Saturday, October 15, 2016
Above and Beyond Ugly
When I was in a community in the summer where I once served I had contact with two people I liked very much when I was their minister. One has remained a good friend for Ruth, and me, and I stayed in her home during the visit. I had lunch with the other, and it was good to renew acquaintances after many years. During those Sudbury years they were a married couple, at least to begin with, and our children were friends with their children. Then the marriage came apart, and the months and years following have not been kind. Even though the breakup occurred more than 15 years ago, there has never been resolution. The recent wedding of one of the children had its tensions, sad to say.
We so wish this wasn't the case, but as a minister I've experienced this all too often through the years. In most instances the hope is that the end of a relationship won't be contentious, for the sake of the children, but the wheels of civility come off along the way.
These situations came to mind when I saw the article in The Guardian entitled Parenting after divorce: the art of not being ugly by Sasha Frere-Jones. This couple seems to have gone through a painful parting, yet they managed to establish a couple of basic ground rules which have served them well.
We held to that one point of agreement: change the boys’ lives as little as possible. After children have seen their lives inverted, that all sounds a bit feeble, but it was a seed.
But a second rule went into effect early: no badmouthing the other parent, whatever the topic. And we were lucky – we liked and respected each other, beneath the turbulence. That’s where we had started. So the irregular interactions led to a committed decision to not be ugly, even when that seemed impossible. There was enough doubt and hurt for all four of us – anything to clean the air helped. It was a way of being both selfish and considerate.Even when there wasn’t much of it, talking was a boon.
"Thou shalt not be ugly" seems to be an excellent 11th commandment for separated parents. One would hope that it would be an even greater priority for people of faith, but life isn't easy, and it's a mistake to be judgmental from the outside.
Have you lived through this yourself? Have you the child in a difficult family breakup? Is there an art and a spiritual grace to not being ugly?