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The thing about divorce that is hard to remember is that as much as it is happening to you, your partner, and your children, it’s also happening to everyone else in your little world. Your friends, your extended family, everyone is affected. And as much as there are expected roles for the couple, there are unwritten rules for those who surround them as well.

We have all seen this movie, so from the minute you start to share the news, they pick up their scripts and take their places. Everyone wants to know what happened and who is to blame. They want to jump right on the ex-bashing bandwag­on. They want to support you, and this is what we have been taught support looks like.

Divorce draws a line in the sand, and people feel forced to choose a side, fearing that any sympathy or compassion for the other side will be seen as a betrayal. This black-and-white thinking leaves no room for the million shades of gray that are the truth of divorce.

Our circles were no different. We are both surrounded by fiercely loyal family and friends who rallied to our defense and attempted to shroud us in the protection of their contempt for the one who broke our hearts. And initially, this felt like the right way to go. I know for me, it was wonderful to have people who were making me feel justified in my decision to end the marriage and who were supporting my narrative.

But my decision made me the devil to a lot of people in his circle. And like my tribe, they had his back ferociously, some of them showing their support by publicly trashing my reputation in an effort to ensure that everyone knew who the bad guy really was.

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Picking Up the Pieces of a Broken Dream

It seemed that people couldn’t accept that sometimes it just doesn’t work out. This isn’t a movie, and there isn’t a villain or a hero in this story. Just two sad people trying to pick up the pieces of a broken dream and figure out how to move forward together in a new way for the sake of their child.

I knew if I was ever going to get past the hurt, stop see­ing him as the enemy, and create a scenario where we could actually work together, I would need people around me who supported that goal. It wasn’t enough to make sure that they didn’t badmouth him around Sammi; I needed them to be supportive of his role as her dad as well as my attempts to work cooperatively with him.

Hard Earned Wisdom: The last thing you need is people making things harder by continuing the adversarial narrative and keeping you at war with your ex. Peace between you and your ex is the only way to keep your child protected from the pain of the divorce.

A Big Ask: Support and Cooperation

I knew that was a big ask, but one that had to be granted. It was a nonnegotiable. We were trying to create a functional, healthy postdivorce family with no real guide as to how that was going to work, so we would need all the cheerleaders and support we could get.

To me, it felt no different from people struggling with addiction and trying to stay sober. The last thing they need around them is someone encouraging them to drink, insisting that just one is no big deal.

This was going to be a daily battle to do things a new way, and I did not need people around who were going to sabotage my efforts. I also knew it was up to me to show those in my corner what the support I really needed should look like.

Mick and I never really had a conversation about what we told our families and friends or how we instructed them to handle the divorce, but I believe he came to the same conclu­sion I did about what we would need from them. Living in his hometown, his family was around much more than mine, and I had my own relationships with most of them outside of just being his wife.

I knew that the divorce was likely to make these relation­ships change, but I had no idea how or what interactions with them would look like going forward. Pre-divorce I knew that they all cared about and respected me and thought I was a good wife and mother, but now that wife was not part of my title anymore, and given that they were his blood, I had no idea what I would be to them.

The Importance of Family

I’d be lying if I said things weren’t a little strained at first. No one, least of all me, knew how to act or what to say. I was worried that they all hated me and worried what that would mean for their continued relationships with Sammi. With Mick being gone so much, I would largely be the one brokering their time with her, and that felt odd and scary. Of course I knew the importance of family didn’t change just because our marital status did, but I also knew that there was a chance that to them I had gone from friend to foe.

To their credit, none of them behaved as they had in my recurring nightmares, cornering me with questions about what happened or being nasty and spiteful when we were forced to talk. And I am sure this wasn’t easy for them. But they stayed steady in their desire to support both of us as her parents.

Her great-aunt and great-uncle consistently offered to babysit or take her on fun outings, and her aunt, with whom I had a good friendship, remained a constant force in Sammi’s life. They all continued to treat me with the same kindness and respect that they always had. Yes, things had changed, but I was still family.

The people in our lives took their cues from us about the dynamic we were working hard to create. We needed family and friends who were willing to acknowledge that though Mick and I were no longer married, we still supported each other as her parents, and we needed their support too.

With my family living out of state and his travel schedule, there would be times that I needed help with Sammi, and they were always there. No judgment. No negativity. Just an understanding of our unique family situation and a willingness to be a contributing part that made the machine of our family run smoothly.

