Megan Murphy – St. Augustine, Fl
Ms. Murphy wrote a winning essay for the 2014 Ayo and Iken Scholarship. The purpose of our scholarship is to recognize families that overcame the difficulties presented by a divided household. As custody and divorce attorneys we routinely see parents acting in destructive ways to their children. We applaud examples such as this and sincerely hope it can provide a positive example to other families. We also express appreciation to Ms. Murphy for sharing her story and wish her success in college.
There is a quote by Charles R Swindoll that states “Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.” Over the past twelve years, I have learned to embody this quote through the teaching and actions of my parents, Sally Cunningham and John Murphy. Although they divorced just before I entered first grade, they have kept me front and center in their lives, and have committed to work together for my best interest.
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I don’t think I really understood what my parents meant the first time they sat me down, together, to talk about the changes that were going to occur within our family. We were sitting on the sofa in the living room and they explained that they were getting a divorce. They said this meant that they would no longer be married; we would no longer live together in the same house. I smiled, and tried to get up to play with my toys. I guess I envisioned a vacation where I would be with one of them sometimes, and the other one at other times. They brought me back to the sofa and told me that they loved me very much, and even though we were not all going to live together, they would still BOTH be around and would still be my mom and dad. I guess they were satisfied with my reaction, because they let me go play.
The next several months were different, but not tragic in my eyes. I remember attending a class with my older brother and sister, where we talked to an adult about how to make the best of this situation. I remember that there were other kids in the class with us, and also remember that both of my parents were in a class down the hall, talking about similar things. Life was not too different. My dad had always worked in a restaurant and I was used to him not being around when I got home from school. My mom was a teacher at the same school where I went, so I was with her from the time I woke up in the morning, until it was time for bed. I did miss the morning squeeze I would get from my father as I snuck into my parent’s bedroom before school. But, my dad would still call from the restaurant to tell me good night. Things just didn’t seem too awful.
It wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized things weren’t like that for my classmates whose parents were divorced. They would complain about having to go to their dad’s for the weekend and miss so and so’s birthday party. They would write in their journal that their mom and dad were still fighting, even though they didn’t live together anymore. They would tell me about how their mom would ask what they did when they were at their dad’s and how their dad would ask about what their mom was doing when they were with her. I was glad I didn’t have to worry about that.
From the beginning my parents did not set up a schedule where we would HAVE to go to one house or the other every other weekend, or two weeks in the summer. Every week, they would review their work schedules, and look at what activities my sister and I had. They would decide what things they would each take us to, as well as what games and shows they could both come to. I never had to hear that I HAD to go to my dad’s because it was his weekend and my mom needed a break. I have heard this from my friends’ parents, however, many times. My parents still both attended parent teacher conferences together, still both came to our sporting events together, still both attended our concerts and shows and still both were there for birthday and holiday celebrations. When my dad needed to work the late shift for several years in a row, we simply stayed at home every night with mom. When Mom was going away for a workshop or conference, it was Dad who took care of things for us while she was away.
When we went to my brother’s football games, we would all sit together, cheering him on from the sidelines. After his games, we would sometimes all go to McDonald’s together ‘and play on the playground. Saving seats for each other when we went to my sister’s band concerts was just like it had been before. My parents talked on the phone together every week, and most of the time were able to figure things out together when it came to anything relating to us kids.
The first time I became aware of my parents’ problems was when my dad slipped back into trouble with his alcohol addiction. I remember having to call my mom to pick me up because he had been acting weird and I was scared. My mom came right away and explained that my dad had an illness, just like when I broke my arm the year before. She told us that while Dad was trying to quit drinking, that we should be nice, because it was so hard for him. I remember my aunts talking about him at times, and my mother would always make them stop when we were in the room. She asked them to never speak rudely about my dad in front of us.
Sometimes, when my dad was he would call my brother or me, and scream about how my mom did this or that. She would be right there to calm us, always explaining that when Dad did and said these things, it wasn’t really him, it was the addiction. She taught us about the struggles people have with alcohol and drugs, and explained that it can be hereditary, so we should be especially careful when we ate older. Even though my mom was respectful of my dad, she never let us be in situations that were unsafe again. She would always come in and chat with my dad for a bit before visits, to be sure everything was OK. She really worked hard to make sure we were safe, as well as be sure we still got to have a positive relationship with our dad. During these times, when we won a game, or received an award, she would call my dad to share the news. I didn’t realize it at the time, but if he answered while intoxicated, she would “leave a message” on his voicemail. When he was sober, she would hand the phone over to us so we could tell him ourselves.
