Furthermore, I wanted them to understand that just because the marriage ended, it didn’t mean you no longer care about the other person. I believe it’s possible to have a loving divorce. It takes an enormous amount of courage to change your life. No one wants a marriage to end; no one wants to have that heart-crushing conversation with his or her kids, but it happens.
I wanted an open line to my girls' dad so that we could be in sync as we headed into those turbulent teen seas I wanted both homes to have consistent values and rules if possible. I wanted to disarm my kids' potential bag of tricks. You know, the game where they play one parent against the other: "But Dad said..." or "At Dad's I can..." I wanted communication and transparency.
I also didn't want to cheat myself out of seeing one of my kids' most important relationships change and evolve as they got older. I didn't want to be excluded from all the laughs and inside jokes they shared with their father, and I didn't want to have that awful sense of feeling left out of half of my kids' life. I didn't want my kids thinking that their two parents weren't in constant contact and in total agreement. I didn't want to lose too much parental power.
Big agenda, I know, but I have taken on big challenges before! Family dinner would be the vehicle to get me there. Slowly, I started to ask Larry if he would have dinner with the kids and me on one of my nights. I received quite a few emphatic nos and then, lo and behold, I got a yes.
That first dinner was exactly what you can imagine: awkward and miserable, but mercifully quick. The girls downed their food in one gulp and hightailed it out of the kitchen with excuses of showers and homework. Larry left pretty quickly, too. Time was on my side, though. One meal turned into several, and soon enough we got back to our old family dinner ritual of "If It's Sunday We Must Be Eating Chinese Food." I would order the favorites and he would do the pickup on his way over to the house.
Eventually, the meals got a little longer, a little more relaxed; one night Larry even stayed for a movie afterward. Within the year, we branched out and started including local restaurants—still mostly Chinese, but at least we were out of the house. To this day I enjoy the surprised look on people's faces when they recognize Larry and realize he is having dinner with the kids and me! I'm sure one day I will read a gossip item saying how Larry was out to dinner with a woman who looks just like his ex-wife! Ha. It is his ex!
I wanted a happier, more inclusive divorce than what is generally the norm. I fought for it, but I couldn't do it alone. It took both parents, and two great kids, and a hexagon-shaped table, and all the word games that forced us to laugh even when we were hurting. During the most challenging time in my life, family dinner provided the space to reconnect with one another, to shore one another up, to remind us that we were okay. The shared meal was the path in. Amen.
Ready for a game night with your family? Try Laurie David's 3 ways to avoid the silent dinner table.
Excerpted from The Family Dinner by Laurie David. Copyright © 2010 by Hybrid Nation, Inc. Used by arrangement with Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.