The other night my eldest yelled that his father and I suck at divorce. We had spent the afternoon at a dance recital and all the disparate pieces of my children's extended family had converged. My ex's family and my family. We had come together to celebrate. But tensions, awkward hugs and tightly smiled platitudes were my son's take-aways from the event. An event that could have been joyous and relaxed in an alternate universe. In a different family. And had his parent's not gotten divorced. (Children of divorce can always imagine a warm connected family if only their parents hadn't thrown it all away).
While my son's sentiment was still fresh I wondered why a good enough divorce is not part of the therapy world's parlance. Divorce makes you guilty. You try forever to make up the loss to your children. This started me thinking about good enough mothering. Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician who studied the mother child bond, dubbed the term.
In summary, good enough mothering allows for the world to disappoint your child, while not abandoning your child during the disappointment(s). See? There's a lot of room for interpretation. That's what I always liked about the theory too.
Introducing the good enough divorce: the art of letting the loss of divorce wash over your child, while you wait on the shore for their sputtering, spitting, disillusioned persons to arrive. After all, what more can be done? Sure, we can do therapy. We do. We can talk at home. We do. We have. We can rationalize, explain and listen. But in the end, divorce fractures a child's life. And all we can do is pass them a glue stick. They have to make a collage they can stand being part of. We offer our children experiences, people, places and ideas they can choose to add to their collage. We might suggest a few additions.
Ultimately children make sense of divorce on their own. Their story. Their collage. We strike an odd counter intuitive balance of allowing them to hurt while not fixing the ouch. That's hard. Because to let our children feel pain is in itself painful. But that's what we can do. And that's good enough, because it has to be.
And on days like after the dance recital, when you've been divorced five years and your kid sometimes still reels, let the hot adrenaline sent to fix the pain -- fix the pain my child is in, reabsorb. Because you my friend, have a good enough divorce. Nothing more and nothing less. And you've got a seat on the shore next to me, and millions of others.
For the record, my ex and I do suck at divorce. Doesn't everyone?
I don't want to hear about the ex's who like each other more than ever, the ex's who are best friends, or the ex's who vacation with their new signifigant others. Those stories are the exceptions. Right? I'm right, right?