When you are divorced, family events, like a graduation, can be a stressful time for everyone involved. Will my parents get along or will they make a scene? Will they sit together or on opposite sides of the auditorium? Who will be in the ‘family’ photo? Will we all be able to go out for dinner afterward? Will it be awkward?
Like many families this month, our family attended my youngest daughter’s college graduation in Rhode Island. Our ‘family’ consisted of myself and my fiancé, my ex-husband and his wife, my oldest daughter, her boyfriend and my youngest daughter’s boyfriend. It was a beautiful day and all that mattered was that our youngest was graduating and we were all there to celebrate her accomplishments of the past four years. She was graduating cum laude, had a great job lined up and we were all so proud of her. This was her amazing day and everything else would be put aside.
My fiancé and I were tasked with saving seats for everyone – yes, even the ex and his wife. We all sat together and I’m happy to say that there was no awkwardness at all. The wife and I even exchanged the obligatory kiss and hug! Boy, had we come a long way. The day went smoothly, we got a lot of nice photos, even posted the ‘family’ photo on Facebook. We had a very nice late lunch in Providence and now, all the kids were proud of us!
But it wasn’t always like this. I remember feeling very anxious leading up to our first family event, our oldest daughter’s high school graduation in 2009. It was less than a year after our divorce was final. My daughter was very concerned about how we would handle it and quite frankly, so was I.
My ex would be there with ‘her’ and she was the last person I wanted to see, especially on a day like this. Why did she have to be there? How could he be so insensitive? It’s too soon. At times, it made me sick to my stomach and I dreaded the day.
We got through it, but I remember it being very awkward and forced for everyone. The conversations were limited, my heart raced and I was very uncomfortable. I was just waiting for it to end so I could get the hell out of there.
Our First College Graduation Post-Divorce
Time heals, so by the time that same daughter graduated college in 2013, we had attended enough family events that the tension and stress had subsided significantly. The night before her graduation we all went out for a family dinner in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It was a little awkward at first sitting there with the ex, his wife and my ex father-in-law, but on the whole, it was okay. The plan was to go to a nightclub/bar after dinner where my daughter’s roommates and their parents would meet us.
It was quiet when we arrived at the bar and my ex-husband’s wife took that opportunity to pull me aside. At first I thought she was going to apologize or something, but the conversation quickly turned and she was blaming me for the divorce; I was in shock. I couldn’t believe she was doing this now. My ex-husband and my fiancé were sitting at the bar watching us, and my ex said to him, “this can’t be good”.
There was no way I was going to engage in this. I didn’t want this turning into a scene from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills! Plus my daughter and her friends were there. I don’t remember how long this went on, but I was very aware that everyone was watching us. She just kept saying the same things, almost verbatim, that my ex had been saying during our divorce years earlier. It was completely one-sided and no matter what I would have said, she would not have heard me, so it wasn’t worth it.
At some point, I said I was done and I walked away. I went to the bar, grabbed my purse and my fiancé and went outside.
I was pretty upset but did my best to hold back the tears, because I could see my daughter watching all this and I didn’t want her freaking out. I regained my composure and went back in to the bar with a smile on my face. I knew I had not done anything wrong. My ex-husband could not blame me for this, because I was not the one who started it – he saw the whole thing. I had taken the high road and I wasn’t the one who would feel awkward the next morning.
This is not how I wanted things to be. When I got married 28 years ago, I never imagined I would be sharing my kids with an ex-spouse and dealing with situations like this. But if you have kids, you will be connected with your ex-spouse for the rest of your life. At some point, you have to let go of the past and move on. I’m not saying to forget what happened or to even forgive, but life is too short to hold onto the pain and anger forever. Before you know it, your kids will be having kids of their own. Your actions and your relationship with your ex will directly impact them, the grandkids and the rest of the extended family. You don’t want everyone worrying and stressing out every time there is something like a birthday, wedding, birth or even a death in the family. It’s up to you whether you want it to be a positive impact or a negative one.
Some of my pain and anger stemmed from the insecurities I had with regards to new wife. The thought of having to share my kids with her was, at times, unbearable. She was not their mother, I was. She didn’t raise them, I did. Turns out, my kids already knew that, duh. I know that I am their only mother, nothing will ever change that and they will never stop loving me. I have accepted this new ‘family’ because it’s the right thing to do for my daughters (and me).
It takes a lot to put aside your differences and take the high road, but I promise you, that it is in the best interest of your children, if you do just that. Would my youngest have done so well in college had my ex and I continued to be at odds? Who knows, but I do believe that because things have improved between their father and I, our kids are happier and adjusting well to this ‘new’ life.
My wish for the future, is that my ex and I are able to enjoy our children and their families together, as one big happy family. I even mentioned to my daughter that maybe some day, we could all go to Disney with the grandkids. She said, “Mom, we’re not even married yet!” I said, “I know”… but I have to start psyching myself up for that one.