A good divorce — for the sake of the children

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

The comment fell from my lips before I realized what I’d said.

We huddled in a cozy corner of the “Autumn Cheer” social gathering that welcomed parents to the new school year. I was introducing my son’s step-mother to a new friend, Beth, when her startled look invited the humor.

“That’s Pete’s step-mom?” she asked as I moved closer to connect the two.

“Yes, we came together,” I replied as I watched Beth’s eyes widen as she realized ex-wife was with current wife — and we were smiling.

“We share the same taste in men,” I quipped.

We all paused and then burst into laughter. Several folks remarked on our cordial relationship, but then our relaxed chatter resumed.

Our comfort seemed to breed their comfort.

Some call it a bold move, like the automobile commercial that shows mother and children dropping off Dad in his house after an apparent weekend away together.

But for me, it was a necessary move, one that recalibrates what is important in life after divorce when there are children involved.

Children often get caught in the crossfire when parents divorce, especially when they remarry. Even though we are adults, our most childish behaviors emerge when we are hurt, betrayed or unjustly treated.

There are those who are so hurt they make it their mission to create misery for the ex-spouse. They use children as their pawns, moving them in and out of adult games that can leave a lifetime of youthful scars.

Make no mistake, though, divorce is a shipwreck. A failure of dreams becomes a reality — an unplanned journey to an undesirable destination. The death of the life we had envisioned.

During my tumultuous separation, I read one book that still has a prominent place in my library. Its title alone provokes a quick grab off the shelf to search for its answer.

The book, “One Question that Can Save Your Marriage,” by Harry P. Dunne Jr., promises “a powerful way to save relationships.”

The question he cites: “What’s it like to be married to me?”

It’s a refreshing approach, one that disarms the blame game, neutralizes the fix-him/her fetish and invites self-reflection.

Although it didn’t “save” my marriage, I’ve taken that question with me through the years, modifying it along the way.

“What’s it like to have a daughter like me?”

“What’s it like to have a friend like me?”

And yes, “What’s it like to be divorced from me?”

In the midst of counseling, I told my shrink that if we could not create a good marriage, then I was determined I would have a good divorce.

I’ve never regretted those efforts.

Granted, in the early days it’s difficult to let go of shared dreams and watch the uneven pace of starting over. Anger seeps in, even on the high road. And retaliation, although sometimes justified, is a tempting mode of operation.

However, watching divorced parents wage mental warfare confuses children. They want to love both parents. We need to give the children permission and opportunities to continue that love. We may not be married, but we are still parents and must be mindful of what we are teaching by how we treat each other.

After all, we have a shared history and a love strong enough to bring a child into the world.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “What’s it like to have a parent like me?”

With effort, our comfort will breed their comfort — and security.