job.
5. How’s that working out for you?
These statements all leave room for compassion and community building. They don’t insinuate weakness or criminality. Even if you don’t want to affirm divorce as a choice, there are graceful ways to reserve judgement and give somebody room took breathe, heal, and grow.