It's been over 3 years since Ella's mom packed her up and moved her 5 hours from her daddy.
Almost as long as she had been alive at that time.
She got 4 years as a family of three and she's now at 3+ years as a child of divorce.
The pain is still very real for her.
She still cries at times.
Last night, as we were preparing to take her back to her mom, the following conversation happened:
Ella: (fighting back the tears) Daddy, why did you have to get divorced? Why did you and mom have to fight so much? (Not sure where that part came from.)
Chris: I know how hard this is, Ella. You didn't choose this. But sometimes people just get divorced. I'm sorry you have to deal with it.
Me: Daddy knows exactly how you feel, Ella. His parents are divorced and he used to have to do this, too.
Ella: But you didn't. You're lucky.
Me: You're right. I'm very lucky. And I try to remember that. I'm sorry you weren't so lucky.
Chris then went on to say a few more words of encouragement to Ella about the situation, and we packed up to head back.
When she has these moments - which do come less often now, but are no less painful for her - we try so hard to honor her feelings, to allow (and even encourage) her to talk. She has a very real pain because she loves her mom, she loves her dad, and she spends her entire life missing one of them. Because she was little, the day will likely come when she has no memory of her parents being married to one another. But even then, she will suffer the grief of their decisions.
It cuts deep for me.
Not because I feel less loved by Ella or that she wishes I weren't a part of her life.
I know that's not true any more than it's true that she wishes her other "steps" away.
But the pain of what she doesn't have overwhelms the benefit of what she does.
And that hurts as a parent.
As parents, we do everything we can to shield our kids from pain - particularly emotional pain.
We teach them manners and hygiene so they're not made fun of (among other reasons).
We comfort their broken hearts when school friends are mean.
We shield them from books and shows they are not ready to handle yet.
We gloss over difficult topics and avoid derogatory nicknames, even in play.
The last thing we want to see on our kids' faces is the hurt of a wounded soul.
But for a child of divorce, that wound is deep -- and it is daily.
Every single day a child of divorce goes to bed without a hug and kiss from one of her parents.
Every holiday a child of divorce has to split it or miss out on something.
Every birthday has two parties where significant people are missing from both.
They so rarely get the opportunity to be in a room with ALL of the people they love, and at least for Ella, she knows those moments are tense even when they do occur.
Parenting Ella reminds me constantly of how lucky I am. I had no more control over my parents' marriage than she did. I no more understood her pain as a child than she understands how easy life could have been for her. And yet, parenting Ella also breaks my heart constantly. I grieve for that which she will never have.
This morning I came across this article, and I was reminded yet again of how we don't tell our kids "the truth" about their worlds. Kids like Ella need to see healthy stepparent models.
Kids like me need to see them, too.
I had several friends who were children of divorce, but it seemed "fun" to have two houses, two sets of rules, two sets of toys, two Christmases. My friends never talked about the pain. And the movies made it seem that all would be right in the end.
It so rarely is.
Just like I don't want my kids growing up with unhealthy images of adoption, I also don't want her thinking that for everyone else, divorce is temporary. She's already been wounded to her core once - please don't set her up for further disappointment and grief.
There are books that talk about divorce for kids.
She knows these books. She's read them; she's talked about them; we own them.
Divorce is a regular conversation in our house.
It doesn't go away - just like adoption doesn't go away once the child is home.
Just like grief doesn't go away once the casket is closed.
It breaks my heart to see my little girl hurt like this.