For those with divorced or separated parents, I write this for you. On September 8th 2016, an article was published by Megan Nicole Reed for Canvas Magazine. She expressed something important enough for my sister to type out an entire paragraph using WhatsApp while on her travels around New Zealand.
In the context of Reed’s own parents break-up, it reads:
If you told an adult that from now on they would have to pack up their life every week, remember everything they would need for work and Wednesday’s indoor netball game and Marion’s birthday party, and move to a different house, fit in with different people, they would understandably tell you to piss off.
When having to pack that weekend bag to take to your dad’s house you have to remember your outfit for that trip you’re making on Saturday evening to the bowling alley to meet your soon to become step-mum for the first time, your pyjamas, your toothbrush, your teenage make-up bag and last but not least your confused little brain and all of your favourite books.
Then you await to hear your Dad’s car grumble down the driveway to walk outside while eye contact amongst the rents is avoided, and the odd word, clean or not, might be exchanged between them. Then you haul your belongings into his boot. You arrive at his house only to realise that you’ve left ALL of your underwear at your mums. Oh crap!
Don’t swear. Why, I’m allowed at home? “Right, so now I have to drive all the way back to your mums? Yes. You do. Because if you lived together I would have my underwear in a draw where it would stay rather than vacate for weekends to a different draw.
Then there is the trip to the bowling alley after bypassing your mums house to pick up that burdensome underwear on the way. The new step-mum is in the car. Ooh the suspense. What will mum think of Dad’s new girlfriend. That must be tricky. Oh no, but wait, what will Dad think of mum’s new boyfriend? The answer to that is likely to get me in some serious trouble. So let’s move this on.
The following week you take a trip to the boat yard to meet the future step-dad and his boat. How fun! This life of separation is not bad at all you think as your bobbing up and down on the Norfolk Broads.
Then you find out about the exciting plans for the following weekend! Your step-mum likes you. Tick! You’re off to see The Darkness for some head banging at Wembley where you will probably get a kebab, eat an infamous spicy chicken burger, and then shit yourself on the train home while your family loudly and proudly sings Ring of Fire. We’re all getting on swimmingly.
Then the week after that you’re eating Indian food prepared by your chef-like mum’s new boyfriend in a country cottage listening to Buena Vista Social Club before flying off to Croatia to take trips to Bosnia and Dubrovnik and learn about the civil war. Here, you might wear your new New Look skirt, which will ultimately end up tucked in the backside of your knickers as you walk around the hotel with your new step-dad who only notices after you’ve been in the lobby, in the shop, in the restaurant, and surrounded by young testosterone filled Croats who you naturally fall in love with while you thought they were staring at you because it was love at first sight. Nope. You are then prey to eye watering laughter, and the story is relived when you find mum and Sophie. Good times.
Could this separation BE any greater? No!
Except, yes. Driving home from one of our exciting lets-keep-the-children-distracted-from-the-fact-their-parents-are-separating-fun weekends there is your mum calling your Dad a wanker and your Dad putting your mum down as The Bitch in his phone. Then theres the time we have to be told, again, through watery eyes that “you both need to understand that we are never, ever getting back together” (Only funny when sung in the voice of the dubbed David Cameron mash up during the Scottish Referendum for independence – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQPEMf3j6AY).
And BOOM there goes that little glimmer of sparkling hope children cling on to while these exciting weekends and the novelty of living in two houses starts to wear off.
Your reality for the next 5 years begins. Pack your bag, unpack your bag, “I’m going to Dads I don’t want to live here anymore,” “I’m going to live with Mum I don’t want to live with you anymore”. “Make sure you’re home by 7. No you may not have a WKD.” “Come home when you want. Of course, have a glass of wine!”
I think that confusion is avoidable when parents of young children separate. There is no rule book, but being the stronger person means not bringing your children into it.
I was 13 and my sister 11. It was harder for her, but then I wonder sometimes if my supposed ice-queen approach to my emotions would be different had they stayed together. The answer, of course, is no! I am just an ice-queen who doesn’t enjoy emotions.
I know this, now that I am older and able to articulate it, because my life is great. I have a fabulous life in spite of their divorce. I have some fucking hilarious stories thanks to their divorce, that still make me laugh when I am writing them down and remembering them now. I have a huge family of who live in the safety of England. We are all healthy, extremely healthy actually (touch wood), and I have two families who love me more than anything and support me with my every adventure.
Sophie made a fabulous point. “Chloe, do you think this is why we love to travel so much? Because we are accustomed to living out of a suitcase here and there?” Yes! I do, and how lucky is that! That I have had the privilege to see the world, invite people into our family who we would never have met had they never separated, and had some of the most wonderful Christmases and birthdays and holidays and weekends and evenings to memory all thanks to their divorce.
I am terribly lucky, and I think for children whose parents are separating, and for the parents who are separating feeling guilty for their children, don’t, because the quality of life for them will be 100% greater than if you remained together. It will just take some time to realise. Staying in an unhappy marriage is not the answer to a happy future for children. Remaining united through all the hate and animosity is, I believe, the key.