“Want my bed — I mean your bed? Or …” My husband — er,
estranged husband — stops mid-sentence as he realizes that his bed is our old
king-sized bed which I have been sleeping on since he moved to his mom’s but is
now his again because it doesn’t fit into the tiny home I’ve rented. We
exchange amused looks. Dusk is descending, violet shadows swiftly overtaking
the backyard of his new house, his first home without me after a decade of
We’d spent the day moving him in and organizing. Several
trips from our old, shared home to his new place, while wrangling three kids — not an easy task. Yet, it was important to me to play a large role in helping
Serge and have the kids around to witness the situation, which we attempted to
transform into an adventure instead of the heartbreaking ordeal it actually
We want our kids — Violet (5), Henry (3) and Charlie (4 months) — to feel continuity between both Serge’s house and mine; to feel like both
parents are present in each home. We call his house "Millheim House" after the
town he lives in and mine is "Boalsburg House," after my town 20 minutes
down the road from his. Not "Mom’s house" and "Dad’s house." It makes a difference,
After months of awful arguments about everything under the
sun, including where we’d live as co-parents, we finally decided to set all the
nonsense aside and just make the whole damn thing as easy as possible, considering it’s the hardest thing either of us have ever done. Serge, tired of
living at his mom’s house for the first two months of our separation, moved to
a new home first. I helped move everything and organize his new place,
attempting to make it an exciting experience for the kids. “Most kids only get
one house but you guys get two houses!
There were days my face was swollen from crying, my throat raw from screaming, so intense was my rage.
They bought it, kind of. At 5, Violet is wise enough to
ask innocent questions that chip away at your heart until you’re forced to take
a time-out in the bathroom to catch your breath: “How come Dad doesn’t sleep at our house anymore? Do you guys still
love each other? Are we still a family?”
We tell her that, just like when she and Henry are arguing
and need a time-out from each other, sometimes moms and dads do as well, but of
course we still love each other. And we do. I will always love Serge. I
wouldn’t have the three loves of my life without him. I wouldn’t be me without him.
After Serge was all moved in, I spent the first couple of
nights at his place with the kids. It’s really important to me that they feel
like I’m a part of his house. We didn’t want to smack them with THIS IS DAD’S
HOUSE, NO MOM HERE — we just wanted as seamless a transition as possible.
A few weeks after his move, Serge drove the moving truck and
helped me move into my place. He spent the first couple of nights there, too.
If it sounds strange, it isn’t, really. Ours isn’t the kind of separation where
hatred and anger are involved. Oh, there was hatred and anger. A lot of it, for
a long time. It was bad. There were days my face was swollen from crying, my
throat raw from screaming — so intense was my rage. But I came to realize it’s
difficult to sustain intense emotion like that and, in the end I’m only hurting
myself and, more importantly, my kids.
While we’ve spent the last six months disagreeing on a lot
of things, the one thing Serge and I can agree on is that we desperately want to
be the best parents we can be — which is a lot of the reason for the separation
in the first place. We weren’t doing well together and our kids were noticing.
But, if you keep your kids’ well-being at the forefront, when
you pause, dig deep into yourself and take a hard look at the petty back-and-forthing
that inevitably comes with a parting of ways, you quickly realize there is no
point in engaging in drama. It hurts everyone even more than the heartbreak of
I suppose it would be harder if the breakup were the result
of someone’s bad behavior; cheating, alcoholism — all the usual suspects. But
it was just a slow, sad spiral that was years in the making. We turned into
husk people, coasting on autopilot. Serge and I have discussed that with the
heavy sadness of our separation comes some relief. Not relief that we aren’t
together, but relief that we aren’t those
people anymore; miserable, angry, resentful roommates. It makes co-parenting in
the face of separation a whole lot easier.
As a housewarming gift, I gave Serge a couple photos of him
with the kids that I also plan to hang in my house. My house is also my kids’
house, which means photos of Dad are absolutely welcome here. Always. I want
them to feel like each house is a place where both parents are very much
You can choose to divorce someone and rage over every
inconsequential thing, spiraling into an endless cycle of arguing, trying to "win" and becoming filled with hatred, anger and anxiety or you can choose to
ease gracefully into separateness, try
as best you can to move on with your life while developing a new relationship
with someone you were once madly in love with — and feel a whole lot better
about yourself in the process.
It’s up to you.
In this new column, "Separating, Together" Serge and Monica Bielanko will be writing about parenting, separation and navigating their relationship in an entirely new way.