Let’s face it, when you watch an Adam Sandler movie you aren’t really expecting to find any sort of wisdom of any kind. Laughter is few and far between and his movies have slowly degraded over the years as people still watch based out of loyalty from Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. These films struck a chord with us in our youth and still to this day I can watch each of them and laugh. Not so much with the newer films but those two have stuck with me over the years. Imagine my surprise to be watching one of his latest and hearing a line in it that did not make me laugh but made me think. I will paraphrase because I couldn’t make myself watch it again, but the dialogue read something along the lines of, “My generation had the war, yours has the divorce.”
I heard this and immediately was struck with how honest and true it actually was. The biggest traumatic event that my generation has had to deal with is not one of global tragedy but personal circumstance. The divorce has become an American tradition. At one point in time in our culture it was considered to be a social faux pas to go through a divorce. It was rare. In our society as it stands today the opposite is true. To be married to your spouse for an extended amount of time is the rarity.
How odd is that?
I am no stranger to divorce myself and have been through it both as a child and as an adult that has two small children of his own. What I have found is that our past generations fought wars across seas to protect our country, our generation has found a new war to fight and we have chosen to fight it against people that at one point in time we chose to marry. Across seas lives are lost literally and the damages are felt psychologically at home. In our own homes when we go through divorce lives feel as if they are lost figuratively and the damages are felt psychologically by our children. The casualty of the war of divorce is felt by our children and they are the victims.
My own personal experience with divorce as a child was one that left me split between the homes of my mother and my father. I spent half the week with my father and half the week with my mother. The result of this left me living two very different lives in two very different homes. With my mother I was home with a woman that loved me, but felt the need to start a new life. Often times it felt as if I was not a part of the plan for this new life. I am not saying I was ever neglected because in no way was I ever, but what I am saying is that it was a change that I was not prepared for. At one point in time with my mother I was the end all be all and when we went through this change in our lives I felt as if I stopped being the baby boy and I had to become the juvenile appendage. It was hard for both of us to adjust, but in the end it allowed us to build a stronger relationship, not as mother and son, but as two adults that grew to respect each other and eventually became friends.
Parents cannot be a friend to their children, instead they need to be parents. They need to teach and they need to instruct. When the child has learned what they need to become able bodied adults then the parent and the child can develop an adult relationship. This is not saying that they agree on everything. It is merely stating that they find ways to respectfully disagree. It’s funny how that transition happens. I talk to my mother every chance I get and often seek her out for council, but as I have grown into the person that she helped mold me into, I find that as I grow older she seeks me out for council just as often as I do her. If not more. She called me last week and to tell me that she was lying awake at night and was so proud that she had such a smart, level-headed, incredible, son to which I replied, “It took you 26 years to figure this out, Madre?” “You weren’t always right, you know,” she says. “True, but I always thought that I was and that’s half the battle.” How relationships evolve over time is a funny thing.
As a child spending half the week with my father was a challenge. It was living with the complete opposite of living with my mother. My mother had made an adamant decision to MOVE ON. My father was stuck in his own personal purgatory in which he allowed the bitterness from what happened consume him. He came from a very poor family and he finally achieved one of his lifelong goals of owning a home in his 40s yet he could find no joy in it. I was fortunate enough to accomplish this at 25.
When I lived with him I had no social life because I spent the latter part of the week at his house. I had no weekends and could spend no time with my friends. I spent my weekends working at his brother’s home and doing odd jobs that made absolutely no sense to me at that age whatsoever. It took me until later in my life to realize that they were trying to instill a work ethic in me. My maternal grandfather did this too when I worked in his tobacco patches and where I spent my summers. At my father’s I once had to take a sledgehammer to a set of concrete steps that were placed in his yard for only that reason. They were bigger than me, I had to bust them up into pieces, load them into a wheelbarrow, and dump them into a creek. There were different jobs from week to week, all of which I complained about, and all of which I did begrudgingly along with mowing my father’s lawn, my uncle’s lawn, and my great uncle’s lawn for which I was paid in cheeseburgers and mocked for being overweight. Fun times.
People were not allowed inside my father’s home. He never said no, but there was an unspoken rule that people were not allowed to come visit. His home was sterile, it was clean, it had nothing hanging on the walls, and for the most part it looked the same ten years after he owned it just as it did when he purchased it. Aside from random furniture being purchased the house was sparse and lacking anything other than bare walls. It was and still is a beautiful home, but he just never found a desire or the motivation to make it as nice as he always wanted. My father was never unreasonable, he was never physically abusive, but I always felt he was unhappy. It was a different mindset living with him in his home that was sterilized and sheltered from the outside world. It had an effect on me and when I was there I felt I had to be a different person.
