Sunday, January 04, 2009

Divorce, Sister Style

My sister is getting a divorce.

This could lead me in a number of directions. I have traveled in each direction, thinking through various anxieties and concerns. But it just occurred to me that I am missing something. Here are the different things that have leaped into my mind, and let’s play a game and see if you can figure out what’s missing.

How awful. OK, that was just for one second. So it turns out that I don’t—scratch that—have never really liked my brother in law. That isn’t a real surprise, but now I have permission to say it. I could go on for hours about this, but there’s really a big reason. Turns out that he was unfaithful to my sister within the first year of their marriage, but they promised to try to work it out. Two beautiful little children and 6 years of marriage later, and I don’t feel sorry for him. Cheating just isn’t OK, no matter what kind of spin you put on it, and I admire my sister for having made a go of it. Here’s what she said: “We just kind of fell out of love.”

How awful for my sister. Well, no. She’s the primary breadwinner, and a capable parent. And lives an hour from my parents, and my mother doesn’t work, so she’s a built in caregiver when needed. And she initiated it. It won’t be easy in this world to be a single mom, but we have great examples of how women with great support systems are amazing single moms (thanks Maya, for teaching us so gracefully). And maybe she won't be single forever.

How awful for the kids. Two beautiful little girls, and I do mean little (both under age 5). But is this really true? My personal philosophy, constructed as a work outside the home mother, is that a happy parent makes for a happy child. And it would seem to me that this applies as well to children of divorce, if the parents can make a go of it in a way that is amicable and productive. If they have a chance at happiness, then so will their children. And a miserable, unhappy home with depressed, angry parents who constantly fight is no good anyway.

In my family? I have a pretty emotionally healthy extended family. No divorce. My parents are married for almost 40 years. Their parents were all in healthy marriages, and for the most part, the rest of my extended family too. This is the first, so we have no experience, and that adds to the shock. At least we know that divorce happens to Jews, “unlike” rape, alcoholism, domestic abuse, drug addiction, homosexuality, etc. But just like that awful stuff, divorce happens too. So yes, in my family. But it could happen to any family, and it’s no stigma, because it can and it does. And better to take away the stigma, because then the children can learn to handle it better.

But what I did not leap to think about was “what if it were me/us?”

My wonderful husband and I have definitely had kinks in our relationship. In fact, I will fully confess that there have been a few hours that we have spent together with my therapist. We have a lot of issues. We don’t really get each other. I can be a horrible pain in the arse and he can magically become blind and deaf at the drop of a hat. Right now he is throwing the dishes in the kitchen around because he’s annoyed he has to clean up from dinner. But we both put a lot of effort and energy into our relationship (he clearly puts up with a lot from me) and we will celebrate our 13th anniversary in a few short months. We committed to making a home and a family together, and in every resolution to every argument, no matter how small, we both work to remember that in our own way.

But I did not think what it would be like if it were me. If it were me and my son, about to strike out on our own. I didn’t think about what life could be for myself as a single parent, nor did I feel the cold anger that one must feel to discover that your partner has been unfaithful. And I truly thank God for that. And my amazing husband.

I wish all those out there in difficult relationships the courage to fight for what is important to you, whether it is to strengthen your partnership or to choose to dissolve it, and the courage to do what is right for your children. And luckily this is an anonymous post, so my sister won’t know that I’m writing this for her…


Maya said...

Gluckel, I understand completely. This happened in my family nearly three ago. A family with a perfect marriage record (if you don't count me). We felt the same way about my brother in law. Unfortunately for us, the blame was more evenly spread, and we as a family are still working through the implications of that.
Your sister will be able to say honestly that she really gave it her best effort, and that she kept her integrity, and that she has made a decision that will provide the best, happiest, and most loving environment for her children. Not many people can say that, whether they are married or not.

Obviously, given our culture, the ideal situation is for a child to have two parents who love one another, a huge support system, and close relationships with the extended family. But so much focus is given to the parents that we overlook the other two aspects. I've found that the support system, such as my awesome community, and a wonderful extended family, which your sister seems to have, go a long way to making a happy, healthy and stable child.
I wish your sister and her children all the love and support they so richly deserve.

Gersh said...

I can't believe you lumped homosexuality in with rape and drug addiction as "awful stuff".

Anonymous said...

Gersh, perhaps you were right. But my point was not that these are awful things (which drug addiction, rape and alcoholism ARE, and homosexuality is NOT), but that the Jewish community often pretends that these are things that only happen to OTHERS, not to US. My point is that we need to start thinking about divorce, just like the agunah issue (horrible in the way that women are treated), rape (horrible in the way that victims are treated), and even homosexuality (horrible in the way that many traditional Jews are treated by their families) as things that very much do happen to Jews. And we need to learn how to deal with it respectfully, humanely and honestly, even if it hurts.