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Meredith Baxter Headshot

How I Became A Better Divorcee

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MEREDITH BAXTER
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I was not a gay divorcee. No, that wasn't to happen for many years down the road. I was a very unhappy, self-centered divorcee, resorting to all the worst tactics therapists warn against: using the children as pawns, bad-mouthing the other parent and terminal self-pity. I particularly recall one daughter's high school graduation in the early '90s where I refused to attend the dinner party in her honor because her father would be attending. He and I were two years into a bitter and contentious divorce and child custody battle in which I felt demeaned and powerless; I brought all my agony and vitriol to her commencement celebration. I demanded she have another dinner afterward with me, support me because I was the victim in these legal hostilities. I was so in the drama of my drama. (Poor baby..she was so caught in the web of parental dictums. I had divorced him but she hadn't.)

I think back on how I made her take care of me, with no consideration of the burden this put on her. I came to understand all this in the following years as I got sober, reflected back on my behaviors and decided to change.

I had a rollicking opportunity to make a living amends to her at her June wedding just a few years ago. She was getting married at an historic church in Martha's Vineyard, with an elaborate dinner reception at the romantic and pastoral Lambert's Cove Inn, where many of the wedding guests were staying. Since my stepdad had a house a short distance away in Edgartown, the bride and groom, the bridesmaids, my younger children and I, were going to stay there; my ex and his girlfriend would be at Lambert's Cove, a gorgeous place but, to him, not in the inner circle. A snit was made about his being left out, marginalized, while everyone else got to be together. Now I have to admit, I wouldn't have wanted to be in his shoes. I have five children and I experience my kids as a great rowdy bunch. There's a lot of fun, wrestling, singing, laughing when we're together; we are where you want to be. But there was no extra bedroom at the house for their dad; ironically, there was only room at the Inn.

My daughter was obviously feeling the normal bridal anxiety and pressure of managing the out of town visitors, the ever-expanding dinner list, floral mismanagement, musician cancellations. I didn't want her to be stressed about trying to appease her father; no one wanted to risk the ensuing criticism if he were displeased. I was afraid she would be sagging under the kind of intimidation that had so hampered my married years and that I, too, in my self-indulgence, had in the past inflicted on her.

It was clear to me that my ex felt left out. He was the father of the bride but, of the two parents, only he wasn't at the house with the wedding party. It also occurred to me that if I wanted the best day for my daughter, if I wanted to forestall any possible pressure from my ex-husband, I should do what I could to make him happy. I packed up my bag (leaving my baggage behind) and moved to the Inn as an equalizing measure. I welcomed my ex and his girlfriend, whom I quite liked, and suggested we work together on some reception activity.

We all drove together to the wedding rehearsal and he and I went over the pre-arranged plan of us both escorting the bride down the aisle. I was gladly part of his small family luncheon. I sought his input on a few reception seating arrangements, hoping he felt a part of, useful and included. I had to put away the angry mom if I wanted my daughter to have a happy dad.
And here's the happy news...it was all fine. I felt like a grown-up. I was liking this better self. We were all having a wonderful time at the wedding. The church was stunningly decorated; the bride's four siblings, equally stunning, stood at the front ready to receive their sister. The groom stood, expectant and hopeful, as he looked towards us at the back of the church as the processional began. Our moment was upon us, mother and father, our radiant child between us. At the prearranged moment, I sallied forth but he waited a few beats, holding onto his daughter. I looked around, puzzled to be sallying solo. It was at that point that they followed behind me, he alone escorting her down the aisle.

Well. Okay then.

The rest of the ceremony went off beautifully, seamlessly even. I wept copiously, which felt appropriate. It was a sensational day and that was the only thing that mattered.

So, I found out I don't need to like someone to treat them well which, at the time, was a relatively new concept for me. I have learned to want for him, because it has a ripple effect, touching everyone, even coming back to me. I work on wanting that every day. It costs nothing to be kind and surprisingly, it makes me feel better. I don't' often feel the cruel bitterness that in the past had dogged my days. My actions changed my thinking. I feel whole, full of peace, love and willingness. Twenty years ago, I hadn't even known to want any of that.