As a matrimonial lawyer for almost 40 years, I have been an eyewitness to the seasonality of divorce filings. There is always a flurry of new matters walking into divorce lawyers’ offices after New Year’s Day and Labor Day. Why? Because January 1st or a new school year seems to be time when people implement their New Year’s resolutions. But recently, as I was thinking about this pattern, I wondered when the Tipping Point really occurred. I think it is the month of May. The month of May is overflowing with Milestone Events. Teens are getting ready for proms and high school graduations. Young adults are finishing college, graduate school or planning their own weddings. But this city girl thinks the seeds of discontent are being planted permanently in the ground in May, as couples negotiate the emotional minefield that Milestone Events can be for them and realize that their fantasies about these moments did not happen.
When couples get married, they each seem to have different inner visions of the movie of their future life together. As Albert Einstein opined, “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably, they’re both disappointed.”
I see the same problem of unrealistic expectations when a couple has a child and when that child is about to leave the nest. When a couple plans to have a child, most parents imagine that somehow they will have the Gerber baby. Unfortunately, the reality of parenthood is not a sweet smelling cherubic baby, but rather sleepless nights, increased financial obligations and coordination of the laundry of life rather than a romantic rendezvous. The same is true for symbolically and emotionally charged Milestone Events.
Although adding children to the equation changes the dynamics of any intimate relationship, it also seems to delay addressing personal unhappiness. If you look at school directories you will notice that as children progress along the road of educational advancement their parents’ contact information exposes the creation of more separate households for a child’s parents. Nowhere does the landscape seem to be more treacherous than high school graduation.
How many couples facing the reality of an empty nest look at their intended life partner and realize that this is not the face they want to see every morning for the rest of their life or even for the next year? As a romantic matrimonial lawyer, I urge couples to face the challenges in their relationship as early as possible, preferably when the problems and disappointments in their intimate connection are small and manageable, rather than silently keeping score of decades of disappointments in your partner and presenting them with the scorecard as you hit the finish line of high school graduation.
And for those couples who have completed the divorce process before their child’s prom, graduation, or wedding, do not let this momentous, sacred time in your child’s life become the battleground for a reenactment of an Uncivil War. Try to remember the dream you shared about creating a human being with unlimited potential and allow your child to have that dream actualized. Plan the details of the days and weeks before the Milestone Event as carefully as a military invasion. Organize the troops for a seamless shifting of the guards, let each of you have special time with your child, but most of all, let your child have the day he or she wants for themselves. Recognize that no one can ever be loved authentically by too many people. So if your former partner has someone new who is significant in his or her life, and, more importantly, in your child’s life, foster and encourage their friendship with one another or at least tolerate it graciously.
As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “Kid, you’ll move mountains! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way! “