Two Places to Call Home isn’t a book I ever thought I’d write. Not because I thought there was no need for a children’s book on the subject, but because (strangely enough) divorce had never been part of my life plan.
When my marriage ended, it was sudden and unexpected. It felt like a bomb had detonated beneath my feet. Everything I knew and cherished was blown skywards, and whilst I was desperate for these pieces of my life to land and settle again, two things became apparent. Firstly, this wouldn’t happen quickly, and secondly, it felt like there was nothing I could do to speed the process up. This was a worry, for my own mental state, but most importantly, for that of my kids.
I’m blessed. I have three children, all of whom were under ten when our marriage ended, and this left me with a range of difficult and conflicting emotions: shame, embarrassment, regret, and fear. Fear that it would taint their impressions of love and relationships; fear that they would blame themselves for what had happened; fear of me not coping when they were with their mum, and fundamentally, a fear of how they would cope with now living their lives in two homes instead of one.
There were the logistics of course: which days and where, for how long at a stretch, which belongings went were? But more importantly, the questions were of how to provide for them emotionally.
Within any relationship, parents assume roles, and of course, some individuals are better at some things than others (my baking would not grace any reality shows, believe me), but that’s what’s wonderful about a relationship: between you, you collectively cover more of the bases. Parenting on my own, I was worried, scared even, that I wouldn’t be enough. That I’d get things wrong.
And I did. But what I learnt is that getting things wrong sometimes is... ok.
We’re not perfect or infallible, in fact, it’s not healthy to set yourself up to your child as some kind of parenting superhero. How could they ever live up to such a thing as a perfect parent? Especially when such a thing simply doesn’t exist.
What I learnt, quickly, was to listen to my children, and watch. To ask questions, gently, without prodding too hard. I found my three were able to state their needs if they were given the space to do so. Ok, so my heart sank a little when they wanted to make brownies, but making the horrendous mess turned out to be half the fun. Plus, we were making memories – new ones. I was always keen to tell them that we were still a family, a team, we were just one that lived under two roofs instead of one.
It is very difficult to pull positives out of a divorce or separation, for you, your partner, or your child, but with hindsight, there are some to be found.
Firstly, there is the resilience and bravery inherent in your kids to celebrate. They are capable of way more than you think. Yes, there will be moments, often when they leave for one house for another, or at bedtime, when their vulnerabilities come to the surface, but with the constants present before the break-up applied – calmness, support, and love – they can be reassured and settled. They may, in fact, find positives about life in two homes. Especially as teenagers, mine talk about the variety being good for them, that they get a break from me or their mum when our mithering about the state of their rooms is too much for their idle brains to bear.
Divorce has without a doubt made me a different kind of parent, an improved one. The comedian, actor, and writer, Rob Delaney who lost his son Henry some years ago, said that that trauma didn’t make him love his other children more, only better. And whilst I haven’t suffered the bereavement Rob has, divorce or separation is a loss: to me, it felt like a thousand little deaths every day for many, many months.
And it did make me love my children better. If they fell over when with me, it was my job, not mum's, to clean and dress the wound. When my daughter’s periods started, there couldn’t be any awkwardness about it because of my gender, my only concern was making sure she was ok. The divorce stripped away any gender stereotypes. I wasn’t just dad, and I wasn’t trying to be mum either, perhaps just a hybrid of the two. Though I’m not sure it works to blend the two parenting terms... Mad or Dum don’t seem too appealing (though I am often referred to as both).
In short, your children are magnificent. They are brave and resilient with a huge capacity to love.
And you can continue to help them grow. Talk well of their other parent (you have loved each other after all), listen and look for their needs and find adventures in the mundane.
You may be scared, and they will be too, but it’s fine to acknowledge that, and as a result, it really can be the start of an exciting new chapter in all of your lives.