Relative Evolutions - Evolve, Don't Dissolve

Thanksgiving And Divorce

turkey handFrom the time I was very young, my closest extended family members were a minimum two-hour drive away.  With the exception of vacations, I saw them only on holidays and special occasions. Before my parents divorced, we had a routine for this time of year:  Thanksgiving was always spent with my dad’s family, and we alternated Christmases between my mom’s and dad’s families.

After the divorce, I assumed my holiday schedule would remain the same, and it did.  For me, keeping the same routine was important for two reasons:

  1. In the beginning, there was a comfort in keeping the same tradition.
  2. Also, by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, it had been a couple months since I’d seen my cousins and I was eager to catch up (back then we didn’t have Facebook).


I have no idea if my parents entertained alternatives to the established holiday plans when they separated.  If they did, I don’t recall them telling me.  At the time, I was a teenager, and it never occurred to me that my mom or dad might’ve felt left out or lonely if they didn’t spend those days with their children.  (Thanks Mom and Dad for allowing me to remain blissfully unaware of your inner turmoil)

Given the circumstances around our holiday travel schedule, I think it made the most sense to keep the same tradition.  But things might’ve been different if my extended family members lived closer, or if we didn’t normally spend the holidays with them.  As an adult, my Thanksgiving plans have evolved quite a bit as my parents and I navigated our ways through various relationships and holiday traditions.

As if evolving relationships and living arrangements aren’t enough to stress a family, The Holidays can bring a special kind of pain for a separated couple.  Under the weight of the-way-it-used-to-be, family members can feel haunted by memories and plagued by shame.  This is a natural human reaction, but that fact doesn’t make it hurt any less.  The best anyone can do in this wintery emotional season is to bundle up, shovel a path through the unknown and trust that this too, shall pass.

My wish for all children of divorce is that they can remain as blissfully ignorant to the discomfort of their situation as I was.  Does it make sense to allow your children to continue the same traditions?  If so, great.  If not, what can you do to ensure this holiday season, although different from those before, isn’t particularly unhappy?

Express gratitude.  It’s been said, “When gratitude is your wrapping paper, everything is a gift.” A tough year might not seem so tough when you count your blessings.  Don’t forget the smallest things like hot chocolate, your favorite book and laughs you’ve shared as a family.

Let the kids participate.  The transition might not feel so foreign if children have an opportunity to craft this year’s story.  Let them create decorations, assist in cooking the meal or choose a special dessert.

Experiment with new traditions.  How about spaghetti instead of turkey?  A restaurant instead of Grandma’s House?  A morning jog to help build up an appetite?  Ending the day with a trip to the movies?

Spending holiday time alone?  As I typed the previous line, I recalled one year as a teenager when both of my parents chose to have Thanksgiving dinner with their partners’ families. I think I was 17 at the time, and while I liked my parents’ partners I wasn’t comfortable spending the holiday with their extended family members.  Instead, I scored an invite to dinner at a close friend’s house.  This is typically an enjoyable option, so long as you won’t feel out of place.  An alternate plan is to book an escape over the holiday- just get out of town and spend some time indulging your own desires.  Or stay home, sleep late and make a day-long date with the television.  Yet another choice would be to volunteer for a local charity.  Whatever you choose, choose something if you’re having a hard time envisioning the day alone.

Do you have anything to add?  How have you found joy in the holidays, post-separation?

Oct 13, 2015 - divorce, family    No Comments

What Does an Election Have in Common With Divorce?

I was so mad

I love this book

In the shower one morning, as I was rinsing my hair, I mentally stepped back to notice the chatter going on inside my head.  To my dismay, I realized I was deeply entangled in an imaginary argument with some family members.  About politics.  And what’s worse is that my imaginary argument was the continuation of a real discussion that took place two weeks prior.

Two.  Weeks.  Prior.

What’s wrong with me? A billion things have happened since then. I highly doubt anyone involved in that discussion is still thinking about it now.  Why am I?  Why aren’t I focusing on my plans for the day?  I could be thinking about my upcoming vacation.  Lots of things would be a more productive use of my mental capacity.

