While I've always been grateful and even proud of how my parents chose to end their relationship as a couple, I can appreciate the challenges more today in the midst of my own painful break-up with my children's father. Prior to a divorce, it's impossible to imagine the emotional roller-coaster that is waiting; the pain and the guilt experienced at the lowest moments of separation, no matter what the cause or reasons; a separation made far more painful and difficult by the conflict between two adults who cannot get their act together as mature evolved human beings.
While my parents were not immune to occasionally acting like "non-adults" in other areas of their lives during their own process, especially from the viewpoint of a precocious teen, I really do have to hand it to them for the way they handled their separation, a long time before we ever heard of 'conscious uncoupling'.
It took them several years to get to the point of separation because they truly loved and liked each other. However, one day they were no longer made for each other. In their early twenties they had fulfilled each other's childhood fantasies of Prince Charming and his bride, but by their late thirties, with four kids in tow and many life lessons under their belt, they had released a lot of preconceived ideas about who they were supposed to be and had begun to experiment different forms of living to see if they could discover their newer selves, the part of them that was not a mother or a father. After experiencing the pain of rejection, depression, nervous breakdowns, "vacations" and moves to other environments, cities and countries, still trying to make it work for another 10 years, my parents finally agreed it was time to let go. Without a clue as to what had been going on, and now in my teens, I was surprised to feel a sense of relief when I heard the news.
There was never a raised voice, lack of respect, arguments to make us fear for them or for ourselves. However, I could hear my mother's constant sighs through closed doors, rattling my nerves. I noticed and was exasperated by my father's listlessness. Unaware of the details, I perceived, almost subconsciously, that they weren't really where they wanted to be. They were restless, unsatisfied, stuck; they weren't present. What did make sense for me, when I finally understood the new arrangements, was their search for individual happiness. It did not seem selfish or impractical. It was like taking the lid off the pressure cooker.
I was seventeen by the time they separated and almost ready to fly myself. Perhaps if it had been earlier it would have hit me harder, I would have understood less, it would have made me sadder considering I had felt a sense of pride around the age of 12 that my parents were still together, with so many other parents divorcing. Perhaps I just had a good coping mechanism or laisser-faire attitude. What I can remember feeling strongly and instinctively back then, is that no one should determine the path of another out of a misguided sense of duty. No one should have to sacrifice their happiness or sense of fulfillment for another or even for me, even if it hurts. What kind of love demands that you pretend?
My parents tried, but the pain of pretending for the sake of the children was too great. They eventually allowed the possibility of growth and happiness outside of their coupledom and let the other act accordingly. And this is why I am grateful: they decided to leave each other and continued to be friends; they continued to support each other and communicate. They were able to do this, not only for our sake but because they had genuinely loved each other as a couple and could continue to love each other after. They learned that true love is allowing the other their freedom, even if it means letting go. And we all learned that when you can do that, you never actually lose the other person, and you don't actually separate a family. In fact, over time, the family can grow and mature.
My parents met fantastic people after they started new lives as individuals. I am grateful to my mother's partner, who would look the other way when my father called my mother "darling" and "honey", years after they separated, simply out of habit and sincere affection. My mother's 'two loves' even worked together as business partners on projects. Of course, most people thought this was strange, or "modern", particularly since I grew up in a Latin American country. I simply thought it was cool.
Today, in my pain of not living the possibility of a loving relationship with my children's father, I can appreciate just how lucky I was that my parents came together and then parted, not as each other's possession, but as friends. I know it is very rare. They showed me that despite moving out on their own, we were still a family in a broader way. Yes, as children we sense a loss, of course, but this is very much connected to how separation and divorce are handled. Over time and with both parents handing out love and respect to each other, you have the chance to realize that life is all about loss and new opportunities, and that, in the best of circumstances, hopefully sooner than later, you can decide whether it is the loss, or the new opportunities, that you will focus on. Fortunately, for my family, we all decided to look forward.