Wendy Swallow
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Breaking Apart: Amazon.com

Breaking Apart: Book Info

Q: There aren't many divorce memoirs in the bookstores. Why did you decide to write a personal book about divorce?

I wrote this book because I wanted to read a good divorce memoir when I was in the middle of my divorce, and I couldn't find one. There are lots of good self-help books about divorce, but they didn't address the very real emotional pain I was experiencing. I also discovered that my divorce seemed different from some of the myths of divorce, and I wanted to write about that. I think divorce changes with each generation, and that much of the conventional wisdom about divorce is out of date. I kept bumping up against things that surprised me, and, because I am a writer, I wanted to capture that, write about it in a way that would make other people say "Yes, that's the way it really is."

Q: What are some of the things that surprised you about your divorce?

My favorite example is how married couples viewed me once I was single again. I had always assumed that married women would find me threatening because they would be afraid I was going to steal their husbands. That is the standard myth. What I experienced, however, was that married husbands found me threatening because I had a life their wives envied. I was sharing custody of my two little boys with my ex-husband, so I had days when I was free to meet friends for lunch, go for a walk in the park, sit around reading the newspaper in the morning, whatever. I was often extremely lonely for my kids, but what my married women friends saw was that I got free time without the constant drain of family or work. Their husbands worried that, like some sort of Pied Piper, I would lead their wives off to this never-never-land of divorce and joint custody, where moms finally got a break. I thought that was fascinating, and truly something new in our generation. None of my married women friends worried that I was going to steal their husbands.

Q: Joint custody often seems like a mixed bag for the kids. Do you think it is the best way to raise kids in divorce?

I wrote a memoir rather than a self-help book mostly because I'm not sure what other people should do in their divorces. Every case is different. Aside from that, however, I do think there are some real advantages to joint custody, and the most important is that the children continue to have a solid relationship with each parent. They don't have to give up one parent. Many people question whether the back-and-forth of joint custody is good for kids, but I think it is far less damaging than when children lose having a close relationship with either parent. My kids got very adept at packing up their important things and moving to the other house. In truth, sometimes I think they liked it, the change of scenery. They have certain toys at each house, different computer games, etc. My ex-husband and I always tried to let them feel completely at home in each house. Their stuff is theirs, and they can move it back and forth if they want to. I also sometimes leave out games or toys they were playing with before they left, so the house will look the same when they come back a few days later. It is easier with two, because my children have always gone back and forth together. As a result, they weren't as lonely as they might have been if they were only children. I do believe, however, that it is difficult to manage joint custody if the parents are still fighting. You need to be able to tolerate a lot of interaction with your ex, and if that is going to be high-conflict, that's generally not good for the kids. Some conflict is understandable, but you have to be willing to be forgiving, overlook little things, be patient, be helpful, make sacrifices. It's not easy, and some people never get to a place where they can do it.

Q: Was it difficult for you to learn to live without your children?

It was excruciating to have to live without my kids. I never imagined that I could end up in a place where my kids weren't with me every day. That was the worst part, and I'll never make my peace with that. I miss them all the time. Any day I can be with them, I jump at it. My time with them is very precious, and we try to make the most of it. I usually go only two days without seeing them, though, so it's not too bad anymore.

Q: Was writing this book cathartic or therapeutic in any way?

Many people ask me this question, and certainly I had a need to tell the story in a way that would give it depth and meaning. I wrote bits of this book early in our separation, during the worst years, and those pieces were therapeutic to write. But most of it, particularly the section about my marriage, I wrote just last year, and it was very difficult. It was hard because I had to unearth hatchets I had buried long ago. My ex-husband and I had been apart for eight years by then, and we had long since developed a good working relationship. But there I was, going through old journals and reliving that painful time in our life, and it was hard to put it aside and stay in the present when I was around him. He understood, however, and was patient with me through the process.

Q: Which raises the other question–has your ex-husband read the book? Did he approve this project?

Oh, yes. I couldn't have done this book over his disapproval because it would not have been fair. He approved the idea before I sold it to my publisher, and then he read the manuscript and approved it. Not that he agrees with everything I said, but he understands that this is a memoir, this is my story, my attempt to bring coherence to this difficult passage. He understands the literary process, which has made it easier. I think that reading it was hard for him, but he didn't want to stand in the way of the project. Fortunately, the solid working relationship we developed that enables us to co-parent well together has supported us through this project. We have a lot of respect for each other, and we trust each other. He knows I'm not out to hurt him or damage our relationship. Our working relationship is the most important support my children have, and I would never do anything to jeopardize it.

Q: Have your children seen the book or read it?

My kids are still just in middle school, so I don't believe they are old enough to read it yet. They will read it someday, I'm sure. I've told them I've written a book on divorce, and they know it is out. They pick it up sometimes and glance through it, but they aren't very curious about it yet. Their names and their dad's name were changed, so they don't see themselves in it. In a few years I'll sit them down and explain more about the book, and give them a copy. I'm not sure how it will effect them.

Q: Is this the kind of book that unhappily married women hide behind the pages of a magazine?

I hope this is the kind of book that will reach out to unhappily married people of both genders, and that will give them a sense of hope while validating the very real confusion, self-doubt, pain and unhappiness that is part of the divorce process. If they need to hide it behind a magazine, then that is what it takes. I read most of the divorce literature sitting cross-legged on the floor of my public library, because I didn't want to bring the books home. People move through divorce at whatever pace they can muster. I hope this book will help.

Q: Are there things you miss about marriage? Is divorce all it's cracked up to be?

I'm not sure what divorce is cracked up to be, but there are certainly some great things about it–the space, the quiet, the control I have over our life. Still, I miss being married very much. When you are married you are inside some sacred space society carves out for those that get it right, even if your marriage isn't working. When you get divorced, you suddenly move outside that sacred circle. It's a strange sort of no-man's land, and people assume that you and your children are not okay–that they need to either pity you or be concerned about you. What I miss about being married is the companionship, having someone who cares about the little details of my life. I miss having someone to fret about the children with. I miss having someone to lean against when I am tired or cranky. I miss having another set of hands to help run a house. Mostly, I miss being normal and I miss being loved. But I'm not going to miss those things much longer, because I'm getting married again this year. I'm not sure that will make me normal, but I won't be lonely any more.