Before Lieutenant Commander Worf’s marriage to Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax on Deep Space Nine, the leading men undergo a four day Klingon equivalent of a bachelor party, the path to Kal’hayh. In true Klingon tradition, the ritual includes many trials to prepare the groom for marriage. After Worf breaks the news that they are about to begin a four day fast, Captain Sisko inquires:
Sisko: What are the other five trials?
Worf: Blood, sacrifice, pain, anguish, and death.
Doctor Bashir: Sounds like a marriage alright!
I’d beg to differ that all of marriage is as tortuous as that, but the process of divorcing certainly is painful. It’s a very difficult step. The majority of people getting married don’t think that they will want to get divorced in the future. Most of us believe we’ve found our happily ever afters, never expecting that one day we will be viewing our spouses with a “What was I thinking?” mentality.
In a recent post on LinkedIn, someone commented that having kids doesn’t impact the decision to divorce or the process very much. I very much disagree with that statement. Having kids definitely changed how we approached the divorce as much of what we did was in their best interest. My ex and I made decisions that we definitely would not have made if we didn’t have kids.
To start with, my ex-husband and I were separated but still living together for 15 months before he was able to move out. Only our closest friends knew about this. There were financial considerations involved that were related to the kids, and we weren’t sure when we would have the resources for him to be able to move out. It was definitely less than ideal, but as the house we were living in is big enough, it was manageable. We each had our own rooms. When I was “on duty” with the kids, he’d leave the house and go to work or a coffee shop or the movies. When he was “on duty” with the kids, I’d lock myself in my room and turn on the tv, pretending I wasn’t in the same building. We told the kids that we were no longer spending time together to help us fight less (true!). They could understand this, especially when we put it in the context of someone in their classrooms who was really annoying and whom they didn’t want to sit at a table with since they didn’t like that person very much. They understood that just staying away from someone you don’t get along with can be a very good solution.
After that initial in-house separation time had passed and we reached the point where he was going to be moving out, we went public with the separation, shocking many people who’d had their eyes closed to the reality of our relationship for a long time. The kids were not surprised as they knew we were in marriage therapy and were very unhappy. Our goal when my ex moved out was that he would find a rental within the neighborhood of our then-mutual house which I would be staying in. I wanted it to be on the same side of the major street in our neighborhood. What we ended up finding through word of mouth before it even went on the market was a house nine doors down from my house. The kids were able to easily walk back and forth between our two places for the two years that he lived there. I can’t tell you how much that helped the kids, knowing they could always go see the other parent by walking down the street. The arrangement eased a great deal of their stress about their parents divorcing. It was also incredibly convenient as we got used to the intricacies of the kids going back and forth between houses and forgetting homework, musical instruments, and most often, shoes! However, I can guarantee you that my ex would not have rented in that location if it weren’t for the kids. He would have picked something closer to his work and further from me.
As we worked through our divorce agreements, the kids were a HUGE part of the discussions. We had to figure out custody, medical agreements, finances, vacations, clothing, college, interactions with future romantic partners, visitation rights for grandparents, and more. We were able to do most of that with little strife as we agree 99% of the time about what is best for the kids. The finances were much trickier than the rest, but in general, the kids were a huge consideration in all of the negotiations.
Because there were kids involved, my ex and I were a lot more cautious about how we moved forward. We agreed that we would wait one year after he moved out to make certain that divorce was the right thing. However, after four months of him being in his rental, we both knew without a doubt that it was Over. Neither of us needed the full year to come to that conclusion. We let the kids know then that the marriage was definitely over though the legal divorce would be a while longer for financial reasons. Since they’d had four months of us living separately, they had realized how much better life was with two happy but separate parents. None of us questioned that it was for the best at that point. We all found the 60 day “cooling off” period required by Texas law after filing for divorce to be highly amusing as we’d already been separated for over three years at that point!
After two years and right before our divorce officially became final last summer, my ex-husband bought a new house of his own. Again, the kids completely determined which area of town he bought in. Our oldest kids had two high schools in the area they wanted to attend, and either was a possibility. When it became clear that one high school was the winner, my ex found a house that was districted to that high school. His new house is 3 miles and 8 minutes from my house. Again, this is not likely where he would have bought if the kids weren’t part of the consideration, but he loves the house and has several co-workers who live in the same neighborhood. We both appreciate that even though we have some distance between us, we’re still in the same basic area of town. Texas law says that parents can move up to two counties away from each other, but my ex and I both agreed to change that and limited our agreement to the four county area immediately surrounding Austin. Even then, neither of us has any desire to live more than about 15-30 minutes from the other while the kids are still in school because we don’t want the extra driving.
I have actually reached a point where I am considering leaving the Austin area, but because of the kids, I won’t be doing it for at least another six years. I’ve already told the kids that if I haven’t met someone who is tied to the Austin area, after they graduate from high school, I may be moving to another part of the country. I hate hot weather, I hate mountain juniper (aka cedar allergies), and I don’t have anyone besides my kids tying me to the Austin area. Because of the nature of my work, I can easily move to another side of the country without losing many clients. For now, though, I am staying here to be with my kids.
