A few weeks ago, I wrote about how badly Mercury in retrograde was messing me up. Remember? Trees were going down (for no reason), I got locked out of my house (and the dog was locked inside), and then ended up having to crash with my kids at my ex-husband’s house (who was, thankfully, out of town for the week).
As promised in my original post, I wanted to come back and talk to all of you about one aspect of that day that was really interesting… the sleepover at my ex’s.
Let me pick up the story where I left you…tired kids, no air conditioning, 90 degree humid nonsense out here in the South, 10pm locksmith, little guy wilting, ME wilting. It was the tipping point, for sure.
So in a moment of definite desperation, I asked my ex-husband if we could “crash at his place for the night?” He was gracious and said yes. Karma points to him for that.
Anyway, here is what happened next.
We arrived at his house like a 10pm family hurricane – tired kids, sports equipment, lunchboxes. I watched the kids turn the lock on his door… and then, for kind of the first time, I stepped inside my ex-husband’s house.
I had been inside before – but always briefly, and for a targeted purpose (i.e., find soccer cleats and exit ASAP). This time we were going to spend the night.
So here are the four things I learned when we slept at his house that night:
- Our Kids are Fine
I’m starting with the big one. As I stepped inside his house, I felt awkward. I felt like I wanted to be as small as possible so to touch as little as possible, mostly out of respect for him, and his space. But the kids just rolled in like it was nothing…because to them it was nothing special. As they piled onto the sofa, turned on the tv, grabbed snacks, I just sat there in awe. It was SERIOUSLY like being the fly on the wall – nobody really saw me, but I saw them… living the lives they live when they are with their dad. And in that moment I just about cried, because I realized that their lives in their dad’s house are just fine.
- The Kids Live Different Lives With Their Dad
The family life inside my house has a rhythm. We keep things moving, and productive, by following certain patterns. I cook most nights after I get home from work – I like to do it, and it connects me with the kids while they swirl around me. Then there are rituals around bathtime, bedtime, goodnights – sacred, precious time. It’s just the stuff we do.
So one of the things that surprised me most about staying at my ex’s house was the fact that the rituals I depend upon at home… didn’t apply at their dad’s house. They had different rituals, different patterns. And much to my surprise, I found myself being asked to participate in rituals that were unfamiliar to me, but clearly familiar to my children.
As you can imagine, I did my best.
And in spite of me, and whatever shortcomings I had that night, the rituals clearly resonated with the kids and they quickly settled into bed. It was amazing.
- Their Dad Is Doing Fine
As I sat at my ex’s kitchen counter, I found myself trying to touch, observe, and disrupt as little as possible. I was so grateful that he was willing to open up his personal space to us, and I felt compelled to honor that by being respectful.
But I also could not help but take in my surroundings.
There were pictures of the kids and their dad… smiles in places I had not been and on days where I had been somewhere else. A reminder that we are living separate lives. But also comforting to see what I already knew – that their dad is doing a fine job fathering while I’m not around holding the camera.
There were also furnishings, art on the walls, food in the fridge… I sat there and could see hints of the man I knew when we were married. But I could also see that he had actually become more himself while we have been apart. Here I was in his house, filled up with his stuff, and it just felt like him. Sounds so obvious, but I found it comforting to see that his choices seemed to reflect his authentic self.
- This is My Family’s “Normal” – And We Are Not Broken
The kids were pretty little when we separated, and at the time, we both worried how they could possibly adapt to our “broken” family. We feared all of the terrible things we hear about and see in the media would play out for us. And I have to tell you, there were certainly times when it was not easy at all.
But as I watched the kids move seamlessly between their lives with me and their dad, even with me in their dad’s space, I felt a real combination of emotions. I was relieved that our situation doesn’t look anything like the nightmarish scenarios we had imagined. I was proud that we had managed to create a life for our kids that seems to feel normal, stable and happy. And most of all, I was happy that they are happy. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not broken.
Why am I sharing this with all of you? Because I have been at the beginning of the process of reimagining my family life after divorce. And since there really isn’t an ending in family life, I just wanted to offer up a little hope for those of you that cannot imagine anything good might emerge. It hasn’t been easy, it has taken time and work. But at least in my family, we have managed to carve out a life that feels just fine.