Before I had kids, I watched a friend clear their newborn baby’s nose by sucking out the mucous, as the infant simply could not breathe. With a mixture of incredulousness and admiration, I wondered how on earth he did that, without even thinking twice.
Then I became a parent. And with every fiber in my body, I understood.
This is what divorce is like, the only thing that will prepare you, is being there, with your own finger in the door. Those that have been through it will nod knowingly. It is a private hell, everybody suffers and has healing to do, each of us have our own set of circumstances to come to terms with. The rug is pulled from underneath your feet almost overnight as you deal with the emotional rollercoaster and litigious quagmire of divorce. That’s scary stuff, either you sink or swim.
My attorney said of divorce “everyone is a loser” and my cynical response (in my head) was “profound – am I paying for that?”
As time went by I started understanding this better as the layers unfolded. It really is not just about the inevitable financial and material losses of coming to a settlement during a process of never-ending and often very unfair compromises, it is the loss of a dream we have for our children to have a loving mother and father as a couple, in one home. I never ever thought that marriage would be a white picket fence; I knew it would be hard work at times, but neither did I want to fail. I really did not want us to be another statistic. More than anything, I wanted to give my children a warm loving nest in which to grow up, a place were we pulled together. For this was prepared to make sacrifices, probably too much so… and for that I must take responsibility.
Now, two years after signing on the dotted line, we sit in the aftermath of the life-quake, rebuilding brick by brick. On my “off weeks”, the trampoline takes up space and the family dogs lie listlessly in their baskets waiting for the moment the kids burst back in. Running a single household is expensive and my nights are restless trying to work out how I will manage all the bills. I have a marked change in my lifestyle as I readjust to new means. Well meaning married friends “forget” to invite you along to the couple’s dinners and holidays you no longer qualify for as a singleton. Without company for whole weeks at time, the silence yawns as you yearn for the bustle of a busy house. No new hobby replaces the presence of your children.
The other losses of which I speak are ordinary, but each one will break your heart just a little each time. As you shunt protesting children over to the other house, “I hate living out of bags Mom! ” or “why can’t we be like normal families?” You feel your gut wrench every time. I am so sorry for this pain I cause them. You see, I made that choice, they did not.
All of a sudden you can’t pack those healthy lunches and shove freshly squeezed orange juice down their little throats before school. You will no longer know which friend they are sleeping over at anymore, nor will you be there when they open their eyes on their 10th birthday. You can’t help them stick down that project late at night to get them into bed an hour earlier, or test them for their Friday times tables test. Your heart breaks when you can’t help your daughter navigate her first period. Who is driving them home from that party at midnight next weekend?
They call you in a quiet whisper, for fear of offending the other parent, asking you for your help – or a tearful and heartfelt “ Mommy, I really miss you” and you have to find something comforting to say, not do.
This part, I did not choose. It is in these moments I feel like I failed as their mother and all I can do is surrender to the pain I’ve caused us all.
The thing is, I did not have children to not raise them half of every month. I did not have children thinking I’d only ever share Christmas every other year. I really thought I chose “for better or for worse”. I thought we were a team and in so I trusted blindly with all my heart until I found my nest, my heart and life in tatters. I had to pick up piece-by-piece, day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year, bike ride by bike ride.
In my agonizing choice to leave, I have caused “brokenness” for my beautiful children. At times this feels like grief. Hard. Core. Grief.
Now and then that repetitive inner voice rears its ugly head: “Am I selfish, did I choose peace for myself and chaos for the kids? Yes…no…yes…no”
It is a tough road of self-doubt, intense single parent juggling to navigate.
Yes, I wanted out, but to do it right. I want to move on. I want to put the children first. I want to cooperate so that the children know we may not be “in love” anymore, but that we are a united front.
How wonderful it is when parents agree to disagree and put their differences to one side to wade through the mud together to get to the other side. BUT in other cases there is a complete melting pot of reasons why it never gets any easier.
Some people consistently make poor choices during marriage, despite the potential aftermath. This could be anything from addictions to personality disorders, from serial adultery to emotional abuse or perhaps even spiraling debt. The one consistency is, it is impossible to live with.
To ease the burden of those flawed choices, they blame you which results in impossible confusion and pain. If this sounds familiar, then you can be assured that your divorce will be traumatic (for all) as you assert the delayed boundaries and reclaim your peace. Why would no consideration in marriage, turn into a considerate divorce? Never.
The children are often used as pawns in a punitive agenda to make you pay – both for your decision to leave and for finding your voice. Every negotiation is like climbing Everest.
For the parent for whom the children are the soft under-belly one desires to protect at all costs, a hurting child is what hurts you most. It is an unplayable reality.
As parents, we have to make excruciating choices, not just for us, but to teach them how to be brave, even when we are afraid. Sometimes we have to watch them suffer with us and hope that in the long term, we made the better choice of the two unbearably painful options. To stay, or go.
Looking back on my journey to date, I need to thank my best friend. She pushed me out the plane; she made me jump when I was scared, she pulled my string when I was spiraling down in free-fall. She whispers in my ear to remain dignified. She tells me I am a good parent. She reminds me I am loved. I am not alone, even when I am lonely. She is the deeper intuition of who I really am. She knows where I want to be. Together we will get through it. She is me.
This morning, sleepy children with tousled hair gave me another liberating gift. It came in the form of innocent birthday cards, in which the kids put pen to paper to thank me. In reading their cards, I can see they know that trying my best is all I can do; and that while I left my marriage, I never left them. They have absolutely no idea just how much those beautiful, scribbly messages gave me permission to exhale.
I may not have given them the ideal nuclear family in which to grow up, but my daughters will always know that in any situation in which they find themselves, they do have choices. After all, why raise a princess, when you can raise a warrior.