I recently reviewed Stacy Morrison’s new memoir of her divorce Falling Apart in One Piece. She was gracious enough to answer some questions for Mothertalkers:
Q First, mama brag – how old is your son Zack now and what are his latest accomplishments/milestones?
A My son, Zack, is six—almost seven!—and he is a really interesting, high-energy, sensitive and passionate creature. Right now he has what we’ve been calling “shark teeth“: his new front teeth are moving down, but he still has his little baby teeth behind them, all crowded and crooked, so he looks like a shark, with rows of pointy teeth. It will be so sad when the little ones finally give up the ghost. He’s an avid reader (the TinTin series is his latest addiction) and we go on fun mother-son scooter adventures on the weekends. Once we surprised his father by scootering all the way to his house, two neighborhoods away!
Q What is the most difficult question Zack has asked you about your divorce or relationship with your ex-husband and how do you handle it?
A I don’t think there’s any one “most difficult“ question, because, lordy, they are all difficult. But I stick by a great piece of advice I published in Redbook more than once, which is to answer only the question that he asks, and not get pulled by my own guilt or grief into fleshing out more of the story than he’s ready for. I mostly just tell him that Mommy and Daddy decided we couldn’t live together anymore, even though we love each other—and then I remind him that that will never happen to him. That Zack and I are a permanent deal, and there’s no such thing as divorcing your parent. But Zack is confused by the friendship Chris and I share; he keeps insisting to me that Chris is “my husband,“ even if we aren’t married, because Chris is his father, and I’ve basically just had to give up on that one for now.
Q How do you think your divorce and being single has changed your parenting? How has your co-parenting relationship with your ex-husband changed since the divorce was finalized?
A My parenting was barely formed when Chris ended the marriage, since Zack was just nine months old at the time! But the reality is that I learned a powerful lesson in the months after Chris moved out, which is that he was not going to parent like me, period. And if we’d still been married, I’m sure I would have been badgering him to parent more like I do. Cut the fruit the same way I do, make the same lunches, adhere to the same bedtime routine. With the divorce I had to accept that Zack would get totally different things from our different parenting styles, and that that simply had to be okay—and, more importantly, it was okay.
The co-parenting relationship has changed tremendously since the divorce, as Chris and I started living more separate lives, and as Chris and I both gained confidence in ourselves as parents. When Zack has a crisis of one kind or another, we tend to pull together and have a lot of family meetings to make a plan, but in general, our lives are much, much more separate now than they used to be. Letting go and falling apart is a process; it takes time. I’m just so happy we got to do it slowly, even though it hurt like hell. I learned a lot in those years we were still so closely connected, even though we weren’t a couple anymore.
Q You have a pretty interesting co-parenting relationship with your ex. You wrote about it in Falling Apart but also in the NT Times Modern Love column. One of my reactions to your essay was that “my ex would love this, with me doing all the work. No way.“ What kind of response did you get to your co-parenting relationship (and that column)? Why do you think yours is a different relationship than many other divorce couples, even those who are relatively amicable?
A Well, I’d be the first (and my ex would be the second and my boyfriend the third) to admit I am a control freak. Not in the typical way, meaning I don’t get obsessed with what Zack eats or his sleep schedules and his play dates, but I wanted to be in as much control as I could of when I get to see Zack. I always feel like I’m “stealing time“ with Zack, meaning pinching off an extra hour or two here, an extra long weekend there. And part of the way I got that—which was so necessary for me because of the traveling I do for my work—was by being willing to be the one who did the work that made it easy for us to have such a flexible schedule, like groceries, laundry, managing the childcare, etc. If two of us had been managing that, or having a power struggle over that, I wouldn’t have been able to be so breezily able to say, “Hey, I was thinking of going away with Zack this weekend, is that cool with you?“ But mostly, I think my co-parenting relationship is different because Chris is different: he didn’t feel like he had to erase me or negate me when he left me—he allowed himself to just decide he didn’t want to be with me anymore—so we don’t have a power struggle over the stupid stuff because the two of us were locked in a pointless duel.
Q One thing that helps you through your divorce is your friendships, many long lasting friendships. You describe a difficult vacation week that you take, with your son then about 2.5, on Cape Cod with your friends Tina and Matt. You describe the growing tension with your friend Tina illustrating just how different you are as a parent on your own with a toddler from a married couple parenting a 1 year old. What struck me were not just the differences between your marital statuses, but also how the differences in your children’s ages can impact friendships. How did your divorce and your own changes/growth affect your friendships?
A Yes, the children’s ages were definitely the key factor in why that vacation didn’t work out. Who would have guessed? (Anyone who’d tried it before; that’s who.) But divorce completely changed almost all of my relationships, except for my work relationships. Work was where my life felt stable. But as I joke in the book: What’s a double date with a single mom? Nothing! It’s too weird! So it did take me almost three years to rebuild my social life, and much to my surprise, I ended up starting to date just to have something to do with myself on the weeknights Chris was with Zack! I wasn’t dating to meet a guy; I just needed someone to go to the movies with! In the end, though, that was actually the perfect way to go back into dating, with that kind of mindset. It kept the bar low and allowed me to tiptoe into something that felt very scary. But it is true that my friendships were my anchor; even though I couldn’t hang out with most of those friends on a Friday night, I felt their love and support and concern for me, and it’s what made me believe I would survive, and that I deserved be to loved. And, you know, that’s what we want to teach our kids, right? That they deserve love, and that they can survive anything hard that comes their way. I’m proud that I lived that for my son to see with his own eyes.