We can view divorced families like we do people with disabilities —
as people, but like, with superpowers.
When I first began accepting and going “with” what was happening and seeing the upsides of life apart from my former spouse, I felt like Oprah with my friends: And “you get a divorce! And you! And you!”
Driving around with my four year old and he says, “Mom, I wish the coronavirus and divorce didn’t exist anymore.” Of course he doesn’t understand, but if it’s one thing parenting has taught me it’s that messaging matters. It’s my job as a Mom to listen to his and his sister’s laments and teach them wisdom to navigate these storms.
What I want to tell those sweet little ones in the backseat is the truth I have affirmed since the day their dad and I sold them on the idea of living in two houses, and promised:
We’re still a family, but now we’re a divorced family.
But I want to say more:
Being divorced isn’t a source of shame. It’s a disability to the ideal child-rearing life of two parents in the same home.
One doesn’t have to look very far to see we live in a disabled world; for every child born healthy, is one with a missing hand, a genetic mutation, a duplex ureter, or chromosomal abnormality. For every person who appears complete is one with a hidden illness or PTSD, or missing a limb, a sensory disorder, or challenges too numerous to name.
We’ve learned as US Americans embrace our diversity and melting pot identity to make room for those among us with non-normative disabilities. We’re even, in some places, celebrating the gifts that differently-abled persons bring to our common life. A person who is hard of hearing, challenges us to enunciate well, speak more clearly, and listen to non-verbal cues that send a message.
It’s been a hurdle to be sure, and we have a long way to go. We are so bothered by imperfect things that it’s hard to see the gifts of what has been marred, especially when it appears the “broken” family is a disability chosen by sometimes “selfish” people.
What deep wisdom does divorce teach its parents, its children, its communities about being human?
The Gifts Divorced Families Give
My children are learning a wisdom and truth about love, resilience, growth, forgiveness, and (always) hope. My friends in marriages are giving their children a sense of stability, but in favor of safety, what are these children shielded from that is also real and worthwhile?
Much of the wisdom given to me about marriage was passed on in the months following my sudden and unexpected separation and divorce.
When my parents were married about 10 years, they had a slew of friends whose spouses left, citing “I don’t love you and I’m not sure I ever did.” Mom still tells the story of waiting for Dad to get home from work, holding a calendar in her hands.
“Do you love me?” she asked.
“Yes, Liz, of course I do!” he replied.
“Ok, I’m writing it on the calendar, this day, you loved me and you meant it. So you can never say you aren’t sure you ever did.”
The tragedy of others taught them not to take that love for granted.
My childhood best friend lived primarily with her mom, after her parents divorced when she was the age my kids are now. Nearly every Friday night I spent with her involved a ritual of shopping for frozen pizza, picking out a movie to rent (how many times can one person watch What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), and going through the carwash on the way home listening to Celine Dion belt out “My Heart Will Go On” and pretending we were on The Titanic, about to go down with Jack and Rose.
Although A and her family weren’t regular churchgoers, I learned to appreciate ritual from the single mom Friday night jam.
When my pilgrimage through this began, A’s mom was the first person I reached out to to ask,
“Can I do this?”
And of course I knew, yes, with frozen pizza and some ritual magic of my own, of course.
Watching, even at a young age, an adult woman do so much on her own made me feel strong facing the unexpected in my life.
Divorce isn’t always bad news — there are days, in the vocation of pastoring, in which weddings were difficult to officiate, because the union, while not abusive, was also not necessarily “good news.” Marriage has some ugly surprises and fine print that is impossible to see until you’re knee-deep and long past committed.
There are beautiful days when we see one another as phoenixes rising from the ashes of broken relationships — not just broken marriages, but broken communities; acquaintances we thought were friends and allies; “families” who stopped acting with unconditional love a long time ago; or who proclaimed a forgiveness and acceptance of which they could not embody. Brokenness is everywhere, but the gift of divorce has taught me to look for the steady hope that flows beneath such fragments too.
My intent is not to “sell” anyone on the option of divorce.
It’s awful, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy (except maybe my ex-husband? Ha!).
Here is an invitation to look around at your peers and classmates, or your children’s and count: how many of them have been touched by divorce?
There are so many good and tough reasons to depart from a set of promises you made to another person. No matter the reason, it came with a lot of pain and grief, but what came out the other side is a person who has a lot of wisdom and love yet to share with the world, in ways that are different from what we perceive to be an ideal and perfect life.
Elaine Murray is (in this order) a child of God, a mother, a pastor, a writer, a health coach, and a divorcee living courageously into futures she didn’t expect.