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“For the Kids’ Sake”

September 14, 2013

The first time I heard those words I was twelve years old. Our parents had taken us camping at Poli Poli State Park on Maui, which – at the time – meant a long drive down a bumpy dirt road with my sister and I sitting in the back of our dad’s pickup truck. It had rained recently, I remember that – the dust wasn’t too bad. We were pulling on our jackets by the time we arrived. Poli Poli is at 6200 feet elevation; our house might have been at 500.

The only other campers were a pair of Vietnam Veterans living out of their car. They’d been there long enough to half-fill the garbage bin with crushed Coors cans. They had a miniature TV that plugged into their cigarette lighter (in 1988!). They were stuck until the road dried out from the recent downpour.

They weren’t exactly homeless, the gregarious one told my parents. In fact he had a house and a wife and kids. He didn’t like to be there much because he fought with his wife. But he would never get divorced, he explained, for the kids’ sake.

It sounded so noble. Of course my twelve-year old self didn’t really know what to do with the information. It just got filed away, apparently to pop up twenty-five years later when I would know how to process it.

The man had something right. You do what you have to for your children’s sake. Camping in your car and binge drinking doesn’t fit that description in my book, but these men were living in the old paradigm, where divorce meant failure and the best thing they could do for their children was provide them with a single home.

And yet, even that old veteran knew his torn relationship with his wife was affecting their children. Why else was he absenting himself from his own home?

Kids need happy parents. It’s the best gift we can give them. We do what we have to, to find our own happiness, for our kids’ sake. Sometimes it’s easier to negotiate the ins and outs of parenting without the pressure of a relationship. It doesn’t mean our families are broken.

We live in a time when it’s becoming socially acceptable to build your family the way you want to. It’s exciting and scary at the same time, as the rules haven’t been written and there’s no one ‘right way’ to do it. And, amidst this transformation of family and marriage, many people are still finding the old paradigms satisfactory. It amounts to a situation where we can’t take anything for granted going into new relationships; clear and honest communication is absolutely necessary to succeed in finding someone whose desires and ideals line up with our own. This applies to everyone but is particularly true for single parents, for whom engaging in new relationships is already a complicated matter.

Above all else we want the best for our children. Opinions differ on what that is and how to best provide it. The old veteran at Poli Poli thought he was doing it. Years later I found out my mother was doing it too, after her own fashion. She divorced my father not long after my sister and I left home.

The difference is that she and my father didn’t fight openly. Their version of ‘for the kids’ sake’ allowed us to have a – relatively – functional one-home childhood. How did we turn out? My sister is together with the father of their children. He’s legally married to the mother of his older boys – who live with them, on and off, with their own children. I’m a single parent in a successful co-parenting relationship. We don’t live together but have found our rhythm as a family. I’ve co-founded a Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/reclaimingfamily) for people moving through divorce and experimenting with new ways of building  families. You could say we’ve taken it in stride.

I don’t know how the veteran’s children turned out and have no desire to make conjectures, except to say I feel they had the disadvantage of growing up in a broken family.

Even though their parents never got divorced.

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From → Rants

2 Comments
  1. Prana permalink

    I agree with your point and wish to correct one detail. The father of my children is not still married to the mother of our big boys. He thought he was, but she assured me no, they had to get divorced when she married her second husband. That was before I came along. It gets complex, doesn’t it?

    • Thanks for the clarification, Prana! I did not know that. Ironically, I forgot to mention that it’s ME that is still married! Apparently the point is, it doesn’t matter what your marital status is as long as it’s working. Aloha!

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