For many years, right before Thanksgiving, I wrote about children caught in the crossfire between divorced and separated parents in the holiday season.
I changed the timing in response to emails and calls from parents and grandparents, as well as divorce lawyers and the judges who oversee these family disputes. The common grievance: If we wait until Thanksgiving to talk about cherishing our children more than our grudges, we're too late. War has already been declared, and battles have been engaged. Too many kids' Halloweens are in ruins.
I admit to struggling initially with the timing of this column this year, and not because I'm hesitant to address what all children deserve. It's just that there's so much going on in our country and in the world right now. We're less than three weeks away from our midterm elections, for example, which will be voters' first chance since Donald Trump was elected to weigh in on the direction of the country. It's impossible to overstate the importance of this election.
But if we care about children, we must care about them all the time, not just on slow news days — which have virtually disappeared in the past two years. National and international crises loom, but the daily mess of life continues. Parents continue to fall out of love, and this year, as is the case every other year, another round of children are becoming pawns in a game with no honorable victory.
And so here we are, talking about Halloween. It's the most child-centric celebration of the year, as we conjure a make-believe world full of costumes and parties. Think about this: Trick-or-treating is the only time of the year when grown-ups encourage little ones to take candy from strangers.
Talk about magical.
Any busy divorce lawyer can most likely describe Halloween night phone logs filled with tales of mutual agreements that were lies, all lies. Children waiting for parents who never show up. Parents showing up for children who are not at home. Costumes ruined. Costumes missing. Costumes deemed unacceptable, quite suddenly but oh-so predictably.
"The parents are standing in the driveway," one of my lawyer friends tells me, "arguing about whether Darth Vader is appropriate. She says it's their son's favorite 'Star Wars' character. He says she picked it because Darth is a terrible father."
He shakes his head. "Meanwhile, the kid's standing there wearing the costume. Finally, he pulls off the mask. 'It's OK,' he tells them. 'I'm too big for trick-or-treat anyway.'"
He was 9 years old.
Next up: Thanksgiving.
Divorce can hollow out a soul, at least for a while, and it's not a child's job to fill that void. Never are parents a more powerful example for young children than when, in the darkest moments, we model how love remains. Parenting is hard, but it comes to an end. What happens next depends on our children's memories and their version of us. There is no editing that story.
I've said it before in a column, and it bears repeating: No matter what you think of that former spouse who hurt you, every child you brought into the family you used to be still wants to love everyone in it. In the absence of abuse, every child deserves to live the essential truth of the human heart: We can never love too many people.
Once upon a time, every last one of us was a child. Just like our children, we were vulnerable and dependent on the adults in our lives. If you are a parent in the thick of the divorce fog right now, remembering who you used to be will help you see your children for who they are right now.
They want to love everyone, and that means you.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.