I don’t often talk much about my first marriage on this blog, but it is definitely a part of my imperfect mothering adventure so here it goes.
In June of 2001, long before Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin ever likely met (I mean, I had just started to listen to Coldplay’s Parachutes around this same time period), my first husband and I decided to consciously uncouple. While I am hearing social media poking fun at this phrase, I think this concept simply embraces the idea that parents can continue to work together on behalf of their kids, even when they decide to end their marriage. It acknowledges that, although you can divorce each other, you cannot divorce yourself from your responsibility to always act with your children’s best interests at the forefront of all future decisions.
As attorneys who had attended law school together, my first husband and I based our goal of an amicable divorce on our knowledge that kids from divorced families do much better when their parents continue to get along, at least as co-parents. And so I am here to tell Martin and Paltrow that yes, it can be done.
When my ex and I called off our ten-year marriage, one of the first cooperative decisions we made was to place our house on the market. We were certain that it would make more sense for us to liquefy this, our primary marital asset, so that we could each purchase separate town homes. Although we recognized that our two kids, ages six and eight at the time, would not enjoy the same standard of living as before the divorce, we hoped to maintain a semblance of their old routine. We thought that at least if we sold our house we could both buy more affordable town homes in the same award-winning school district where the kids already attended school. We did this, even though we both would have preferred to move ourselves into a condo or apartment in a hipper area of our city. We also agreed to a nearly equal custody arrangement, where the kids were with me four nights per week and him three nights. I was very liberal with allowing him an extra night when he wanted one as well. We believed it was good for the kids to continue to have a relationship with both of us; and we both continued to take an active part in our children’s day-to-day lives.
To save money, we also decided to continue to live together until our house sold and closed. Thankfully, the real estate market was still blistering hot back then and we were out of our house by mid-August. As conscious as an uncoupling might be, living with someone after the decision to divorce has been made is like finding fabulous fabric-covered scrunchies on clearance at Anthropologie after you’ve just cut your hair short. What is the point, you think, as you stand in the store, holding the amazingly good deal in your hands.
To pass the seven or so weeks that our house was on the market, my first husband and I began to consciously divide our belongings. The division of our marital assets proved fairly painless because I happened to be going through a “simplify my life” phase, thanks to author Elaine St. James. I was more than willing to cast aside most personal possessions, including all of the kitchen gadgets, which my ex-husband simultaneously coveted.
I did hesitate slightly when it came to our collection of Harvard Classics, purchased as a complete set from an antique dealer just a few summers earlier. Perhaps I should have tried to sell the set; it might have fetched a good price. Unfortunately, this was in the days before Craigslist and that would have proven just too complicated to fit into the realm of my hoped for simplicity. Thus, my ex got the Harvard Classics, although I think we both knew he’d never read them. And so it was that, in this very last act of our marital union—the division of our property, we actually proved an amicable, well-matched pair.
The only exception to this newly found mutuality was the night our music collection was divided. I believed that I was entitled to pretty much ninety-eight percent of our CD collection because I had bought them, mostly used, after carefully culling through bins of recycled CDs at music stores, garage sales and even the Goodwill. I was willing to let him keep the Fine Young Cannibals, OMD, and New Order CDs that he purchased back in college. “That music is only good for dancing,” I told him, “and when am I going to ever dance again?” Aside from the nineties-college-dance music, however, I viewed the rest of our four hundred or so CDs as my own, solo possession. Somehow, my ex knew enough to roll over on this one. He recognized he was lucky to be walking away with the garlic press and the leather couch.
My ex did reassuringly tell me, “Trust me. You’ll dance again,” even though I think he secretly hoped it wasn’t true. And somehow, we even made it through the place where we both had new dance partners, but that part of the story wasn’t always so amicable. Now our two kids are both in college and my ex and I hardly ever speak to each other; there is really not much need for co-parenting these days. But I do like to hope that maybe someday, at one of our kid’s wedding dances or college graduations, we might stand together and enjoy the view from the mountaintop of having raised our kids cooperatively, even if not technically together.