I have a friend who is considered by many a “safe zone.” When you talk to her, you don’t feel judged. When she asks you questions, you know they come from a place of understanding and not inditement. When people are looking for clarification or help processing something emotional, they want to talk to her. She is a “safe zone” for many. I have been working the past nine months to create a safe zone with my kids and in my home. It has not been easy and I have probably screwed up more than I have succeed, but we have made PROGRESS.
Before the divorce, pulling the two kids and husband together to do something was torture. When I think back about it, for the past few years we were dividing the kids and living separate lives. For example, we split the parenting duties rather than shared the parenting duties. I took one kid to a practice, he watched the other at home. One wanted to go to the store, the other got to stay home. I lied to myself, “We are so smart. Look how effective and efficient we are at life.”
One of the biggest challenges has been the relationship between me and the kids and between the two kids themselves. Prior to the divorce, they were two independent people who just so happened to live in the same house. There was not a real sense of connection or emotional need between the pair of them. At one point, by examining their relationship with each other, I realized they were playing out the roles that they saw me and their father living out before them each day. When my husband told my son, “you don’t put down your sister,” deep down I think he knew it was bullshit because that wasn’t the example he observed between his parents.
One day, prior to knowing that I was going to get a divorce, I was sitting in the waiting room at the therapists office. A family walked in for what must have been a family therapy session. There was a mom, dad, and two kids. The kids looked about the same age as my kids as the parents did my husband and me. They had a healthy banter with each other. The dad hugged his daughter and asked her about something at school. She didn’t shrug or feel embarrassed. The dad and mom began to talk to each other, so the kids sat down on a few empty chairs by me and started to talk to each other about school and friends. I was so annoyed.
I couldn’t believe that this fake family, coming into the therapists office, was putting on a performance for me. They had to be acting – showing off for all that observed them in the waiting room. A part of me was annoyed while another part of me was so jealous. If these actions were the indications of a “real” family, what was my family? What were we? That day began the understanding that my reality didn’t match the definition I had believed and created. My house, my relationships with those in my house, were not safe. They were independent of one another. This family was a living safe zone. Watching them gave me hope and gave me a vision for the future I am trying to live today.
Finally, I can feel the kids and I starting to become a safe zone. Last night I brought home 1000 letters that needed to be stuffed into envelopes and labeled for a large mailing at work. The nice guy I work with offered to give them each a gift card to help out (I like to think they would have helped out anyway). So we set up an assembly line style, put on the radio, and started our system: fold, stuff, label. As you may imagine this allows for a natural flow of conversation, especially after two hours of stuffing at the table. It took time, but the transparent conversation began. The kids began to share memories with each other. When I walked out of the room, they continued to talk to each other in a respectful way. They talked about what they remembered from the divorce, they began to ask me questions, they teased each other. It was a win. It was safe. It was confirmation that this pain, this suffering, this year has been worth it. We are becoming the family that I knew was possible.
Creating a new family is like a glass mosaic. Someone took a hammer to our family of four and shattered the already broken pieces. I then looked at the pile of rubble, and I picked out the pieces I wanted to keep. I have been working to glue them together to make a new beautiful piece. You can see the edges at times if you look closely. You can see where we have had to use extra glue to hold the pieces together. But when you stand back and look at it, the glass pieces glimmer in the light. They give hope and provide a reminder that broken pieces can still be beautiful.