My Mom's Generation Doesn't Have to Understand My Divorce

After my divorce, I’ve overheard a 100 times: “What is wrong with your generation? In my day, we just coped.”

This is the first in an embarrassingly long time that I have felt compelled to write. Although it is an opinion piece that would only be “felt heard” by my generation, this conversation is with my mother’s generation.
I am 40. I have two small kids and I am divorced. It was my decision to leave the marriage. Yes, I knew who he was when we got married. No, I didn’t think he would change. What I didn’t know was just how radically I would change.
How could I not? How do you become a mother and stay the same human being? You don’t. And your husband stays the man you married. I don’t see fault on either side here. Why didn’t anyone tell us this shit? We were given a ton of advice on giving natural birth and breastfeeding until the child was eating solids but some of us couldn’t or didn’t want to be those moms. God forbid you should need the help of a night nurse. Unintentionally, our mother’s advice made us feel judged and somehow less than.
I’ve overheard this a 100 times: “What is wrong with your generation? In my day, we just coped.”
 
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We’re also told how we are a “disposable generation.” You tell us that in your day you didn’t just throw things away because they were broken. You fixed them. That’s not how I see it. I see how my generation grew up in homes where their parents lived “scrappily ever after.” How mom and dad slept in different beds, barely spoke at dinner tables, never forgave one another for past transgressions. Marriages were carried out as though they were death sentences.
Were women were too afraid to leave? I don’t blame anyone for not leaving. Divorce is the most terrifying experience. If you think divorce is the easier option, you have clearly never been divorced. So, when I hear remarks like “you should stay together for the kids,” it makes me seethe.
I speak only for myself here, but I have spoken with enough other women to know that my sentiments are not mine alone. So let me tell you a bit about my generation. We believe in changing careers – studying and receiving post-graduate degrees in English and then become pilates instructors. We change our minds. We’re organic. We accept that life is about change and instead of fearing it, we embrace it. We don’t believe that just because you made your bed you need to lie in it. We buy new linen and make another bed.
No, I don’t believe the grass is greener on the other side. I don’t think there is a perfect man out there. I believe in integrity and loyalty. I love people and relationships that are raw and real. I believe in roots and feel gratitude for my Jewish heritage. I also believe in wings. And in my truth.
My children are my priority. Their happiness and their needs supersede my own. Every single day. So when a woman from my generation makes a decision to leave a “safe marriage,” it is made with thinking, reconsidering, revising, overthinking, crying, praying, and seeking advice – and most of this is done with the children in mind. After marriage counseling, the first advice I sought was from a child psychologist. Because they are my priority.
I am repeating myself because I believe we are seen as selfish. We are not. We are also not stupid. I knew full well the financial implications of running two homes, but, because my generation is financially independent, I was confident in taking the calculated risk. Not because I believe marriage is disposable, but rather because my soul doesn’t have a price.
I didn’t want my children to grow up in a loveless home, where their mother had zero respect for their father. I was the worst version of myself in that marriage. I’m not blaming him at all. Within that relationship, my light couldn’t shine. What kind of role model would I be if I stayed? What would I be teaching my little boy and my little girl? I left the marriage because I felt unloved and invisible. And we were only 10 years into the relationship. I was taking my mother’s advice on how to be married: just one day at a time.
Then the axis of my world tilted.
When my cousin and I were 37 she dropped dead. In the garden. On a Thursday. Heavily pregnant. Again, I changed. How could I possibly be the person I was before that Thursday?
I stopped taking my mother’s advice on how to be married. After Thursday, I realized that I wasn’t living my life. I was coping. Getting through it. And it was no longer good enough. I wanted more. I wanted to feel loved and seen. I didn’t feel this was asking too much. My husband just wasn’t capable. Maybe I didn’t bring out his best either.
I don’t know how I had the courage to leave, with a 17-month-old and a three-year-old, but I did. Yes, it would, on many levels, have been easier to stay, but none of those levels meant anything to me anymore, because Thursday.
I married him with my head, not my heart. I married him with a check list – developed by your generation, not mine. The thing that wasn’t on the list but definitely should have been: Were we best friends? No. We were never friends. We didn’t have enough in common to be friends. Now that we’re divorced, it’s easy to be civil because there’s no hatred. Because you have to have love to have hate.
All divorces are different. The upside of divorcing someone completely emotionally unavailable is that there is very little drama. Obviously we sometimes disagree about things and there are the odd “fuck you” texts, but as a whole, we co-parent really well. For years, all the teachers that have taught both our kids have said they are so well-adjusted you would never know they’re from a broken home.
A term from another generation. Their home isn’t broken. They just have two homes. It’s different. Anyone who has grown up with parents who bicker and argue and openly despise one another can tell you – that’s a broken home.
What is seen as the kids being shunted from one home to the next isn’t a true reflection of the reality. My kids flow seamlessly between their two homes. This has made them flexible, adaptable human beings who aren’t afraid of change. They know the routine and if there are changes to it, it’s discussed with them. Sometimes a PT uniform or a dudu blankie is forgotten at the other house and it gets dropped off. Big fucking deal.
My kids see their dad every day because he takes them to school. This was put in place because that child psychologist told me they need to see him often. Easy. I don’t talk to my kids about what a pathetic dipshit I think their dad is. I’m not an idiot. They adore him – why would I hurt them like that? And he affords me the same respect.
The parenting plan is organic. The kids’ needs change and we evolve with them. For the sake of what is best for them. If they’re hurt or sick, obviously they want their mom, and their dad respects that. We both just want what’s best for them. No, my kids aren’t from a broken home. They’re from two very caring, very considered homes.
I have no idea what I’ll tell my kids about marriage. Do I think it’s a good idea? Right now I don’t believe in it. Obviously. I’m scarred and that’s normal. Will they be damaged by my decision? I don’t know. Do I lie in bed for many, many hours thinking about it? Yes.
I believe you don’t get to live life without getting damaged. Life is a mad ride: Sometimes it hurts and sometimes you laugh so much your stomach and face hurt. Can we protect our children from any of it? No. Can we stop Thursdays from happening? No.
I just want you guys to know that we’re doing our best. Just like you did. And you know what – you fucked us up too. Staying in unhappy marriages for the sake of your kids, taking dummies away too soon, not letting us sleep in your beds. Whatever advice you were listening to at the time, you were making the best decisions you could because you loved us.
So, from the bottom of my heart, back off. Stop judging and comparing us to you. We’re not you. Not better. Not worse. I’m pretty sure I’m nowhere near done making mistakes because I’m not done living my life. Sit back and enjoy the show. It’s going to be amazing, I promise.

