Til Death Do Us Part

My previous post was about changes in family due to death or remarriage. Today I am going to discuss divorce.

Nearly half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. This trend was apparent when I was a teenager in the late 70’s. A high percentage of my friends were going through a parental divorce. By the time I graduated from high school, it had happened to so many peers that I was proud my parents were still happily married.

Little did I foresee that within ten years they would get divorced- just three weeks after my own wedding. Thankfully, their principles of marriage seemed unshakeable to me at the time and they did not reveal their intentions, knowing that my faith in the permanence of my wedding vows to my betrothed, would be swept away in confusion.

Couples divorce for many reasons. I know my parents still loved each other, but for some reason they felt a need to go their own ways. I appreciate that they are still friends today and we can have family gatherings together. Unfortunately, the six months after my wedding, when I learned my parents were splitting and my new husband suffered a heart attack (not fatal), were the most devastating moments of my life- shattering my rosy concept of marriage and “for better or for worse, til death do us part”.

The days I spent in the hospital, holding my husband’s hand was relieved by having both of my parents by my side. Because they could be there for me, together, and put aside their differences, I was able to heal the pain in my heart. It also made me stronger and more determined to keep my own marriage on track, through all the trials and challenges of raising a family.

I don’t want to repeat my family history and have nothing in common with my husband once the kids are gone. It isn’t always easy to find time to be together, to talk, to express our desires, our dreams- but we certainly make an effort. Even though my parents’ divorce was heart-wrenching, I was able to take away some lessons from it:

*Don’t ever take love for granted.

*Always make time to talk to each other. Whatever the troubles are, they are better handled together.

*Look beyond the horizon. The kids will be gone in a few years (in my case, 5). Reinforce our bond at least once a week so that we revel in each other’s company when we are on our own again.

* Remember why we fell in love in the first place and try to recreate that feeling at least once a year.

*Give each other space to do their own thing; but also find activities you enjoy doing together.

By following these steps, hopefully we won’t have to put the whole puzzle of our marriage back together when we become empty-nesters; but only will have to pick up a dropped stitch here and there. I have a picture in my mind of my husband and I, sitting on our front porch with a glass of wine in our hands and our walkers by our sides, enjoying the view of the sunset and reflecting on old times.

The Expanding Family Horizon

  What is a “family horizon”? you may ask. A horizon is a line as far as the eye can see- usually a boundary between the known and the unknown, the real and the imaginary. In relation to a family, a child’s horizon might be very close-at-hand: mom, dad, brother, sister. These are the people we interact with every day and come to rely on for comfort and emotional support.

Today’s families aren’t so black and white, though. Due to high rates of divorce , financial needs and longevity there is a greater likelihood that a family’s horizon will expand. In-laws or step-families, adult children and spouses all add to the expanded version of today’s family- often inhabiting the same household.

Early on, children learn to include their grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins into the category of extended family. My children had 4 grandparents, 4 sets of aunts /uncles and 2 cousins. One set of grandparents divorced before they were born. My daughter was a year old when my father remarried. His wife graciously accepted an endearing nickname and took on the role of step-grandmother. She brought their horizon up to 5 grandparents.

The other set of grandparents was married for 56 years and were only recently separated due to death. That shrunk my kids’ horizon, but only temporarily. Within a year, their Nana had met a gentleman who liked her very much and they began spending a lot of time together. When my father married a new partner, the kids were too young to know there had been anything different. But at this stage of their lives, the idea that their Nana could take a new partner seemed to rock their concept of family.

My children obviously have strong loyalties and affection for family members. My daughter is a believer in the status quo. Neither has any experience with romantic relationships, other than what they see on tv, so it was difficult for them to accept that their grandmother had already come to terms with their grandfather’s death and was ready to move on with her life.

Q. How do you get a self-centered teenager to switch lenses and zoom out to a farther horizon?

A. Patience and baby steps.

We had heard much about Nana’s beau and my husband and I were very supportive; but it took several months until we finally met him. The kids were nervous- not sure what to expect or how to treat him- he wasn’t their beloved Papa after all. When he and Nana arrived, we spent as much time out of the house as possible (at a tennis match, restaurant and they slept at a nearby hotel). I think it was important that the kids didn’t feel pressured that he needed to be treated like family at this initial meeting.

By getting to talk with him and realize what a kind, thoughtful person he is, they were able to form their own opinion of him and be more forgiving of Nana. My son actually said he was happy if she was happy. A few weeks later, Nana visited alone for several days, reassuring the kids that she was aways there for them. She had an opportunity to answer their questions about her boy-friend and I think they were more open-minded.

By their next visit together, he should be welcomed back as a member of the expanded family- and my children have reset their sights on a higher point of the family horizon.