Earlier this summer we attended the bar mitzvah of the son of really good friends. We’ve known the bar mitzvah boy since before he was born – my daughter and he are what I call “embryonic friends.” His mom and I were pregnant together, comparing bellies in the long months before these two were born. And when they were infants, we would rock them together on the sidewalk in front of our two houses.
About six or seven years ago, the parents of the bar mitzvah boy separated and divorced. Most of us in our tight circle of friends were taken by surprise. And while it became quite clear that the split was real and necessary, I have always been impressed with how they handled it. They spent six months in mediation, figuring out the details of how they were going to be the best co-parents they could be, before they even told their kids.
And they have remained true to that commitment. While of course I don’t know the intimate details of their relationship, on its face what I see is two people working really hard to make the best family life for their children possible, despite the challenging circumstances.
My kids, of course, have known this family their whole lives. I believe they are the only set of close friends who have split up. Certainly my kids have friends in school and other places where they have met kids whose parents are divorced, but this family is our closest window into that world.
And even though they know that the kids in this family are beloved, and toggle between their mom’s and dad’s homes easily, and get to keep all their friends and go to the same schools and come to all the same gatherings and are just like they are, it is still unsettling for them.
In the week leading up to our friends’ son’s bar mitzvah, my daughter, who had celebrated her bat mitzvah a month earlier, had many questions about how the parents were going to be on the bimah together. Despite all these years of seeing both the mom and the dad in the same place at the same time, my daughter couldn’t imagine how they would stand up in synagogue with their son on that day.
I gently explained how they were his parents, and because they work so hard to be good parents together, despite being divorced, that they would always be able to be there for their kids. I told my daughter how much I admired their ability to do this, and reminded her that I had divorced parents myself, and how it hadn’t worked the same way in my family. It had been too hard for my parents (two of her beloved grandparents) to work together to be parents, and so my sister and I never really saw our parents together again after they divorced when we were young teens.
It was so difficult and complicated for my daughter to grasp this, that even after I assured her of the fact that her friend’s family would be together, as one, on the day of the bar mitzvah, when that morning arrived, she asked again. I guess having gone through the same experience a month earlier, she just couldn’t envision how it was going to work.
But work it did. Not only did our friends stand up together and lovingly watch their beautiful son become a member of the Jewish community, but the dad was so choked up that he could not read his blessing to his son. So the mom took over, retrieved the paper from his hands and read it in his stead. Talk about a moving moment – there wasn’t a dry eye in our circle of friends.
For we know what it took for them to get up there. We have followed them on this journey. We know that there has been pain as they have tried to do the right thing for their kids, and to enable their kids to live out their childhoods feeling loved and supported, despite no longer all living in the same house. We have watched their children grow into confident, beautiful teens, and we believe that they have given their kids an extraordinary gift.
They have risen above the anger, the frustration, the challenges of divorce. They have seen a greater purpose, and kept their eye on that ball. They have made a decision that it is more important to them to provide two loving and caring and safe and secure homes for their children, and have subverted their own pain to make it happen.
Watching my friend take over blessing her son for her ex-husband was the most extraordinary moment. Knowing that this child will always understand that his mom helped his dad in a time a need is a snapshot of a kind of divorce that I will long remember.
We have a tight circle of friends, and we act and feel like a community of support for all the kids growing up in that circle. We love each other’s children fiercely, and care deeply about their welfare. And when our friends first announced their divorce, we were worried about the kids.
But I am no longer worried. I see that this family, splintered though it may be, is as solid and supportive as any. I know that my daughter’s embryonic friend has two parents who love him, and will stand together for him whenever it is needed.
This is the face of divorce today. It is a far cry from the divorce of my childhood, and one that I deeply appreciate and respect. And while I hope that I never have to face it myself, it gives me great hope to see that a family can live through divorce and come out on the other side still whole.