My adult son said this to me thirty years after his father and I were divorced. He went on to say, “I have strengths now that I don’t think I would have except for the way you and Dad did your divorce.”
I was astonished when my son said this to me. Jim is now the father of four children and works with children and young adults as the director of a summer camp for kids. He went on to add, “because you guys did it so well, it saddens me when I see divorcing parents not handle their divorce well and then use their kids as weapons.”
When his father and I were separating Jim was 14 years old and his brother was 11 years old. During our separation and divorce and afterward his father and I just wanted to make sure our kids would be okay – we made all of our joint decisions based upon what we thought would be in their best interests. It never occurred to me that our children might develop strengths and resilience as a result of our separation and divorce.
Jim described for me how he experienced our separation and divorce: “For one thing, we always knew we would never lose a parent. We never heard you and Dad arguing, and neither of you ever said anything bad about the other. And then, by moving between Dad’s house and Mom’s house on a regular schedule every week, I developed the ability to be completely where I am when I am there.”
Jim went on to share with me how, when he went away to college, his experience living at both Mom’s house and Dad’s house gave him the insight and resilience to settle into his dorm room and be completely there. He saw other students sometimes struggle dealing with this first experience of living away from home – a struggle that he didn’t have. He added that his ability to be completely where he is when he is there has been a strength that he has appreciated for a long time.
For me, this conversation with my son clarified for me that how parents conduct themselves during and after separation and divorce has a significant impact on their children and, interestingly, can help their children develop strengths and resilience along the way. Life is full of challenges and giving our children the opportunity to face and conquer age-appropriate challenges (divorce offers many such challenges) can give them the gift of developing lifelong strengths and resilience.