One of my favorite books is The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. If you are the type to judge a book by its cover, the art design on this one will compel you to pick it up! Far beyond how to create corporate events, this book calls us to the very heart of how we are together. It’s a must read for anyone trying to figure out how to be a two-address family after a divorce.
I’m a gatherer. I enjoy pulling people together, making the plans, reserving the table, booking the tickets, securing the hotel, and making sure we get together. I find it easy to host, light the fire pit, play the music, and carve out the physical space for meeting up. Parker’s book takes that impulse in me and challenges it to go even further to create intention around the actual quality of the time that we get to be together.
As a Divorce Coach, I’ve observed that meetings of families where mom and dad are divorced have a certain buzz to them. The anxiety is high as each adult attempts to manage the inevitable triggers set off by the other. The kids are usually thrilled to have these people they love in the same room. And the adults, while proud of themselves for getting together, are both eagerly awaiting the moment that it will end.
Our gatherings as post-divorce families need the kind of attention that Parker outlines in her book. Why? Because we generally wing it, don’t we? We don’t really know how it will go and because we are thinking so very much about how much we don’t want to go, we don’t take any care to design the gathering with any forward thought. Parker cautions us that this laissez-faire approach doesn’t help us. Lack of forethought about these gatherings is one of the reasons we often approach and leave them with a weird feeling in our guts.
What would it look like to gather our two-address family with intention?
First, Parker urges us to decide why we are really gathering. I’ve taken this to heart more recently. In my mind, before I gather my children, their dad, and my husband together, I decide why we are really gathering. Obligation is not a sufficient reason. We get together on behalf of our children is also not a sufficient enough reason. Sufficient reasons include – the kids haven’t seen dad in a while due to travel; I want the kids be with both of us on their birthdays; the kids only get 18 Christmases at home as kids and I want them to have the people they love with them; or I just want to experiment with a casual weeknight get together so these gatherings aren’t so high holiday oriented. Specific intentions mark our time together.
The other key point Parker makes that applies to our post-divorce families is don’t be a “chill” host. This means we don’t just find our reason for gathering, invite the guests, and then hope everything goes well. She invites us to take on the full authority of host. Often as hosts we want to be minimally invasive, and we trust that the gathering will operate itself. Parker challenges this directly advising us to use our powers as host “to achieve outcomes that are generous, that are for others”.
What does this mean for us? It means we think about what we want the gathering to feel like when it’s done before it even starts. This doesn’t mean we fantasize about how our former partner will become an entirely different person than they were during our lifetime with them. It means we identify very clearly why we are gathering, and we think about ways to root that goal into our time together. For example, if our reason for gathering is because the kids love it when both parents are together, how do we be together best? Is it playing a game, taking a walk, or having dinner around a table? Do we love to tell stories about the kids when they were little? To give our kids a generous outcome, we need to think of how best to allow that gift to materialize.
You’re going to hang out with your kids’ other parent. It can be terribly difficult on your heart and managing your recovery through those events can be so hard to pull through. Try putting some more generous intention around the gathering and see what happens. When we look to do more than just bite our tongue and survive the event, we may be surprised at how much more light we can bring into these dark places.