Saturday, October 09, 2004

What We'll Never Know

When my kid does something bad at school -- and he did something bad at school this week -- you can't help wondering as a divorced parent whether the divorce plays into it a little, a lot, or not at all.

It's something tough about being divorced with kids. As guilty as you can feel about times when you might let your kids down or perhaps do the wrong thing by them as a married parent, you can't imagine how guilty you can feel as a divorced parent.

The phrase "broken home" still haunts one, however far it's flown from the common parlance and no matter how modern everyone likes to pretend to be about divorce, you often have very dark moments wondering, "Would he have done this if I were still married? Is it about the divorce?" You can see the word "broken" in the furrows of the brows of some teachers, some principals, you wonder if you're being paranoid, you wonder what people say behind your back, you wonder what the school psychologist has helpfully noted in your kid's school record.

Divorced parents will never know. Nor will widowed parents. Things happen and kids do dumb things -- all part of growing up -- but "in tact" families have the luxury of not "going there" in their deep dark moments -- try 3:00am in bed without a spouse who use to make 3:00am feel a lot safer -- wondering "is this normal run-of-the-mill kid stuff, or is this about THAT?" And THAT can be so many things. THAT can be a divorce, or a death of a parent, or simply the more and more routine fact of a child raised from birth by one parent, or a family where a sibling has died.

But many of the THAT's I mention are not volitional. No one spends two years and a lot of money getting widowed intentionally. So divorce carries its own little guilty heart dagger of knowing you chose to get divorced to save your sanity and your life, and perhaps it was selfish and really ruined your kid's life in the process. Sometimes I think of it as getting a seat in a lifeboat and wondering if you've left your kids up on the deck of a sinking ship in some way. I got out relatively unscathed, but did my son?

Again, these are the dark moments when you let your thoughts run away with you, because in the light of day, you know you're all probably better off and happier now separated from your former spouse. No one goes through such hell for no good reason.

But when your little guiltfest is done, you have to acknowledge that whatever your kid did, they might have done the same damned thing if you were married, or something even worse if you'd remained unhappily married. The bottom line is, we'll never know.