In the early years immediately following my divorce, I used to yearn for the time when my kids would turn 18. In my mind, the age of majority equalled freedom. I would no longer be legally bound to “coparent”, a complete misnomer when it comes to my situation, unfortunately. My kids would no longer be beholden to a court document dictating when they could see each parent, legally required to shuffle back and forth between two homes like the spoils of war, chattel of two warring factions. I could make a doctor’s appointment without dutifully sending a prior email of notification! I could make summer vacation plans before April 1st! My daydreams of liberation from the ever-present and looming threat of family court were intoxicating. It seemed like a far away oasis, a mirage, with my children only 10, 8 and 6. I couldn’t even imagine my babies as fledgling adults, but I could fantasize, in minute detail, of how peaceful and idyllic my life would be without the regular and necessary contact regarding child-rearing.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
I should have known better, but defense mechanisms can be powerful. I was 13 years into my career as an educator at the time of my divorce, many of them as a school counselor, and I had worked with many young adults as they transitioned from minors to (legal) adults, including those from divorced households.
I’ve worked with many more over the past 7 years.
I’ve watched as the anxiety rises for so many of these kids as the 18th birthday approaches, and one, or both, parents makes it clear to the child that now there is no need to go to that “other” house. The guilt trips. The financial battles. I’ve watched kids (and in my opinion, 18-22 year olds are still very much “kids”, regardless of federal statutes) crumple under the pressure and stress of this “liberation”, when these decisions are now on them. I’ve had countless kids in my office over the past 20 years, weeks or days away from legal adulthood, helplessly shrugging their shoulders and asking me what they are supposed to do, how they can “win” the game that ultimately, only has losers.
I promised myself that I would never be that parent.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
But here’s what else I’ve witnessed, more than once. There is only one parent committed to supporting their child(ren) in this delicate balancing act. One parent who says, breezily, “just let me know what the schedule is, whatever you decide is fine.” One parent who assists the child financially, without strings attached. One parent who lets the child navigate their familial relationships without guilt or manipulation.
One parent who then bites his or her tongue until it bleeds as the child inevitably (and gratefully) acquiesces to the other parent’s demands.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
As my oldest child’s 18th birthday, and high school graduation, looms in 2018, what once seemed like a cause for celebration now feels like one more test. I’ve been working with my therapist on ways to work through my anxiety about what this new landscape might look like. I know what I need to do for my eldest (and, eventually, for my younger two), but my fear is that, as has so often been the case, the difficulty is not in my ability to choose the hard right over the easy wrong, rather the consequences (for me) in doing so.
My natural proclivity trends towards pessimism, and if the past is any indication of the future, I have reason to feel cynical. And yet, if the past is any indication of the future, I also know that as long as I do the next right thing at at time, I will get through this. And so will my kids.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.