Divorce Terminology: Why Word Choice Matters

Making the choice to end a marriage, especially when children are involved, is a truly difficult and dreadful decision. It’s a breakup with the requirement to still make life choices together. But what a former couple chooses to do in the aftermath can lead to healthy outcomes rather than more devastation. It can be the example needed that the marriage could not provide.

After some space and healing take place, one simple step to mend the working relationship is the word choice you use to label your former spouse.

This idea was presented to me in line at Super 1. The clerk was allowing the gentleman in front of me to gather his goods while she started our small talk. She noted the items on the conveyer belt and asked me how many children I had.

“I’ve got four kids at home–all boys–and they are eating me out of house and home right now.” Pretty standard answer followed by an unexpected reply by the gentleman in front of me.

“You know, children respond to what you call them. I have been a pediatrician now for almost forty years. If you call your children “kids,” they will act like baby goats.” He said this in a very gentle, non-condescending way. His Indian accent tugged at my heart. “Make sure you pay attention to the words you use to label them. It matters.”

I picked up the pieces of my brain, paid, and left with a new perspective.

The words we say and use create our reality.

This story set the stage during the time of my separation. It suddenly became very confusing as what to call my former spouse. The term “ex” sounded so sharp–harsh–like an axe. It makes sense because you are severing something. I just didn’t want its negative connotation to invade my daily life.

ax in a chunk of wood

I meditated on what his new role was in my life and I landed on the best term: co-parent.

In our case, we are still joined together by four children. I don’t want my boys to hear me call their father “ex” because it may start to form negative labels in their own head. They love their dad. Choosing to use a term like co-parent, respects the label of what part he serves in my life.

I strive to talk about my co-parent with respect in front of my sons because they are a part of him. If they see us working to get along in order to make a family work, that is an example worth setting.

I’m proud of my co-parent and I for focusing on building a stable foundation to navigate separate terrain. It has taken years, but it has been worth it. When the challenging times arise, it makes it easier to work toward a mutual solution.

Obviously, not every situation may allow for this type of experience. And in no way am I chastising anyone who doesn’t feel called to do this. I’m just trying to offer perspective. I teach seniors in high school and have seen 18 year olds cringe or cower when they discuss their parents divorce or ongoing custody battles.

Divorce is hard, but you can heal. Know that you are not alone and that every family is complex–whether they are united or divided.

Find the words you need to create your reality. Use the axe to chop away any excess.

Words bad and good on two slips of paper

E. B. Livings
E.B. Livings moonlights as a mother of four sons and a teacher of English to high school seniors. She spends her days nurturing 150 people and her dog, Millie. She writes from her comfortable hometown of Rayne. She spent the first decade of the millennium at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Chances are she was your Orientation leader or you read her stuff in The Vermilion or 008 Magazine. She completed a Master's of Arts in Teaching at McNeese in 2017. Her hobbies are as eclectic as her outfits. When she's not guiding her gentlemen through earthly endeavors, she may be found practicing piano or running. In the chaos of loud boy-mom life, she finds solitude doing yoga, praying, or rocking on her back patio while strumming her guitar. You can explore more of her thought experiments at leecee.wordpress.com.


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