Each of my parents left their marriage with bad feelings toward one another and as small child those feelings influence you. When you are at one home where this person you look up to looks down on your other parent and their former counterpart you do the same. When you go back to your other parent and experience this in role reversal format you feel as they do because you are impressionable and once again influenced. You didn’t really dislike the parent you are not around but because the parent you were with at the time did so with so much passion and was so adamant about telling you how wrong they were it leaves you feeling helpless. As you grow older you hope they let these feelings go, because you know you will. If they don’t, then the resentment they have toward your other parent will become a resentment that drives you away from them.
In my adulthood it wasn’t long before I went through one of these personal wars of my own and just as when my parents did it my own children were at very young ages. The difference is that instead of a single child being involved I had two. My divorce had been speeding up to catch me before I uttered the words, “I do,” and when you marry at a young age because you feel you are doing the right thing this could lead to a huge mistake. The mother of my children was pregnant when we were dating and trying to do what I was taught was right we decided to get married.
And at this point every time I rehash this in my mind I can’t help but roll my eyes at myself and wish that I had an inverted third leg that rested on my shoulders that I could use to kick my backside whenever I am about to do something stupid.
The marriage was awful. Without going into the glorious details suffice to say that by the grace of God the marriage ended. We have two children and per our divorce our children spend three days a week at my home and four days a week with their mother. I had asked for a 50/50 split, but per my attorney I was told that this was not something that was possible only to later find out that it was.
I love my children. I remember what my parent’s divorce was like for me and I do my best to shield them from the inevitable negativity that surrounds that failed mistake of a relationship. It’s hard when your children come home and ask you questions like, “When you go to Hollywood, Daddy, are you going to take us with you?”
I have been blessed to be able to follow a dream of mine and have worked in several independent films, have created a series that is based on psychological perspectives (which has since been sold), and have recently signed with a talent agency. The question my daughter posed to me with legitimate worry in her voice was asked to her by a former in-law in an attempt to mock me. Psychological warfare at its finest. The problem with this is that it was directed at me personally but the only person it harmed directly were my children, which in turn harmed me. My oldest daughter asked me this question with genuine fear on her face. She thought her Daddy was going to leave her. Having the innocence that makes children beautiful she did not understand the snide jab that was trying to be made. I told her that I have no desire to go to Hollywood, Daddy likes to be in movies for fun, but if I ever did I would do my best to make sure that she came with me. An answer that was so simple relieved her of her worry and I’ve not heard her ask about it since. It wasn’t the context of why I could be leaving that worried her, it was the idea that I was apparently LEAVING worried her. None of which was true and had to be deflected in a way that did not point out how unreasonable the statement was to make to a four year old based on a person’s snide insecurity.
I hear things like this constantly from my children, not all pertaining to my apparent future rise to stardom, but in other facets of our lives. It’s frustrating. It’s infuriating. But in order to set the example that I need to for my children I act as if this does not bother me to the extent that it truly does. I remember what it was like to live in two different worlds at such a young age and although I have no doubt that my two baby girls are experiencing something very similar to this, the world that I want them to live in when they are with my wife and I is one that is peaceful, consistent, and stable. We do not speak ill of their mother and when they mention her we listen, encourage, and applaud them for having fun. When it is time to go back to their mother and when we see that inevitable shoulder slouch and pouty face we build them up and get them excited to go. We want them to have a good relationship with their mother and their family on that side. Bitterness has no place in our home and neither does negativity in regards to something that they are being shipped back into on the front lines.
Divorce is a battle that leaves lasting effects. It is not done if you have children when you sign the papers and a court of law makes it official. It is never done because if you are a true parent you have to co-parent with this person until your children grow to be capable adults of their own. The war of divorce has many casualties and you have to remember that even though on the surface the war may be over the battle often continues if the two people are not on the same page for their children. I have made a conscious decision and effort to not use my children to fight a battle that ended for me personally when a judge gave their blessing for it to be over. Children are not soldiers. They are not to be used to pit one parent against the other. They are vulnerable and in times when their personal life is uprooted the best thing that a parent can do is not use their children to fight their battles. The best things that a parent can do are to support and love their children. Divorce is not easy, it is not fun, and your children will be affected. There is no avoiding this. What you can avoid is not allowing your actions and feelings do further damage to your children. Don’t make them grow up any faster than they have to. They are going to anyway. Don’t rush it. Allow your child to be a child and do your job as a parent.
What I took from my experience with divorce is that like life, it is what you make it. Your attitude is everything. How you respond depends on you. What does not change is that when you have children you have responsibilities to not allow those tender feelings based on pride, hurt, and bitterness overtake what you have to do as a parent. Damaged egos and bruised prides will fade as time passes. Being a parent won’t. Be a parent. It’s your job for life. Divorce can often be seen as a war and if we look at it in that vein then we need to understand that it is not a battle that we use our children to fight for us. It is up to us as parents to not allow our children to suffer or be casualties based on our mistakes.