When my mom introduced us to her boyfriend several years later, it was Dad who took the time to calm our nerves and make us feel all right with having another person around. My mom got remarried, and yet my dad continued to come to our events, even with our step dad around. He showed us that it was OK for moms and dads to get married to someone else. He even suggested to my mom that we go back for some counseling to talk about our feelings with the new family dynamics. I know that my dad wishes he could be the one living with us every day and spending more time with us, but he continues to do the best he can, and not let the presence of my step dad interfere with him spending time with us.
Now that I am older, I have been able to ask my mom about the specifics of how she made it work out as well as she did. She shared that it was never easy, but because she and Dad both loved us so much, they were usually able to make it work. She said they struck a deal for one or the other to have final say in certain situations, just like they did before the divorce. If it had to do with school, and they disagreed, she got the final say. If it had to do with chores, or curfews, Dad got the final word. They made it a point to both keep folders where they would put copies or originals of anything they thought the other one would want to see when it came to us. Pictures from vacations, report cards, school work, and medical records were always a MUST to share. They spoke at least once a week to coordinate schedules and make plans together. They worked to rearrange work and other conflicts if it was going to mean we were going to miss an event. When my mom had us 99% of the time, she never brought it to our attention or complained about it. She just made it work.
When problems arose with slipping grades, or poor behavior choices, there was always a united front. My brother was caught at an underage drinking party when he was 17. He gave my father’s number to the police officer, hoping to avoid Mom finding out. Dad picked him up, and let him spend the night. When he woke up the next day, he told my brother that he had until 5:00 pm to tell Mom what had happened. He told him that he would be calling, so he better make a good choice. Well, he did call at 5:00. And my brother had not said a word. The three of them met up to discuss the situation and consequences together. They did not talk about it in front of my sister and me, because they also have the belief that your brothers and sisters do not always need to know the mistakes you make. My brother was the one that ended up telling me about it. At first, he couldn’t believe that our father had betrayed him like that. Later, he realized, it was just another example of how they would always try their best to do the right thing for us.
During my junior year of high school, I had decided that I no longer wanted to be part of my dad’s life. I was frustrated that he was still dealing with his alcoholism, and I just didn’t want to be bothered anymore by phone calls and other side effects when he was drinking. My mom talked to me about this, and supported my decision, telling me that it was my choice, since I was the one that had to deal with it. She reminded me that a permanent separation meant he would not be around for happy times either. I had made up my mind, and stopped answering his texts and calls, and refused to go spend time What I found out later was that my mom would still call my dad and tell him when and where my play was. She would give him the dates to my chorus concerts, weightlifting meets and other school events. He told me later, when I changed my mind, that he and mom would spend a long time talking about it on the phone. Mom would explain the reasons for my no contact, and talk him through his anger. She made him realize that if he wanted me to respect him, he had to be respectful. He would show up at my events, and try to keep his calm and be kind. He would call once a week and leave a message asking how I was, even when I didn’t return the call for months at a time. I am beginning to start the relationship again with my dad, and I attribute that to my mom. She encouraged me to maintain a relationship with him, and has taught me how to have a loving relationship, without letting the negative aspects interfere with my life. She has taught me to politely end a conversation that is not healthy, and has helped me learn to enjoy the good times when they are there.
Things have definitely not been easy. I still wish that my parents could have worked things out and stayed married. But, when I look back and realize all of the sacrifices they made to help our divided family function the best way it could, I am proud of us all. There were slip-ups. I remember hearing some not so nice phone calls, or encounters in the parking lot. But each time, my parents would apologize and work on trying to stay calm and Work together to solve problems with the three of us. People don’t often talk about their mistakes or problems, because they are afraid of what others might think of them. My mom has an opposite view. She says that people will find hope when they learn that others face problems similar to theirs. They will not· feel so alone when others are willing to share their success and failures. I can picture the look on her face, as she gets ready to recite her favorite mantra, “Those who matter don’t mind. And those who mind, don’t matter.” I have fully embraced this philosophy. I have learned from my parents how to handle difficult situations calmly, and how to make the best out of things. I especially learned how to respect others when you disagree, and how to handle yourself when life throws problems your way.
I did not grow up in a “Brady Bunch” family. I did not have both of my parents together for that “one, big, happy family.” But I did grow up feeling loved. I did grow up learning how to own up to my mistakes and how to take responsibility for them. I had role models who showed me how to put others first. I learned by their example how to do the best you can, apologize and be better the next time, and keep on working to be better to the loved ones in your life.
I hope I don’t have to encounter major problems in life (who doesn’t wish for that?), but I know that since 90% oflife is how you react to it, I am prepared to face the challenges as they come.