Category Archives: My Story
The Second Ceremony Project is a project about divorce and children. To put it really simply, it is about dissolving marriage without destroying the kids or each other. The goal is to do this in several ways:
By sharing my stories and experience with you;
Hearing your stories and helping you through ritual and ceremony; and
Sharing our stories with even more people to help them through this part of their lives.
Besides being married and divorced three times, I’m also a child of divorce. One of my strongest memories of my early childhood is the screaming. I remember the sound of big heavy feet walking down the hallway and then stopping, and the silence of my dad standing in the doorway before he stormed out the front door. Another early memory is standing in the hallway of my father’s hotel room holding my mom’s hand. I remember lots of silence and a sailboat painting on the wall. I remember wanting to be really small, and understanding but also not understanding what was happening. I was five.
The short version of my childhood is that my parents fought a lot, and then my dad moved out. It happened fast but never ended, the type of ongoing fight that became the skeleton in my closet and the story of who I am. Needless to say, it wasn’t a friendly separation.
Even though I understood at a five-year-old level, it’s not like I really knew what was happening, and we definitely didn’t have any conversations about it even when I was older. I did know that I felt afraid and unsafe, suffered nightmares and kidney infections, and developed a relentless need for my parents’ love and approval. It was important that I knew it was okay. In my brain that meant that I needed to know that I was okay and that I didn’t do anything wrong.
The practice of seeing Dad for a few hours every other week, the pressure of endless child support and alimony, the emotional and financial expenses caused by fighting and lawyer bills—all of these aspects of divorce tore our family apart in ways that I am still learning about.
One thing I do know for sure is that there are other ways to dissolve a family—or rather, another way to create a new family in a family where the partners/parents/friends lovers don’t want to be together anymore. I know, because I’ve done it—more than once. At some point we made the decision to be together, and then made the decision to not be together. I saw how it happened with my parents—messy, unending, and never healing. How can you end a marriage or relationship with grace, and what does that even look like? These are the questions we answer at second ceremony.
I am well versed in the ending of a marriage and the effect on the children. Besides this site, I am writing a book on children, divorce, and the rituals that save us. And I hope to share your stories with my readers, so they don’t feel so alone in the pain of it all. We can’t do it alone. It’s not possible.
My hope is that all of this work will show readers that another way exists. There are several ways to honor endings, just as we honor the beginnings and the middles; ways that make space and allows kindness to come in. A way of letting go, forgiving, and seeing that the world outside of the pain of endings is friendly. Find out how you can help be part of the book and the site and help others through this same journey.
When you’re eight years old and blindly do whatever your parents ask you to do, you are often subjected to random acts of totally uncomfortable things. For example, when I was little, my mom and I would jump in the car and drive to my Dad’s. She’d then ask me to pick up a check from under my Dad’s front door mat. I wasn’t allowed to knock or make noise, which can be kind of tough when you’re eight. But I did what was asked because that is how I was back then. I got out of the car, tiptoed to my Dad’s door, and looked under the mat. Unfortunately, 99.357 percent of the time the check wasn’t under the mat, which required me to walk to my Mom’s car and tell her, dreading the reaction I’d seen so many times before. Then we’d go back home to call the Dad who didn’t answer the phone. This would go on and so on, and we’d eventually get said check, and I would maybe get a glimpse of Dad.
I want to put a disclaimer here—I am not a sad sack about all of this stuff, and this was healed many moons ago. At this point in my life, I look at it as something that just happened but as something that shouldn’t have, and I want to share it with you for that reason.
Putting our littles in the middle of these big things sucks. It’s a super drag for them that often leaves them with lasting complications in the future. If I were to write a TV show about divorce and kids in the 1970s, it would be very funny in many ways because, sadly, too many people can relate to it. But for everything other than a TV comedy, it would be so much more beneficial if we stopped putting kids in the middle. For everyone’s sake, it’s so much better for parents to take responsibility and recognize that kids are NOT part of the break up and SHOULDN’T be playing an adult role as an errand girl/boy, therapist, or even our friend. Let the kids live a little—chances are their life is a bummer with just the break up to deal with.
So take it from an adult child of a hideous, selfish, ugly divorce. Leave the kids out of it.
