All I ever wanted was my family – that cellular group that defined my role in life. I wanted the husband, the children and the ridiculous English Springer Spaniel that jumped in the tub with the kids after dinner. We would laugh while bubbles filled the air and my husband wrapped me up in his arms. Oddly enough I pictured this happening in a house somewhere in the Northeast with a Lexus in the driveway.
My idea of family was based on a scripted commercial and it smacked of Kay Jewelers and a luxury car brand.
I never thought the angelic being that finally came to me would look up at me with saucer-like blue eyes and ask, at three years old, if I liked her dad.
It was one question that sat atop a lot of other questions and worries that make my chest tight as she awaits my response:
Do you love my dad?
You and daddy keep getting new houses. I’m scared you are both going to get a new house and leave me in one of the old ones.
Do I have one dad? Will I always have one dad? Will I have two dads and two moms? How many parents am I going to get?
Like her mom, all my daughter has ever wanted was a family. Her father and I speak regularly so we can handle her questions and concerns as a united front and sometimes we deliver the message in the same room. It is important our daughter knows we are always here for her no matter the house.
I remember being in the same room with Liv’s father the moment our fertility doctor turned the screen to us and a little being full of light and energy and sparkles danced across the screen. Her dad said she looked like a seahorse. We talked about how our seahorse would be raised, the values we would instill, the lessons we would share, us both children of divorce. My husband and I talked fervently about raising a beautiful majestic little seahorse in a two-parent union where all we wanted was a family, which we very quickly got around to irrevocably imploding.
Our seahorse is now the only thread that holds us together.
The State of Nevada requires you to attend a three hour course prior to granting your divorce when children are involved. A social worker who came from a broken family stood before us and explained every little way you were breaking your child and how the damage wasn’t just a now thing, but a forever thing.
I cried for three straight hours.
I also realized the following year would be dedicated to making sure my daughter survived the damage in the healthiest way possible. There would be no relationships, no dates, no nothing. The State shared daunting statistics and it was clear that no relationships entered within the first year of divorce would remain intact after you got through the business of healing, vulnerability and grief. It was the first time I’ve ever been given permission to have what they referred to as Temporary Adult Relationships, I think the state just made booty calls sound like a bailout program.
We were told that you must die to the relationship you had and look at your new relationship as a business arrangement. No more squabbling over who did what, no more fighting, get over yourself. You are in the business of raising this child with this person and the State recommends joint custody, so figure it out.
The first time my daughter came home to tell me a woman I didn’t know painted her nails at daddy’s house it was extremely hard for me to die to the relationship and get over myself. Another woman was mothering my child with the man I had her with and I couldn’t help but feeling replaced. It took a full 24 hours to pull myself out of the emotion and recognize that my daughter would inevitably have other women in her life. The best thing I could do for her, my daughter, would be to forge good relationships with the women that become her village.
My daughter recently told me I was her old mom and she hopes to get a new mom at daddy’s house. We had to talk through her definitions and she finally explained, “You’ll always be my mom and you and daddy are my always family, but I’d like to have a mom at dad’s house too.”
I didn’t feel threatened this time. Rather than being hurt I recognized my child is a girl’s girl and she is drawn to the warmth and nurturing arms of women in her life. I couldn’t ask for a better end result than a well-adjusted woman surrounded by loving mother figures. She actually decided she wants to marry one of her little girlfriends the other day because, “I think a baby would like to have two moms.”
Of course she’d like to have a mom at dad’s house.
I hope she gets a great one.
I am shocked at how emotionally resilient we can be when we recognize our ability to make each situation better for our children, to think of their eventuality. It isn’t natural, but it is doable with intention. It requires that I leave behind ego, my own hurt and my pride. While some women might not be able to fathom such things I promise you that it gets easier over time and why fight something that is inevitable? Another woman will never take your place, but she can compliment the love your child feels from the collective of caregivers.
What I find astounding is that I truly believe it helped me grieve and heal in a very healthy way. I now have more of a detached friendship with her father because we’ve had to build it per her request. The way her eyes shine and how she hums and sings and laughs and loves when her mom and her dad are present with her as her family forgives the how or the why.
After all, we have a seahorse to raise.