At the state-mandated parenting class that my husband and I took as a precursor to divorce, I heard a number that still rings in my ears. The therapist in front of the projector insisted that blending a family (as in, getting established with a new partner in a new home and integrating all of the kids) takes four years.
Four years. My low-expectation talisman of the labors of love.
What the therapist didn’t say was that unblending a family also takes four years.
At my son’s first day of kindergarten this week, almost four years to the day after his father moved out of our home, the administrator hands me a key fob for the school’s front door. I tell her, Oh, we’re a two-home family. My co-parent will need another one of these. The cost of this particular freedom is $10. I’ll take it.
As I am driving home with the key fob dangling from its new place on my keychain, I register in my nervous system that I have managed to make an administrative request about our little constellation of a family that does not feel like stabbing myself in the eye. I realize that who we are has settled from story into fact. There is nothing left to solve.
I’ll admit, I am slow to let go. Slow to understand certain things about love and loss. Slow to be able to recognize the places where I wander off the path of my highest self into the shadows that need my attention and my care.
It took me more than 60 hours to birth my son and nearly four years to birth my co-family. But I got there. And I got to see what I was made of along the way. Today my slowness is looking to me like courage. My investigation into my deep grief and disappointment all these years has clearly become a power source. My heart’s ground is spacious and clear.
In these years, our son has risen up from a fierce little toddler to the confident grace of an elementary-schooler. Along the way, I have re-learned love, trust and respect of my co-parent and come full circle to seeking (and finding) his greatest good. Together, we have cultivated a family system that is a source of joy and collaboration and true care—in ways we just couldn’t manage under one roof.
It’s a work in progress. And there will always be more work to do. But we know we can count on each other to do it together, with kindness and respect.
Four years. I’ll take it.