At first, I tried to simply shift gears.  I attempted to occupy my mind with my list of goals and the TED Talk I’d watched before getting out of bed…  But eventually I decided to dissect and investigate my hypothetical argumentative olympics.

I started where I always start:  Why?  Why was I thinking about this now?

Because of Facebook.  I was thinking about the discussion two weeks before because before I got in the shower, I saw some things on Facebook that reminded me of the issues we discussed.  I was triggered by Facebook.  It’s Facebook’s fault!

What was it that triggered me?

The issues!  Those important issues that some people are So Wrong about and others are So Right.  Those people who are Wrong need to be stopped.  Someone needs to shut them up.

And why was I triggered by Those Issues and not others?

Because Those Issues are important right now!  Because….

Because they’re up for debate.  Because, as a result of the debate, My Preferred Way might not prevail.  Because there’s a political race happening, and there will be winners and losers.  And I don’t want to be a loser.  Because (naturally) I’m right, and They are wrong.  And They deserve to lose.  Not me.  Not my Side.

Ugh.  So, long story short:  I was feeling insecure about some hot-button issues.  In order to soothe my ego, I got angry and entered into an imaginary battle (which, of course, I was winning) in my head.  Because I just couldn’t let it go.  It was too important (to me, at the time).

But, this isn’t a blog about politics.  This is a blog about separation, divorce, and human relationships.  And my experience that morning wasn’t unlike what happens in the minds of countless exes every second of every day.  And, for the most part, the reasons are the same.

A breakup shakes a family in the same way a high-level political race shakes up a nation.  Things aren’t going to be the way they used to be.  Power is up for grabs (or, at least, the perception of power).  There are two sides with differing opinions about how to solve problems.  Each side has an audience of supporters.  Debates happen.  Mud is slung.  Tempers flare.  Everybody’s all in, and nobody wants to lose.  The issues are discussed across dinner tables.  And people rehearse and rehash arguments in the shower.

Is it really appropriate to view either one of these as a contest?  Aren’t we all on the same side?

In most cases.

At the national level, we’re all Americans.  While we might disagree, we share a history.  We have pride in that history.  There are songs and stories which tug at our heartstrings and bind us to each other, regardless of race, religion, location or political affiliation.

And the same is true for families.  Family members share a history. There are stories, songs and memories that bind them together regardless of where they live or what they believe.

Disagreements happen, but don’t forget the existence of the bigger picture.  In times of conflict, embrace that.


Sep 21, 2015 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Your Heart… Is Something.

I was 544 words into another blog post when I stumbled across this plan-altering video.  To summarize:  in less than 3 minutes, a little girl explains to her mother why her parents should be friends.

She doesn’t simply say, “Don’t fight.”  She puts forth the most heartfelt logic to back up her request:

“My heart… is something.  Everyone else’s heart is something too.”

Her words touched my heart.  Although this child was requesting that her parents lower the height of their conflict, her reasoning extends far beyond domestic disagreements.

After watching the video, I thought about my neighbors.  I thought about my friends.  I considered the political debates, the refugees and the new Facebook “Dislike” button.  I remembered some pains from my past as well as a few times when I also lashed out in anger.

The timing couldn’t be better, as today is the International Day of Peace, and the theme is about working together to partner for peace.  Peace… in our homes… our offices… our relationships… our hearts.

“My heart… is something.  Everyone else’s heart is something too.  If everyone’s being mean, everyone’s gonna be a monster in the future…”

Sep 16, 2015 - divorce, family, Uncategorized    No Comments

Communication Breakdown (in the woods and in the world)

The following tale of communication breakdown isn’t about divorce.  Except, it is.  It’s also about all other relationships…

Once upon a time, I went hiking with a group and became separated from one of my companions.  When he didn’t meet the rest of us at the end of the trail, I backtracked, searching for him.  I called his name.  He didn’t answer.  I walked faster.  I searched harder.  I called louder.  No response

I was on the verge of panic when I heard him yell my name.  “TARA?!” 

I darted in the direction of his voice.  As I rounded a curve in the trail, he came into view. 