Every other Sunday, I waited for the sound of my Dad’s VW camper van to hit my ears. I got all dressed up and stood by the window. I would hear the van about three minutes before I could see it, and my heart would be beating so, so fast. I really missed my Dad. Seeing him every other Sunday just wasn’t enough time, but I wasn’t given much choice in the matter. My parents didn’t speak to each other, and I didn’t speak up.
This wanting and needing more—and not knowing how to make it happen—is one of the driving forces behind my need to share about my divorce when my kids were in the picture. The pain of that 1973 child custody arrangement is still with me. Thankfully, I have had partners that are also interested in what is best for the kids. They have put personal agendas aside and frankly forgiven me.
For me, ceremony played a big role in my healing and in my children’s understanding of what was happening. The skeletons in my closet that became the story of who I am also created this desire to make rituals around everything—including endings. I’ve found that acknowledging the end of something big in a tangible way can make miracles occur for all involved. When the children in our lives see their parents work through the messy stuff with honor and grace, it speaks volumes. I won’t know for sure until they are older, but through this, I believe I help my children find peace with change so they don’t have to the spend years and tons of money as I’ve had to in order to heal from the pain of unspoken needs and wants.
The complex simplicity of 252
A new trend is developing in the field of visitation schedules with kids called 252. I know a lot about it because I do it with my son Nikolai. It is a bit different than the standard model because I see Nikolai every weekday until about 7 or so. But overall I really don’t like it, and here’s why.
Most custody arrangements are made without including the kids in deciding (especially with littles). Now adults/lawyers/courts have decided the best way to share the children is using the 252 rule—or, as I refer to it, torture. Their father gets our son for two days. Then I get him for two days, and then he gets him for five days. Then I get him for two days, then his father gets him for five days, and then I get him for two days… and on and on.
In theory, it makes the adults feel good because it’s all fairsy. But fairsy is not always fair, and it’s certainly complicated.
In the 1970s and 80s, we were a society that really didn’t value fathers spending time with the kids after divorce. Every other weekend was the norm. Then the pendulum swung to include the Super After-Divorce Dad that did everything. Now we are trying to make a shared plan.
While I agree that kids need stability with both parents and a clear plan in which to do that, they also need simplicity. Sharing equally is super complicated. Asking a child of any age to readjust every few days to a new environment is tough.
I have different plans with each of my kids and their dads. The 252 plan works with Nicolai’s dad, but still seems rougher than the loose plan I have with Ava’s dad. Ava’s father and I do the “kids are with each parent when it works for the parent” plan. This plan requires good communication, loose guidelines of what that looks like overall, and lots of humor and flexibility.
We all have jobs that change, moves that need to happen; travel, sickness, and so on, so why not have what is happening in the real world of our lives dictate what is happening? How can you get to this more humane option? What do you think?
Sometimes we just need a ceremony because further communication with our ex-partner is lame and not good for anyone. I spoke to a really cool young woman just last night that is in the middle of going through the first big break up of her life. She was worried that she was still depressed even though it has been months since the split. She was also in the middle of writing him a letter about how grateful she was for the relationship, which I thought was a crappy idea. I had to ask her: What is the letter really for?
This woman ended the relationship because her ex was verbally abusive and scared her. After one of his big blowups, which involved hours of screaming at her, she decided it was best to end the relationship. What was obvious to me when we talked is that she is bound to the belief that she ended the relationship because the words “Let’s break up” came from her mouth, not his. But really, who ended it? Isn’t it truer that the abusive actions of her partner ended their connection? And why does she live with guilt because she took care of herself?
Taking action to relieve the guilt will really help her let go of the guilt and allow both partners in the relationship to move forward.
Now, about the letter and the motive for writing it: If we feel guilty, it is natural that we seek approval from the person we feel we have harmed. To do that, we may write a letter or look for other signs of approval. In her case, it turns out she is looking for forgiveness and his approval in taking care of herself. In reality, however, if she sends the letter it is basically an open invitation to let the crazy back in. What do we do with this ultimately unhealthy need to write the letter and still continue to live in our integrity?
This is where ritual is really useful. Most specifically, I recommended a fire ritual in this case. I suggested she write the letter to get the words out of her brain, and then burn the letter in a ceremony to let go of the guilt and to let go of the unhealthy relationship.
The aftereffects of the ritual can be subtle or dramatic, but either way it is likely to lift you out of whatever you were stuck in. Be willing to take action when you are in the shitter of any kind, and it will have a dramatic impact on your overall well-being.
Find the directions for fire rituals on our ceremonies page.