Pre-divorce Life Must Still Weigh on Moms and Dads

This article was originally published in North County News.

Six-year-old Ashley gently placed the jet-black Labrador puppy, the latest in her stuffed animal collection, into her girlfriend’s arms.

“His name is Sharpie,” Ashley told her friend.

“I named it after my cousin’s mom’s ex-boyfriend’s dog,” she smiled brightly, proud of the pup’s heritage.

“It’s ex-husband, Ashley,” her mom corrected.

“Aunt Becky’s ex-husband.”

“Oh yeah, ex-husband,” Ashley repeated.

After a minute, Ashley asked, “Mom, does that make Brittany my ex-cousin? Is Aunt Becky her ex-mom?”

Rachel, Ashley’s mom, sat down with that one, I’m told, and carefully explained to her daughter that you can never be an ex-mom.

“Once you are a mom, you are always a mom,” she tenderly explained to her youngest child. “Divorce may change a lot of things, but it doesn’t change that.”

A bit later, Ashley must have pondered the new addition to the real Sharpie’s household. Aunt Becky’s ex-husband and his wife had just had a new baby boy, Baby Alexander.

“Mom, what’s Baby Alexander to me?” she asked.

How my sister explained that one to her daughter, I’m not sure. But I love what Ashley asked in her question.

Honestly and innocently, my niece Ashley was looking for definitions in the haze of divorce and the resulting blurred relationships. Divorce confuses kids – and, sometimes, adults.

Often we are so busy letting go, ending and finalizing and getting ready for life-after-divorce that we forget that the lives touched and even created during that period continue to exist. We may not have ex-moms and ex-dads, but we may very well have ex-uncles and ex-aunts – if we choose to clarify relationships in that way.

Kids are the center of their own universe. They want to know how things relate to them.

This principle is often one of the first elements lost in the heat of divorce battles.

We are warned as we go through separation that the child will often take the blame for the divorce if the parents allow it. We are told to reassure that we love them even though the parents may no longer love each other.

Yet we rarely get such strong messages or guidance when we begin to add people to our newly divorced lives.

“Who is he or she to me?” our children want to know. Often, that question is hard to answer.

Children need clarity and consistency, the experts tell us.

Dr. Alfred Lucco, a Towson-based family psychologist for nearly 30 years, advises divorced parents to be thoughtful in how they introduce new dating relationships to their children.

“Children often look for ‘what this means’ when meeting mom’s or dad’s new date. It is wise to be mindful of their perception when deciding how and when to make introductions.”

Granted, there is life after divorce. Yet we must remember that there was life before divorce, too, especially when children are involved.

At one point in time, there was love in a divorced relationship. Enough love to birth a child and create a home; enough love to merge two worlds to a common planning system for a common future.

And if the child is lucky, maybe there is still enough love, if only for the child, to be mindful of their view of the world and our role in it – when life-after-divorce begins to redefine their reality.

After all, there are no ex-moms or ex-dads.