A friendly divorce

There is no such thing as a “happy” divorce. The decision to end a marriage is always painful, especially when children are involved. But it does not have to be a dramatic affair or leave everyone concerned hating each other.

 As a young girl I dreamt of finding a true love that would last a lifetime. I was the child of divorced parents in a time when it was most uncommon, and they had been very unhappy with each other, but I believed in love and fervently wished for something different. As an opposite example I had my grandparents’ highly successful marriage, one that lasted for 69 years – but of course it was an “old fashioned” marriage, based on outdated principles I did not believe in, such as the wife not working; I thought of these examples and believed I could do differently, and better.

I had no such luck, however. I married for love, I was very much in love in fact, but we were too different and with very different goals in life. I now realize how many mistakes I made and of course he made many too. For years we had a passionate relationship but went through very painful moments that, together with many quarrels, ultimately eroded the love we felt for each other.

We had many happy moments, however, the birth of our children among the very best. Parenthood was something we shared completely, both of us changing napkins, feeding the boys, playing with them and taking care of them when they were ill. I usually say that the only things their father did not do for the boys were those dictated by nature – that I carried the babies during nine months and then breastfed them. As for the rest, there was absolutely no difference.

If we drifted apart as a couple it had certainly nothing to do with how we wanted to raise our boys as we shared a same vision about that; unfortunately not in most other things, and a day came – after several years of trying to avoid it, or postponing it – when we looked at each other and, as much as it cost us, faced the terrible truth that we didn’t love each other anymore and that our marriage was over.

Of course both of us had seen it coming for a long time – but we were both stubborn; both being children of divorced parents – and difficult divorces at that – we had sworn to ourselves that we would not put our children to the pain we had been through. But there came a moment when we realised it would be worse for the children if we persisted in our marriage. In the last years we didn’t even quarrel much, but it was clear that we were very unhappy and leading separate lives more and more and the boys of course perceived it. Children are clever and sensitive and often understand far more than we think, as they are constantly watching us.

There were no arguments between us as for the children’s custody or splitting our assets: as we had always done, we would continue to raise our boys together, even if physically apart, so for us joint custody was the only possible option – something not so usual in Portugal back then, when the classical solution was for mothers to keep custody and for fathers to have their children every other weekend. But of course this was out of the question, and joint custody it was.

We broke the news to the boys very gently, being advised by a psychologist to do it separately, instead of what most people do. They reacted very well, and Afonso looked at me with his huge blue eyes and simply said “Mummy, you and Dad are so different that I wonder how you have managed to be together all these years”. I could only think how wise my son was, how right.

So from eleven and eight our boys had two homes, Dad’s and Mom’s. As Dad lived a bit further away we might say they had their headquarters with Mom during the day but still they stayed at their Dad’s roughly half the time. Even if we had a rule, we were always very flexible, such as when there were business trips from either parent that required us to make some changes. Also, we kept talking about them, almost every day: about their studies, when they had to go to the doctor, sharing our worries when Afonso had his knee injury; their father’s solidarity towards me when Pedro’s fractured arm, that had not healed well, had to be broken again and he offered to go in with him – as I would certainly have fainted!; trying to come to a conclusion about when to start letting them go out at night and until how late or even our exchange of smiles when we knew about our “baby” Pedro’s first girlfriend…

…I can honestly say that, even if we were separated and later divorced, we continued to raise our boys together and neither of us ever said less than good things about the other to the boys – in fact we had no reason to.

As for our relationship, I would say it is a friendly one. We do not go out as friends or invite each other to our respective birthday parties but we do meet at mutual friends’ parties and it is very natural for us to talk to each other and to our respective partners. Working in the same sector we highly regard each other professionally and exchange information or ask for advice, as we would do with any other colleague. We have kept no hard feelings towards each other – in fact I believe the secret of our good relationship is that we really stopped thinking of ourselves as a couple and began to see each other as “Afonso and Pedro’s parents”, and that has ultimately allowed us to continue to talk to each other naturally about them. The boys laugh and say “Mom, sometimes you and Dad talk too much” as they never had the chance other children of divorced parents sometimes have, of telling different stories to either parent…

Sometime after separating both of us found someone else with whom we have built happy relationships, and for the boys it was not an issue. I have always been very close to my own stepmother so for them it was only natural to have the same attitude.

And so the years have passed and our boys have become young adults. We still talk about them every day – maybe with the exception of holiday time – sometimes several times a day. We go on sharing our worries and joys regarding our children simply because we are their parents and thus we share something unique; certainly, no one else in the world loves them as much as the two of us do and this will go on for the rest of our lives – we will forever be bound by these two beautiful sons we had together and who make us so happy and proud.

And today was a day when we felt happy and proud. On a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day we were watching Afonso’s rugby match. Pedro was on the bench; if he were called – which was not likely – it would be his first game in his elder brother’s team. When I arrived at the rugby field I saw their father was already there so it was only natural that I should sit near him. We watched the match together and made the most of the time to talk about Pedro’s coming exams and his possible options as Universities go. We also exchanged some news about the boys and all of a sudden Pedro was called to play and, finally, the boys were playing together. Watching your sons play rugby is always a mix of emotions: you are happy to see them play because you know they love it but you are always worried that they might get hurt. And we shared all those feelings, and when the game ended there was this beautiful, emotional moment when Afonso and Pedro embraced each other right in front of us, and we could feel their happiness at having played their first game together and their strong love for each other…I felt that, even if we failed as a couple, we certainly have not failed as parents. More: I felt we have done it well, this thing of continuing to raise our children together after the divorce. And I felt so privileged that we have been able to do this, because it is so rare that a former couple can go on without any hard feelings or regrets.

Their father said he was going to say goodbye to the boys as they are staying with me this weekend. When I next saw him he was holding the boys, one on each side, and taking a photo to remember their first match together. It is so good to see them together, to see what a great relationship they have with their father, to feel they have never been separated from him as so many children of divorced parents have. Walking back to the car, I smiled and thought that if ever there was a “happily divorced” couple, it is certainly us. For me, whatever happened, it would be impossible to hate the person with whom I share the two most important persons in my life – my beloved sons.