Navigating the Post-Divorce Parental Waters/Nechama Fine

Posted on December 13, 2010


In all honesty, I had not gotten along with David’s dad even before David was born. But born David was, and Mike and I couldn’t have been happier. David was never intended to be an anchor for our marriage. In fact, as often happens in a euphemistically “not-so-good marriage” the situation worsened after David’s birth. But the prospect of raising my son in a broken home felt intolerable and wrong, so like many, I stayed on the “not-so-good-ship marriage” which had begun to sink deeper each day. Until my son was ten years old, I hung on for dear life, telling myself that no sacrifice was too great; that the family must, for the sake of our son, and perhaps a bit for that of my own, remain intact. But by the time I decided to untie the knot, I was less concerned about the effect of divorce than the effect on David of our staying together. An abusive marriage was not the type of marriage role model I wanted to provide for my son. And then there was the picture in my mind: waking up some time in old age, thinking: how could I have thrown it all away? Where was my own sense of integrity?

Even with that level of clarity about my son, and the marriage, personal fear kept me chained to my marriage, and David was an integral part of the fear. Would I be able to provide an adequate home for my son? How would his father and I divide the time with him between us? And, of course, how could we minimize David’s pain in this life-altering situation?

I needed information, so I put on my journalist hat and investigated and published two stories for the New York Times, for which I was freelancing at the time. One article was on ways to soften the brunt on children during the divorce process. Part of the way, I discovered, to minimize acrimony was to mediate a divorce, rather than hire separate lawyers. David had seen enough dissention in the marriage; I strongly sensed that the divorce process would make the “marital relationship” far worse. Divorce mediators looked at the entire picture, and aimed to lead the two parties to a more peaceable solution. If mediation meant getting fewer “things” in the marriage, the loss would be offset by a far more peaceable divorce.

The other article focused on the larger role that fathers were playing in child custody. I already knew, first hand, of the great importance of fathers to sons, especially sons in their pre-adolescent and adolescent years. Although Mike had failed me as a husband, he had turned out to be a fine, loving, supportive father. For better and for worse, he was also my son’s chief male role model. While David had always been very close to both of us, my hugging, sensitive, compassionate, rapport-oriented son was quickly becoming more of a “guy’s guy,” a dad’s boy, than a mom’s boy. His particular initiation into the male fold in our family had been accompanied by a more-than-occasional,” I don’t have to listen to Moms who can’t do anything right” type attitude. Not surprising given what he saw modeled in our home, and more fodder to move along with the divorce.

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