In the middle of a divorce, you never really know what's coming.
That was never more clear than the day my ex-husband and I attended mediation -- a court-mandated affair that neither of us was looking forward to. I'd spent most of my day actively trying not to think about it so as not to get washed away in a sea of anxiety.
I was coming with news that I knew he wasn't going to like; I was gearing to throw a curveball that may knock the wind out of him. Not intentionally -- never intentionally -- but divorce is a messy business. Words and phrases that we normally wouldn't give a second thought take a whole new meaning. Barbs and sharp edges appear where they were never intended. Everything is scrutinized and picked apart and assumptions are made that are occasionally incorrect. Wittingly or not, the conclusion is drawn that the other party is out to get you. Sometimes that conclusion is spot-on. Sometimes it's not.
The natural fight-or-flight response crashes in huge, exhausting waves until you feel cornered, and you act out on a purely primal urge for self-preservation. This happens even in the most black and white divorces and I, being the least assertive person I know, was having a difficult time with even the thought of asking for what I wanted.
So, after a rousing pep talk from my best friend and a couple cleansing breaths in the rest room, I stepped into the conference room.
I took my seat and reminded myself, once again, that I had nothing to apologize for. I reminded myself that, in order to avoid making waves, I'd been going along with agreements regarding my children that I simply wasn't okay with. I'd made decisions that I didn't believe were in their best interests. If nothing else, I owed it to them -- those four little people we made together who weren't big enough to have a voice for themselves -- to suck it up and do what I believed best.
Steeling my spine and summoning the spirit of those children, I pitched it out there.
"I would like full custody, instead of splitting it. I don't feel it's beneficial for our children to sleep in a different bed every few days."
As soon as the words were out I tried to soften them, following up with explanation and, almost, pleading. Please, I thought. Please don't think I'm attacking you. I'm not.
I swallowed hard and continued. "I think we can work out a schedule where you get to see them every day. I'm willing to compromise on our parenting time to figure this out. I don't want to take time away from you; I think you're vital to their development. I just want them to have the stability of the same bed at the end of the day."
My request hung in the air for a beat too long, needing a moment to unfurl and settle into place. I held my breath and looked at the table, the ceiling, anywhere but at him. I was ashamed and sick to my stomach for introducing conflict. I was terrified this would be yet another ugly fight. The room was still, hanging in the balance.
My head snapped up. "What's that?"
He cleared his throat and leaned into the table. "I agree," he said again. "You're right."
Words cannot accurately express the feeling of relief those four words brought me, like ointment on a burn. The steel in my spine softened a bit, the anxiety ebbed, and I was finally able to take a deep breath.
I made a mistake, walking into this divorce. Not the divorce itself -- that had been coming for some time -- rather in my monumental underestimation of the fallout. I knew my children would have a hard time with it. I knew there would be difficult days. I expected a few tears; I expected that I hadn't seen the end of the hurt or the humiliation of my situation. I did not, however, anticipate the magnitude of raw feelings that would haunt me. I didn't realize just how much I'd been affected by our marital problems, by the sticky residue that remained after our years together. I never imagined it would be this hard. I never imagined so many shades of gray in our black-and-white world.
I'm thankful I found the courage to stand up for what I believed to be best for my children. I'm thankful we were able to temper that with a cooperative agreement. And I'm thankful for his show of grace that allowed us to move forward into a cooperative co-parenting relationship for our children. Divorce is a terribly difficult process, but even the smallest show of grace on both sides can make things so much easier.
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