This month I'm celebrating my fifth anniversary. In more traditional circles, the theme for a fifth wedding anniversary is wood. But since I'm celebrating the anniversary of my divorce -- my annivorceary, if you will -- I think a more appropriate theme for me is "would," as in what I wish I would have known back in 2007.
In honor of the occasion, I'm giving myself a present: a letter from me today to me five years ago. In the hope that this advice might help others who are at the beginning of a divorce, a copy of my letter follows:
Hi, Christina 2007! It's me -- Christina 2012. Wow. That steady diet of stress, insomnia and crying isn't working for you at all. You look terrible -- except for the weight loss. I know you hate it when people comment on it, but take it from me: emaciated looks good on you.
Wait! Don't start crying again! I know it probably seems insensitive of me to joke about this stuff. But that's the first bit of good news I have for you: I can joke around, because life is so much better in 2012 than it was in 2007. Things are going to improve with each passing day. It won't be a straight line, but the overall trajectory is definitely up. Six months from now you are going to feel so much better than you do today. And it will just keep getting better and better. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you'll get there, I promise.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. The reason I'm writing is because I have a really valuable gift for you: Pearls! Not the kind that pretty you up; the kind that smarten you up. I'm going to tell you five things I know now -- in 2012 -- that I really wish you would have known at the beginning of the divorce process.
So, listen up.
1. You're doing the right thing. You know all that tossing and turning you do each night, wondering if you're doing the right thing by getting a divorce? Well, you can cross that off your list of things to worry about. And while you're at it, you can also quit fretting about whether all the sleep loss is giving you cancer. It's not. But it is giving you bags under your eyes -- and unlike the dramatic weight loss, those don't look so good.
When it comes to your marriage, you did everything you could to try to make things work. Before long you will begin to appreciate that. You will get to the point where you won't even regret that you endured all that marriage counseling for nothing. You'll actually be grateful for that, because you'll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you gave it your all. And you'll realize that if the marriage counseling had helped even a tiny bit, you, your kids, and your ex might still be trapped in that miserable marriage.
2. Your kids are going to be fine. I'm not going to sugar coat this: divorce is hell. It's hard on everyone, including your kids. But you are all going to come through this with flying colors. And not only are your kids going to be okay, they will be better than they were when they were subjected to that mess of a marriage.
The key to helping them pull through this with the least amount of emotional trauma comes down to this: Trust your gut. You've got good instincts when it comes to your kids, so make sure to follow them. And don't forget to take care of yourself so you can be in a position to take good care of them, too.
But there are a couple of messages you need to deliver to your kids. Make sure Aaron knows you're fine. He's worried about you and that's why he keeps checking on you all the time. Tell him you appreciate his concern, but at twenty-three years old he does not need to be your babysitter. Tell him you'll take a rain check on all that doting on you he's doing, and you'll cash in, with interest, in about forty years when you're in the dementia unit of the old folks home. He can come check on you as much as he wants then.
And Hannah's worried about you, too. Even though she's not quite seven, she's always regarded you as capable and resourceful. But right now she's not so sure. Let her know that while you are sometimes sad about the divorce, you are still strong -- strong enough to take care of her. Strong enough to get through this. And strong enough to help shepherd her through this, too.
3. You and your ex won't hate each other forever. I know it seems hard to imagine right now, but you're going to get to the point where the two of you aren't at war anymore. It's not like you're going to be BFFs or anything. But you don't need to be BFFs -- or even just plain friends -- to be effective co-parents. But it really helps to not hate each other. It's going to take a while, but I promise you'll get there.
In the meantime, here's a little trick I learned. Think of your ex as a Home Depot employee. After the Home Depot man helps you with something, you don't analyze every word he said. You don't obsess over the exchange. You don't let the encounter wreck your day. No. You thank him, go about your business, and don't give him another thought. Your ex is the Home Depot man. Treat him accordingly.
4. Your marriage counselor was right. You know those last couple of sessions you had booked with your marriage counselor before you moved out? He's going to suggest that you use them as solo sessions to examine your role in your disaster marriage so you won't make the same mistakes in a future relationship. You're going to be really offended at that suggestion -- not because you object to his characterizing your marriage as a disaster. And not because you don't accept the fact that you played a role in it. Rather, you'll be offended at his insistence that you will end up in another relationship, because you have zero interest in ever dating again.
The thing is he's right. Eventually, you are going to date again -- and you're even going to get into a full-blown relationship. In fact, your future boyfriend (who is awesome, by the way) has asked me to tell you that he would really appreciate it if you sort through at least some of these issues before he comes along. He says you'll both lose a lot less sleep if you follow your counselor's advice. And that will help with those bags under your eyes -- but that's my advice, not his. He's way too awesome to say anything like that.
5. Let your lawyer do his job. You chose your lawyer carefully. Now trust your decision and back off a little. He's going to make a mistake or two (or three -- but who's counting?) along the way. (Like accidentally mailing a letter for you to your ex's address. Not cool.) But remember, he's human and humans make mistakes -- including you. After all, if everyone were perfect you wouldn't be getting a divorce right now.
One of your main frustrations with him is going to be this: You're going to feel like he treats your divorce like routine business, and you're going to wish he acted like he cared just a little more. Part of the problem is his minimalist communication style, and there is definitely room for improvement there.
But the fact is your divorce is routine business for him -- and that's not a bad thing. You don't want your lawyer taking your divorce personally. Taking things personally clouds one's judgment. So, let your friends and family take your divorce personally, and let your lawyer do his job.
Here's another thing to watch out for: You're going to think your lawyer isn't listening to you when you tell him (over and over and over again) that your main concern is your daughter, not the money. But he's not blowing you off. He knows that unless there's abuse or neglect, your ex is going to get your daughter first, third and fifth weekends just like everyone else.
I know the thought of your daughter being gone that much sounds terrible right now, but the sooner you make your peace with it the better. The reason the standard schedule for non-custodial parents is so common is because it works pretty well.
Your lawyer has seen what happens when people get so rattled about the kids that they take their eye off the ball when it comes to the property division. His job is to make sure the property division is fair so you will be in the best position possible to care for yourself and your daughter. By focusing on this aspect of the divorce, he is actually helping you and your kids in both the short and long run.
There's so much more I could tell you, but my goal is to arm you with knowledge, not spoil any surprises. And boy, are there some fantastic surprises coming your way. So, keep your chin up and try to enjoy the weight loss while it lasts. When your fighting spirit returns, your fighting weight won't be far behind.
Happy Annivorceary! Rock your pearls of wisdom with impunity and I'll see you in five years!