Steeling Myself Against the Moments of Misery: A Divorce Story

Is this not what I wanted? Or it is what I wanted, but I’m just confused because this weak moment I’m having in the here-and-now is just so damn hard.

All of my feelings are numb as I sit alone in my two bedroom loft apartment. Numb from the shock and from the feeling I might collapse of heartache while wrapping my two boys’ Christmas presents by myself for the first time ever. No one will be there to pass me the tape, nobody to bitch about how much money I’ve spent, and nobody to sit there and be with me in that memory.

I’m sitting in the closet in my loft bedroom. The loft bedroom is mine because my seven-year-old sleeps in the master bedroom and his three-year-old brother is in the second bedroom so that we can all have our own rooms. After moving from their Dad’s ranch style house, I wanted them to feel as much familiarity as possible. Even if it’s just space instead of tangible things like their Mommy and Daddy playing with them every night, having nerf gun wars and making them laugh when they’re crying over the absurd things kids get dramatic over. His is the house they’ve called home for so long, the house that I once called home but always knew would never be permanently home for me. That was the house I left and that led me to sitting on my closet floor drinking so that I felt the liquor on my lips instead of the tears that were dripping from my eyes.

I am sitting in the closet holding my knees to my chest that feels like it might burst with a feeling I can’t quite grasp. Is it regret? Is it sadness, agony, despair, or sorrow? Do I miss being a family? Is this not what I wanted? Or it is what I wanted, but I’m just confused because this weak moment I’m having in the here-and-now is just so damn hard. So damn hard.

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I am sitting here hugging my knees, tipsy. Now I’m starting to feel pretty buzzed, and then drunk out of my mind. I’m thinking what the hell have I done? I am surrounded by snowman and Santa Claus wrapping paper, the paper I got to pick out on my own just like I wanted. I’m surrounded by scissors and tape that I’ll use as much of as I damn well please, just like I wanted. I have gifts around me I’ve been hiding from them, gifts that my own mom has bought several of because she knows I can’t afford them this first year on my own and she wants my boys to have a good Christmas. I suddenly think she has sat in this same place when she left my dad.