“Where were you?” I asked him.  “What happened?”

This kind of thing often happens in life, minus the literal forest.  Sometimes people don’t meet us where we expect them to.  They don’t act according to our expectations.  Sometimes it’s because they’re lost.  Sometimes it’s because their mind is in a different place.  Sometimes they’ve purposely chosen to walk in a different direction or on a different path.

This is especially difficult when it happens with people we’re close to.  There’s usually an emotional response similar to what I experienced on the hiking trail:  panic, confusion, fear, anger, helplessness.  There’s often a physical reaction driven by those emotions:  screaming, weakness, heightened senses or perhaps superhuman strength.  The loss of control is devastating.  At this point, productive communication can be impossible.

When my friend was lost in the woods, there was so much I wanted to say to him, but I couldn’t. He couldn’t hear me because he was in a different place.  That’s also true, in the not-so-literal sense, when other types of disconnection occur.  

Have you ever been fully engaged in a conversation with someone who couldn’t hear you?  Have you paced, prodded, asked, insisted and used new words to communicate the same ideas? Have you raised your volume to an embarrassing level?  There are times when such tactics simply won’t work.  That’s when it’s time to stop trying to control the situation.  Relax your clenched fist, take a breath and remind yourself, “We’re not in the same forest.”

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know whether or not the other person is truly lost and wants to be found.  Sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they need to find their own way.  Sometimes it’s appropriate to rush in.  Sometimes it’s better to wait it out.  And sometimes it’s best to let go and walk your own path.

Sometimes we're lucky to find a bridge

Sometimes we’re lucky to find a bridge

Sep 3, 2015 - divorce, Uncategorized    2 Comments

Rethinking “Till Death Do Us Part”

For the most part, people don’t get married with the intention of getting divorced.  Everyone knows the odds, and everyone wants to beat them.  Everyone thinks their union is strong enough to last “till death do us part.”  What if I told you that everyone is right?  Everyone succeeds.

A different view

A different view

A few weeks ago, I met a young man on a mountain top.  As we chatted, he told me a little about his spiritual journey. He was an atheist until the day he sensed the presence of God while observing animals at play.  From that point on, things changed for him, and now he’s a Christian with a new outlook on life and a new career which he finds fulfilling.

As our conversation progressed, we talked about my work, and I explained my passion for helping people break up.  He’d never heard anyone say the things I said (I hear that a lot). Although he agreed that my approach and philosophies were more productive than traditional divorce proceedings, he couldn’t quite concede that divorce could be a good thing.  He referenced God’s continued commitment to the church.  He said if he were married and facing difficulties, he hoped he’d have the same patience and presence that God exhibits.  Because, after all, when people get married, they promise to be together “till death do us part.”

“Yes, but people change,” I told him.  ”Are you the same person you were when you were an atheist?”

He emphatically stated that he was not.

“That atheist is gone, right?  You might even say he’s dead.”

There was a questioning, cautious nod.

“So, what if you’d gotten married years ago?  That man your hypothetical wife married is dead now.”

As the moments go by, people change.  I referenced this in my previous post:  we learn new things.  We change our hairstyle.  We change our jobs.  We change our minds.  I’m not the child I was 30 years ago.  I’m not the naive 20-something I was on my wedding day.  I’m not the freshly-showered, smartly-dressed professional who rushed out my front door this morning (truth be told:  clay is cracking on my face as I type this).

If we can accept the fact that we change, why not embrace the idea that older versions of ourselves no longer exist?  It’s actually quite freeing, isn’t it?  This philosophy means we’re no longer prisoners of our past.  After all… that toddler who wet the bed wasn’t You.  That child with the goofy glasses and skinned knees wasn’t You.  That adolescent who missed the kiss wasn’t You.

The woman who married my now-ex-husband wasn’t Me.  And the man she married wasn’t the man who is now my ex-husband.

“Till death do us part” wasn’t one of my wedding vows, but I still think we accomplished that feat (and then some).  And so did everyone else who’s ever gotten married.  Regardless of how long the union lasted.