Being Part of the Solution

I was so grateful for the family members and friends who were willing to be a part of the solution. Divorce, under the best of circumstances, is difficult and painful. The last thing we needed was people making it harder by trying to continue the adversarial narrative and keep us at war when we both understood that peace between us was the only way to keep Sammi protected from the pain of the divorce. I guess it’s hard for some to let go of the idea that to support someone through a divorce you must vilify the other party.

But that was not the way we were playing this game. We were writing our own rules, creating the reality we wanted for our new family. By sticking to our commitment of respectful co-parenting and insisting, by example, that cooperation in this is all that would be tolerated, those who didn’t want to get on board quickly understood that there was no room for their dysfunction here and just stopped coming around.

Ensuring Ongoing Communication

On my end, I remained diligent in keeping his family abreast of the happenings in Sammi’s life. I knew what a gift it was for her to be raised with loving relatives in her life living nearby, and I wanted to make sure that they still understood that they were important to me as well. Recital invitations, soccer schedules, and Christmas pictures did not stop just because I now had a different address.

I was committed to maintaining the connections that Sammi and I had with Mick’s family, and I think that gave Mick the confidence that I would not allow anyone in my circle to disrespect him or his role as her father.

Though I’m extremely close with my family, none of them lived in Cincinnati, so seeing them meant planned trips out of state. Mick never batted an eye when I wanted extended time to take Sammi to visit my family, knowing that this time was crucial for her to have the opportunity to cultivate those relationships.

When anyone in my family visited, it was understood that Sammi would be with us, no matter whose scheduled time it was. We both grasped the importance of family, and thankfully our families and inner circles understood how important it was for them to embrace this new version of our family, too.

Happy Family 2.0: Life After Divorce

Providing Sammi with happy family 2.0 would take work, and we were definitely not going to be able to do it alone.

Thankfully for us, we were blessed enough to not only have family but also friends who were on board with our plan to provide Sammi a drama-free, love-filled life, and they were willing to step up and be a part of it. From my best friend’s mother-in-law to Mick’s student worker turned babysitter, aunts, cousins, and my amazing circle of friends, whenever we needed (or still need!) help with Sammi, they were there.

Divorce can feel extremely isolating, and the pressure of feeling like you have to do everything on your own can be crushing. But we had, and still have, a village that is loyal not only to us as individuals but also to our pledge to keep Sammi’s happiness and well-being at the center of everything.

Shortly after we first separated, I remember seeing a picture of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith and their family. What struck me was that the picture included Will’s first wife and son from that marriage as well as Will and Jada’s children. They all looked so happy, and in my mind, this was the gold standard for divorce.

I wanted to get to a place with Mick where we could be friends again, where we could attend a function for our daughter and include whomever we had in our lives at that time as well as extended family members and not feel awkward or uncomfortable.

A New Definition of Family

I wanted a new definition of what our family was that made room for anyone who loved Sammi to be a part of it. I know now that getting to that place is as much about Mick and I deciding to be open to it as it is our circles embracing it. This doesn’t work without an understanding on everyone’s part that family is not pie, with a finite number of pieces.

Family is love, and there is always room for more love. It takes some time, some healing, and some growing, but you can get there. When you really—and I mean really—embody the belief that it is not about you, when you look at your children and remember that they can never have too much love in their lives, then it’s easy to be willing to pen your own inclusive definition of family.

Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Adapted with permission.

Article Source: 

BOOK: It's Not About Us

It's Not About Us: A Co-parenting Survival Guide to Taking the High Road
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book cover of:  It's Not About Us by Darlene TaylorPart memoir, part survival guide, It’s Not About Us shares with hilarious honesty her imperfect attempts at forging a new path for her family after divorce. Darlene Taylor provides 15 nuggets of co-parenting wisdom, including: * When to make decisions solo and when to consult your ex; * The worst thing children of divorce beg you not to do; * How family and friends can help; * The surprising lesson from a boyfriend’s ex-wife; * The most impactful decision you can make.

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About the Author

taylor darleneDARLENE TAYLOR is a first-time author whose superpower is helping people see the very best in themselves and achieve things they never thought possible. Since 2010 she has worked as the conductor of the crazy train called postdivorce parenting, hoping that her ten years of experience as a clinical social worker would keep the train from derail­ing. She has managed to keep the train on the tracks while rocking out this mom thing, shaping young minds as a gender studies professor at the University of Cincinnati, and helping people become the best versions of themselves as a personal trainer and wellness coach. These days, she is doing her part to leave the world better than she found it through her work as a diversity consultant.

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