We were in the car, having a fairly quiet drive when she said it. And when I heard it, my heart nearly shattered.
"Mom? Will you be sad when you and Daddy have to get divorced?" Sadie, our eight year old, asked in a very small but matter of fact voice.
A million scenarios flashed through my mind as to why she'd think my husband and I were getting divorced. Is it because I told him that I'd love him forever if he'd load the dishwasher and he said he couldn't because he had to get the grass cut before the rain came in- and now she thought that I wasn't going to love him forever? Is it because I sometimes go sleep on the couch when the snoring gets too loud and they came downstairs a few times to see me sleeping on the couch instead of next to Daddy? Is it because they sometimes see us get annoyed with each other and watch me sigh and get all passive aggressive in exasperation?
I tried to figure out why she was saying it so that I could know how to respond. Finally I said, "Sadie, why do you think that Mommy and Daddy are going to get divorced?"
What she said back cut me straight to my core. "Well, I just wondered when it came your time to get divorced if you would get sad to tell Daddy bye." I probed a little further. "I just know that the other moms get sad when it's time for them to get divorced." I noticed that she kept saying "time to get divorced" and then it hit me. She thought that divorce was actually a natural progression in life. Get married, have a few kids, get divorced.
Oh my. I asked her if she thought that everyone was "required" to get divorced. She said "yes" in one of those tones, like "duh, mom. Don't you know that's what comes next?"
My husband and I are both children of divorce. Both of our parents waited until we went to college before they dropped the ax. And although we were both adults when our parents split up, it has had a profound impact on both of our lives. Holidays are always hard and now with three kids we find ourselves often going to six different Christmases. I see some of our parents being happier than they've ever been, and some of our parent's hurting and lonely. It's a strange dynamic. Sometimes it's wonderful (after all, I have three stepbrothers that I never would have had without a divorce in my family) and at other times it's just excruciating. Our children are growing up with grandparents on their second marriages and some single grandparents. My parents are each one of four siblings. Out of 8 siblings, 7 of those have been divorced and the one other "holdout" has been separated for years. Kamron's family has pretty close to those same statistics.
Kamron and I have often remarked that out of all of the friends that we hang out with on a regular basis, we can only think of two of our friends whose parents are still together (and still have relatively happy marriages). Out of dozens of friends- only TWO who don't come from divorced parents? It blows my mind how in our circle, we fared so much worse than the national averages. Our children are hanging out with other children who all have divorced grandparents. And now that we are at an age where friends of ours are going through divorces of their own and our kids have friends at school whose parents are getting divorced, our children seem to be surrounded. We've thought about how divorce has affected us, but I never thought about how this affected my kids. Since Kamron and I aren't divorced, I naively thought that they were scooting along unscathed.
Now- I am NEVER going to be one of those people who thinks that the idea of divorce is all bad. Life is just not that black and white. I don't believe for one minute that staying in a really bad marriage is good for anyone. I have girlfriends who have been in marriages that they absolutely needed to get out of. But I think that they would all agree that it was still so hard, even if it was the right thing to do. All that to say that I don't want you to feel judged if you are reading this and are divorced. This is not a critique of divorce- it is merely a commentary on how this has affected my daughter. I know that for all kinds of families- different things work and that is okay.
Our circle includes several single, divorced moms- so my children also see us hanging out with kids who have been through divorces and they see those kids only with their awesome moms (even if they still have great relationships with their fathers, my kids don't see it). I wonder if Sadie thinks that dads just go away when you get divorced and how scary that must seem for her when she is so deeply a daddy's girl. When I began to play these scenarios and statistics over in my mind, it is no wonder that my sweet, innocent eight year old thought that it was probably getting close to "our time" to get divorced. I cringed at that thought. Now- my husband and I can get on each other's nerves as much as the next couple, and we get sick of rehashing the same fights for the three billionth time. But at the root of it, we are still deeply in love with each other and I thought for sure that our children could see that. Yes, they see us bicker and disagree sometimes- but they also see us make up, show affection, praise one another, go on dates and show commitment to them and to each other over and over and over again.
And yet- seeing that play out on a daily basis was not enough to combat the message that divorce is the next logical step in the marriage, kids, life equation. We grew up thinking that lifelong marriage was the rule and that divorce was the exception. My children (and I think a lot of other children in their generation) are seeing divorce as the rule and they don't even see an alternative. My daughter is naturally an anxious child. I can't even begin to understand the anxiety that she's felt over the last little bit as she's laid in bed at night thinking that her time is almost up with her family in tact.
Since this happened a week ago, I've tried to be intentional in having these conversations with Sadie about how marriage is supposed to be forever. I've talked to her about how we make a commitment and a promise to each other and how we do every single thing we can to honor that. I've assured her that we love each other. I've assured her that we'll protect her. And I've talked to her about how she can comfort her friends at school who's parents are going through divorces. We're having those talks, but I just wonder if it's enough to drown out that loud message that she's surrounded with that marriage doesn't last.
When I became a mother, I thought that one of the best things that I could give my children, was a happy marriage. And while we are not all roses here in this house (in fact, very far from it), I think that we have a pretty darn happy family. I thought that I would teach them about honoring a commitment by living it. I never thought that I'd have to actually teach my children that divorce is not supposed to be the plan. And yet, here we are and it makes me scared. I know that if my child thinks that divorce is the logical progression that there are probably so many other children who probably think the same thing and have just never said it out loud. It hurts my heart for them. And it hurts my heart for their future spouses and future children.
Maybe instead of just living it- we should be living it out loud. Modeling not just with our actions, but with our words as well. Even if it seems hokey. We spent so many years teaching our adopted son (sometimes in very cheesy ways) that our family is forever. It was a concept that he didn't understand and he had to be taught. We would just randomly shout out, "You'll be here forever and ever! We'll take care of you every single day! Mommy and Daddy will ALWAYS love you!" Maybe we should be sending the same messages about our marriages in front of our kids- no matter how silly it seems. Balm on their hearts is worth the silly. Now we'll go back to the drawing board of teaching all of our children that this is permanent, because as it turns out, they aren't born knowing that in their core. Teaching permanence in an age of disposable isn't easy. Today's workout in our home includes massive amounts of core strengthening. And then tomorrow's workout, and then the next day's workout.. because this is one message we can't afford for our children to miss out on.