Finally, the biggest issue influenced by divorcing with kids is the constant communication. We truly co-parent; it’s not a fluffy meaningless term as it is in some divorces. We each have the kids about half of the time, but we both play a huge role in making all decisions for the kids. That means that it is rare that a day goes by that we don’t text each other, and we talk to each other several times per week. Even when he was on vacation with the kids recently, I texted him several times and talked to him twice about the health of the kids. This is what’s in the best interest of the children. As anyone who has gone through a breakup can tell you, it’s much harder to get over someone you deeply loved when you have to be around them or talking to them constantly. Our individual healing processes probably would have been faster if we hadn’t had to communicate so often. However, because it is in the best interest of the kids, we do talk frequently about them and their needs and scheduling for their lives. I can guarantee you that this would not be the case if the kids were not involved!
I can definitely see how in a case where parents aren’t focused on their children’s best interests that having kids might not affect the divorce in any way. I’ve seen some nasty divorces where the best interests of the kids really aren’t taken into consideration. I feel deeply for those kids, especially those whose parents end up using them as pawns in a power play situation. However, in the case of my divorce, that wasn’t an issue. We viewed our kids as very important people whose needs were a vital part of the divorce negotiations.
As we have moved forward after the decree was signed, my ex and I are truly co-parenting and working to make sure our kids’ needs are met the best we can. The relationship my ex-husband and I continue have is determined by what we do for our kids. We both agreed strongly that as much as possible, our kids shouldn’t have to pay for the fact that their parents divorced. Instead, we’ve worked hard to make sure that their quality of life has actually improved in many ways because of the divorce. As a result, the kids showed almost no stress or strife in the process of us divorcing. They’ve felt secure and loved by both parents through it all.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC
In Texas, The University of Texas-Austin and Texas A&M University are the two major state universities with a deep century old rivalry. If you live in Austin, you’ll often hear Aggie jokes, and Aggies are known for telling “t.u.” jokes. The jokes are generally meant to insult the abilities and intelligence of the students and alumni of the opposing school. While I found them amusing when I was in college, I have long since stopped finding them funny. I’ve known many Aggies over the years, and I see no reason to insult them. Those friends are great people. They may have chosen a college I would never have gone to, but we can still be friends.
In a similar way, my ex-husband’s family used to tell jokes that put down liberal arts majors. When it wasn’t a formal joke, it was a slam or insult towards those who were liberal arts majors. That is because the parents and all of the children were science or math majors. They had developed an attitude, one that was clearly ego based, that anyone could get a liberal arts degree but it took a clearly superior mind to major in the hard sciences.
This attitude even carried over into casual conversation. I quickly learned that my opinion would never be respected even if it was on a topic pertinent to my academic studies. I was someone who knew nothing, and I was treated that way on many occasions. In one of the most painful, two of my ex-brothers-in-law were having a conversation while we were sitting around the kitchen table talking one holiday. They were discussing a topic I have a degree in, so I stated a sentence of relevance to the conversation. They looked at each other, and then they completely ignored me and my comment. It was like I wasn’t even in the room. That was the day I gave up trying. I knew I was always going to be labeled ignorant (at best) by them. In their eyes, I didn’t know anything.
Even when my ex-husband and I were alone, he carried over this tradition of insulting liberal arts majors to my face. Finally, one day I grew tired of it and I confronted him quite angrily. I asked him if he remembered that I had many degrees in the liberal arts. He did. When I asked why he would insult me like that by making fun of liberal arts majors, he had no answer. He’d been so trained by his family that it was ok to insult liberal arts majors that he didn’t even think twice about doing it with his wife who was an extension of his family in his mind. That was the last time he explicitly insulted the liberal arts to my face, but certainly not the last time my intelligence or abilities were questioned.
As a result of all this conditioning, I internalized the idea that my degrees were useless. Instead of being proud of my doctorate, I saw it as shameful. I hid it carefully away, not wanting to declare my accomplishment of being a Ph.D since it was “only” in liberal arts.
That all changed one day when I was eating lunch at a local restaurant that I frequent. The staff there recognizes me, especially the one woman who was usually head cook on the day I normally came in. However, due to a schedule change, I showed up on a different day than my usual. The woman said hi to me and asked why I was there that day instead of my usual. I let her know that I had some appointments change that week. She asked if I was a doctor, and I said, “No, well, yes, but I’m just a Ph.D.” She looked at me with a very expressive face and said “Just a Ph.D.?”
I realized in that instant how deeply I was undermining myself. I’m not the only one who uses the word “just” to denigrate themselves; an article by a former Google executive suggests that women use “just” far too often and undermine their power in doing so. In my case, I realized that I needed to shed my shame about “only” having a liberal arts Ph.D. My degree is just as well-earned as any other. I went to a highly reputed school, and my dissertation led to me being invited to apply for a tenure track position by another major university (though I unfortunately could not follow through due to my health). The opinions of my ex-in-laws are not healthy ones, and they are ones I chose to deprogram from my mind. I’ve learned to proudly embrace the initials “Ph.D.” after my name, so much so that I think my name looks odd without them now!
As more of the grandchildren are entering liberal arts fields and more of the brothers have married women with liberal arts degrees, I’m hoping my ex-in-laws have learned to curb their denigrating comments about those who aren’t scientists or mathematicians. In my house at least, my kids are growing up knowing that all academic paths are worthy of pursuing. No one is better than another. The world needs all kinds of people in it in order to function, not just scientists or mathematicians.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC
Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D.
Holistic Life Coach and