Mother’s Day is always an interesting day, both for divorced dads such as me and for many family members of divorced households. How we refer to our former wives (or former partners in children who identify as a mother) is always a bit challenging. As a dad, I would often see my kids wince when I would say “my ex-wife” or, as many divorced spouses like to say, “my ex,” as though they are terms of endearment or appropriately sensitive.
Several years ago, while bringing my kids back to their mom following a spectacular weekend visit to my partner, Mark, and me at our apartment in Manhattan, I ran into a former neighbor and great friend who was walking his dog in the neighborhood (pre-separation and my coming-out). Seeing me alone with my kids, he said, with a slight smirk, “Oh, dropping them off at your ‘ex’s’ house? Or your old house? Oh, fuck, whatever!” I reactively and instinctively smiled, and then, out of the corner of my eye, saw two injured faces on my children, who were in the back seat. Immediately I decided there had to be a better and more acceptable term for their mother. A more loving and caring term. And there it was, right in front of me: “the mother of my children.” I responded to my former neighbor, “You know, I like to refer to Connie as ‘the mother of my children’ as opposed to ‘my ex.’ And yes, I am dropping them off. How are you?”
Right there, my life and my relationship with my kids transformed forever. My words changed to be more empathetic and respectful. My focus shifted to be more loving. My thoughts began to focus on beautiful memories with my once-soulmate; together we produced the two most precious and important people in the world to both of us. My outlook improved, my tone softened, and my approach to problems with Connie became more loving and collaborative, and the problems easier to address, for me and I suspect for her as well.
Best of all, and with strong affirmation that my new words had true meaning, the reaction that I was able to see from both of my children, still tucked safely in the back seat, was one of pride, appreciation, respect, and love. They fully embraced and appreciated my new tone and my more respectful recognition that I provided to their mother. Their reaction was something that I will never forget, and it clearly reinforced the correctness of my new words.
From that day forward, I found power in love and have continually repeated “mother of my children” in all conversations and communications. For my kids as well as to anyone to whom I have said those words, there has been a consistent theme of being touched by my words, and hopefully they in turn will use these or similar references in their communications.
Undoubtedly, I know my words of love have had an influence. Why? Because they have caused the desired reaction in those I care about most on earth — my children. I replaced “my ex” with “mother of my children” every time Connie was mentioned, and soon everything changed. Every feeling. Every thought. Every statement. And most importantly, it showed our children the love that I had and have for their mother, always and regardless.
So here is my ask of each of you who are living in a similar situation. For Mother’s Day and going forward, try referring to your former wife or partner as “the mother of my children.” Hopefully it will have a similar transformative impact on your life as well as on the lives of those around you who have helped make you the person you are today.
Love. Simple. Watch its impact on those you care most about.
Michael D. Kelley is a resident of Pompano Beach, Fla., and Provincetown, Mass.