Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good Job Parentals

This is off topic (mostly) to Nigeria. The only connection it really has is that divorce is very uncommon in Nigeria, and people who get divorced are judged very harshly. The few times I've mentioned the fact that my parents are divorced the announcement has been met with gasps, lots of "OH, sorry-o!" and usually a lot of (funny to me) questions. The funniest one ever (again, probably only to me) was the time someone asked how my father could have just left his family (and how all American dads could do that in general) and I had to say "Um, actually it was my mom who moved out and I've always lived with my dad so I don't really know why." I seriously thought the guy was going to drive the car right off of the road. There's also usually weird looks and funny questions when I mention either of my two stepparents because apparently in Nigeria the social custom is to hate your stepparent No Matter What. I mean, I know stepparents get a bad rap all over the world, but the extremeness that it's spoken with here is surreal to me.

All of this has really gotten me thinking about divorce & the aftermath that it often causes. And it got me thinking about how fortunate I am to have two parents who aren't complete dodo-heads and realized that just because they decided they didn't want to be married anymore it didn't mean that they hated each other's guts and should make their children suffer. Even in the US it's pretty rare for people to have a "good" divorce & aftermath story. I can truly say that the whole thing, though ultimately unfortunate, was for me mostly painless. My parents continued to co-parent like usual and probably did an even better job at it then when they were constantly under the stress of each other. Sure there was a learning curve but overall all family dynamics remained mostly unchanged. We couldn't manipulate one parent to get something from another, we didn't get away with more things at either home, and when we were is serious trouble mom came back to our house to help dad dole out the a parenting team. And they have always treated one another with respect which I know probably hasn't been the easiest thing to do when thinking about their differences and the things that led them to divorce. One of my most vivid memories is of my dad SCREAMING at my aunt (brother's wife) on the phone shortly after the divorce because she has bad-mouthed my mother in front of my two sisters. I can remember him saying "Don't you EVER DARE talk poorly about my children's mother in front of them EVER again." Apparently it caused some strife and tears on my aunt & uncle's part, but I didn't hear about any of that until I was much, much older. But the impact it made on me was huge. I knew that my dad would defend my mother no matter how much certain members of my family may have felt about her and that meant a lot to a 15 year old.

Even now, after they've been divorced 16 years we still do things as a family when necessary (e.g. graduations, weddings, etc.) and even enjoy getting together in overlapping fashions on holidays. Nearly everyone I tell this to thinks it's the most bizarre thing in the world, but really I can't understand why or how people would do it any other way. Before my mom moved to California we all lived in the same state. As my sisters and I grow older and our families grow it makes it more and more difficult to try and plan enough time to spend with everyone around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother's Days, etc. So we do it all together in a neutral location (my sister's house) and we all celebrate together. When people tell me that their parents can't even stand to be in the same room together it makes me sad. If you parents were married (or together long enough to produce a child I guess) they clearly loved each other at some point. I mean, short of horrendous domestic violence (which is few and far between mostly), how can anyone go from love to vitriolic hate with one person? Sure my parents don't love each other anymore but they don't hate each other. They aren't besties and go on double-dates with their new spouses, but they can spend a few hours together (and funny enough, sometimes days) to celebrate the family they once had without gouging each other's eyes out. Hey, sometimes we even have fun! How novel.

And on another side note, not that you would expect any less from parents who did Job #1 exceedingly well, but they have also done a great job in selecting new partners that allow all of this mushy family stuff to happen. I always hear about new wives and husbands who act jealous and try and lash out at both the biological kids and parents in an effort to mark their territory. My stepparents have never done that. They happily join in with our big (apparently strange) family get-togethers and can even share a laugh or two with their counterpart about silly things that their partners do. They've even been known to help each other out with different house projects on occasion. Besides a few minor adjustments here or there we've never had to deal with any stepparent horror stories that you often hear so much about. 

Anyway, all of this is just to say, awesome job to my parents. If there were report cards in Divorce & Aftermath you guys would get an A+++. I am thankful that I can tell my oddball story to others and let them know that all divorces don't have to be horrible and wretched. Families can still come out successful even after they break apart into something new. All it takes is effort and determination, and to always keep in mind that sometimes, there are people and feelings more important that yourself that you need to look out for in the grand scheme of life.


ange said...

"There are people and feelings more important that yourself that you need to look out for in the grand scheme of life."

I think this is a general way to face the world everyday. I may not be 100% successful at doing so, but I try my best to also keep in mind the feelings of other people. Before I met you, I didn't really do thanks for making me see a bigger picture and helping me grow.

Also, I love your family. LOVE them. I love that your mom and dad are civil to one another and especially that your dad defended your mom like he did (and still would). My parent's divorce was much different (as you already know) so it is nice to have a fresh perspective on it.

Laurie said...

This was really nice to read. I know that there were times I would have wanted to complain about your dad, and I'm certain he felt the same about me, but I think the short term satisfaction of ranting was not worth the long term investment we made in being decent parents and thinking of how it would affect you and your sisters.

Anyway, I'm glad you took the time to write this - I appreciate hearing it.