March 1, 2000

Building a New Structure

Filed under: Fatherhood — schroder @ 3:00 pm

When my kids were 9 and 7, life was kind of crazy. Our family was adjusting to a divorce, each parent was settling into a new household and my daughter and son were making friends at a new school. That’s a good amount of change for one calendar year.
Yet, eight years later, I am amazed to report my children seem remarkably well-adjusted. They haven’t finished the rocky voyage through the teenage years, but solid ground is beginning to appear on the horizon.
Last fall, I rented a van in Charlotte, where they have lived for five years, picked them up and four of my daughter’s friends and headed back to Georgia. We toured the mountains, several outlets, the Mall of Georgia, Lenox, Phipps and other points of interest to teenagers. For a few hours, my son and I had time to toss a football and talk about life. I asked him why he and his sister seemed to have done so well despite all the turmoil. “Well,” he said, “most kids my age have been through the same thing.”
I’m not a proponent of divorce. Far from it. I think it should be the very last resort. I write about it because time provides perspective and one thing that is most elusive when you are in the middle of a break-up is perspective.
The top two pieces of advice I give to parents starting down this road are: 1) show and tell the kids you love them at every opportunity and 2) don’t let them hear you criticize your ex-spouse. Simple as they sound, this can be difficult for parents nursing their own wounds.
I also suggest providing a strong sense of structure amidst all the chaos. I love spontaneity, and somehow stumbled into this strategy by default. I had just joined the Second Ponce de Leon Family Life Center. So every Wednesday night from 6-9 p.m. we would eat at the same restaurant, be served by the same waiter, go swimming and play basketball and then dash by for a quick visit with my parents. On Friday nights, we would go roller skating and on Saturday mornings we took a ceramics class. On Sunday mornings, we visited church or Sunday school. This rhythm carried us through that tough first year.
When they moved to Charlotte, their mother and I stuck to a rigid every-other weekend visitation policy. Even though it involved lots of driving, we all adjusted.
Now the “kids” are 17 and 15. They have other interests: Friends, school activities, games and more recently, jobs. Weekends are not so open anymore. In years past, I would have mourned their absence, but now we all have a sense of peace that we are very much engaged, even if the opportunity has shrunk to e-mails and phone calls.
A few days ago, my son Thomas called and asked when we could get together again. I told him it depended on when they could get free from work. “Well this weekend I have two spend-the-night parties and work on Saturday. But how about you and I do something the next weekend and then you can take Sally on that college visit you were talking about the next weekend.”
A perfect plan, for many reasons. If we do have less time together, this will ensure it is fully focused on one at a time.
I’m always amazed that I can go years without seeing best buddies from high school or college, but within seconds of being together, we are laughing as if our paths never diverged.
It’s much the same now as the children get older. Our bonds were forged with steady time together and though we now find the moments more fleeting, they are always strong. I’m convinced it is because we instilled a rhythm in the early years, even if at the time, life seemed totally out of control.

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