When I separated from my husband I learned of an organization called Kids' Turn, which facilitates classes for parents who have separated or are divorcing, helping teach them how to co-parent in a positive and cooperative way. I think it's pretty standard for court-appointed mediators (whom it's required for every divorcing couple with children to see, unless they've managed to somehow come up with a custody agreement on their own) to suggest co-parenting classes; ours didn't recommend it formally but mentioned that it may be a good idea. And it is. In theory, it is great to think that we could be assisted in the putting aside of our differences for our baby's sake.
For sure, the success of any co-parenting class depends greatly on how invested each parent is in cooperating in the first place, but I'm sure the skills learned in classes can be helpful even for couples who haven't been able to reach that point just yet. So far I've had a difficult time talking with my ex about parenting issues because when I do, he thinks I'm "trying to tell him how to parent." In five married years I still never figured out how to communicate any kind of concern with my ex without bruising his ego in the process. I've stopped trying, as I can scarcely imagine a more futile exercise--but the recognizing of that doesn't exactly leave me with a good solution when it comes to the necessary discussion of parenting issues.
Enter Kids' Turn. We've both signed up for the classes, though we enrolled in different sessions. It says right on the organization's web site that it's best if both parents can attend (I imagine they mean to attend the same session), but it seems the other parents enrolled may have the same issues we do, as not a single (ex) couple showed up to tonight's first class of a six-week course. It was a bunch of single parents like me, battling the rain and the SF parking to get to the waiting area of an office where the receptionist had no idea we were expected and who began making frantic calls to the people at Kids' Turn to find out what was going on.
We all waited in that office until the poor employees of whatever that office Kids' Turn had rented was had to go home for the day. Then we moved the operation down to the office lobby, where a few phone calls revealed that the facilitator of the class had gone to another of their rented locations across the city, while the rest of us had been told to go to this one. By the time we got to the bottom of that, some of the parents had already left.
This was, of course, frustrating. I'd left 1 1/2 hours early from the East Bay and two others had come from San Jose...it was pretty annoying to think of having made that trip for nothing. When it was clear our facilitator would not be coming up with a magic solution to the night's snafu, the seven of us who remained waiting decided to go to a nearby diner, since we'd all driven the distances, paid the bridge tolls, and gone to the trouble of arranging babysitters.
Today's New Activity: Dinner with Divorcing Strangers
After my separation, I started seeing a wonderful counselor at Kaiser who helped me in sorting out some of the most rotten of my immediate-aftermath feelings. She let me know there was also a divorce support group that I could attend if I thought it would be helpful to be among others in my same situation. I went to one session and decided that, for then anyway, it wasn't helpful at all. Maybe it was the fact that most of the attendees were a good bit older than me, with older children, and seemed to have more than their fair shares of bitter between them--maybe those were the turn-off factors--but for whatever reasons I didn't go back.
Now, many months later, I'm in a very different place and eager to be among people who are also navigating the winding and seemingly endless trail that ends at Destination Divorced. The nice thing about Kids' Turn is that they divide groups by the age group of the children involved in the separation. So in talking to the other group attendees, I found out that most of them were about my age, involved in marriages of about the length of my own (5 years or fewer), and all of them had a child or children under 4 years old. Already we all had a lot in common.
I've decided there is no faster way to get a group of strangers to break the ice with each other than to make sure they're all in the middle of divorce proceedings. You sure have heard the tales being relayed, about calls to the police, about lawyers, about custody matters (the whopper), about promises made and broken, false reports to various agencies, and about how much everybody was eager for the entire process to be over. It sounds like a terrible way to get to know people. I can say, though, that tonight was just what I needed.
Just among the women seated right next to me, two had husbands with cultures very similar to my ex's, so we had a lot to discuss on that subject alone. A man nearby was also headed back with his ex for round two of mediation soon, as my ex and I will be this coming week. Another man (the only one among us who was already successfully divorced) was revisiting custody matters 3 years later...it was good to hear from him just to know what can be expected further down the line.
Aside from having this instant thing in common with people, it was just nice to be among people who so clearly needed to talk; they seemed uniquely poised to understand how badly others may need to talk as well. They were a very friendly, open, concerned and helpful group--eager to share what they knew and readily seeking the best possible solutions for their children involved.
The title of this post is, of course, tongue in cheek. I do have to say that when we left the diner and were walking down the street I mentioned this was the weirdest group I've ever been part of....not that the people themselves were weird, but it was a strange and unpleasant reason to have been put into a group together. But hey, at least we can sort through the strange and unpleasant together.
I'm actually happy things happened the way they did. If the class had begun as planned, I sincerely doubt we would have had the chance to get to know each other the way we did. The rain, the absent instructor, and the almost desperate need among us to connect with others on this path all combined for one of the best on-the-fly hangout decisions I've ever made.
I'm looking forward to walking more of this journey with my newfound, single parent pals.