My parents split up when I was about six years old. While bearing witness to marital discord and subsequently being mired in the middle of a separation and divorce is certainly not the recommended path for any child, I can say without equivocation that I am the husband that I am, the father that I am, the attorney that I am, and the person that I am because of the unique–and unfortunately decreasingly so–nature of my childhood.
I can also say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that two ended up being better than one.
To insinuate that I was completely insulated from the drama that accompanied my own parents’ divorce would be a lie. Prior to their separation, when I was likely four or five, I distinctly recall hearing the yelling and screaming and banging of pots and pans from the kitchen downstairs. While I can still envision in my mind’s eye my bedroom set and the rest of my surroundings while my parents were engaged in such behavior, had my parents not separated when they did, I could have been forced to grow up in a household–one household–in which everyone was walking on eggshells, dependent upon inane smalltalk, rather than acknowledging the giant, miserable elephant in the room.
Instead, I had the opportunity to grow up in two households. Two happy households. Two households in which I knew that both my mother and my father would move Heaven and Earth to ensure that my needs were met, that I was safe, that I was doing well in school, and that I was happy and as insulated as possible as the drama of yesterday gave way to the “new normal” of tomorrow.
At my mother’s house, where I spent the majority of my time, I grew to be self-sufficient as the only child of a single mom — and I am very much the husband that I am because of what I was taught. I still know my way around a kitchen. I still find ironing to be oddly soothing. At my father’s house, where I spent many weekends and summers, I felt the unconditional love of a parent who did not get to see his child every day — I am very much the father that I am because of my father; even though I get to see my children every day, I try to treat every moment as precious.
And, better yet, because of a situation that seems so unbearably awful for so many parents at the outset, I had the opportunity to build lasting memories with two parents, in two households. I remember cooking lobster in the rain on camping trips with my mother to Mount Desert Island in Maine and catching dozens of fish on Lake George in New York. I remember equally fondly the baseball games–Nolan Ryan! The 1987 Cardinals!–I attended with my father.
I am who I am because of that not-so-unique childhood, and I would not change anything even if given the chance.
So many times, I sit down with mothers or fathers who come into my office, generally either on the cusp of marital litigation or already feeling stuck in the process. Those worth their salt are more concerned about the impact the divorce will have upon their children than they are worried how the litigation will affect their 401(k).
They worry about their children adjusting to their new circumstances. They worry about whether their parental counterpart will somehow sour the children against them. They worry about the kinds of memories that the children will have, about whether they will be able to provide them with the same sort of childhood that they themselves enjoyed.
From firsthand experience, I can tell you that it is stability that matters. Stability in a child’s life breeds happiness, and happiness brings about good grades, social competence, and development into a responsible, self-sufficient adult.
In some cases, both parents understand the need for stability and put the needs of the children ahead of their own needs, desires, and ego. Other times, however, one or both parents need lessons in proper prioritizing, and it is through the litigation process that such a lesson can be taught. In marital litigation, it has been my experience that those who appear vindictive rarely achieve their goals, and those who are undoubtedly more focused upon their own needs rather than those of their children likely will be exposed as such.
Here in the Palmetto State, in the Family Court it is the best interests of the children that controls. As a living, breathing byproduct of marital litigation, I am fortunate that both of my parents put my needs ahead of those of their own. I was afforded a tremendous childhood, and my fond recollections of that childhood stand as evidence which countermands the notion that divorce somehow precludes children from having the depth of experience that they might have otherwise enjoyed but for their parents’ divorce.
Two, indeed, can be better than one.