Alone. Deserted. And scared to death. Yet fearless, confident, and brave all at the same time. I think how marvelously complex human emotion can be, and if there was ever a time for it to show its face it’s in a time like this, right now. I’m sitting here thinking that the thing I have feared and pretended would never happen to me – the breaking up of my family – has happened and I have no defense but to feel the blow to my gut that is the failure I’ve become as a mother.

For months, I’ve been drinking more than I normally do, but it stills my skeptical thoughts that I’m not strong enough to do this and relieves the madness that comes with single motherhood. So I take another sip. I want to be me again and this is helping me forget so that I can remember being myself. I don’t want to remember watching my kids leave for their dad’s for a long weekend knowing they’ll be packing right back up to come back to me. It pains me to know that when they switch houses they have to remember to bring their kindles and their favorite toys, and remember the rules that are here and the rules that are there. The look on my seven-year-old’s face when I bark at him to quit forgetting his homework kills me. It kills something inside of me as a parent, but I still do it. No matter how many time I beat myself up over those parenting moments, they still happen. I forgive myself over and over again, but I often wonder, does he? Does my son forgive the looks of annoyance I cast when I have to pick up his backpack he left at his dad’s again?

Yet single motherhood is something I chose. My kids did not make this decision, I did, and I have to live with it. In this moment, wrapping their Christmas presents alone for the first time, I start to wonder if I’ve made the right choice. I know deep down I did, that this is what is best, and in this moment, here alone on my closet floor wrapping gifts their dad and I should have picked out together, I realize that it’s not only my kids waking up to just me when they want to wake up to the both of us on Christmas morning that breaks my heart. It’s not only me thinking about them and their feelings and what they have to deal with that is making me bleed with the grief that comes with divorce.

As I bring the beer to my lips to take the last sip, I realize this is about me too. I’m finally letting myself feel it, the heartbreak, the loneliness I thought I was too strong to feel, the incompleteness. It doesn’t matter how much I know it wouldn’t work between their dad and me, or how much he knows it wouldn’t work, it’s that sense of completeness that is absent without him wrapping those presents that takes a hold of me, knocks me sideways, and leaves me staggering, not from the beer but from the emotion of it.

What I can take away from this is that this was our first year separated. It was a long hard year with many firsts. I am confident next year will be a little better and the next year a little better after that. I am confident that this is the worst Christmas I will ever have to endure, and even if I have another one just like it next year, I will keep the same smile I will have for them on Christmas morning when they wake up. I will smile again because I conquered something I was never good at: misery. I did it for them and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives because they are, and will be, my everything, no matter what the circumstances.

A Family Without Neat and Tidy Edges is Still a Family

When I’d envisioned my life and future family it lacked any mess or complications. What I, in fact, produced, has been quite the opposite.

We sat around our well-worn kitchen table bearing deep scars from long forgotten but most certainly forbidden, hours of playtime fun, fingernail polish covering almost an entire end, leisurely discussing our day, when some unidentifiable provocation caused my five-year-old daughter to interject:
“I just have one question. Who even is your Dad?”
I shot a pleading glance across the table at my husband. What was the five-year-old appropriate answer to this question? My husband offered no backup. Instead he shrugged compliantly, as if to say, “There’s only the truth.”
My daughter plunged onward. “I mean, I know Nana is your mom, but I’ve never heard you talk about your dad, so I’m just wondering, like, do you even have a dad?”
 
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All eyes at the table stared at me expectantly. “Eh-hem. I want to preface this by saying your Daddy will never, ever not want to be your Daddy anymore. He loves you very much. That will never change, okay?”
My daughter shook her head knowingly and said, “So your dad decided he didn’t want to be your dad, and so then you just kind of got a new dad?”
I pondered. “Actually, yes. That’s exactly what happened.”
“But you don’t see the new dad very often. That’s why I don’t know him?”
“Right.”
“Okay. That’s what I thought. I just wanted to make sure.”
Before I knew it, she was back to discussing which toy she’d most prefer on her next birthday or at Christmas, and I was reeling over how complex this life we lived was, and over what a freaking genius I was raising. How could such complex, layered issues be laid out so simply for her?
My husband and I are blessed with three children to love: his daughter from his first marriage, my son from my first marriage, and our wildly inquisitive daughter together.
When I’d envisioned my life and future family – as one does, perhaps, in the eighth grade, while Mrs. Robertson drones on about an algebraic equation that might as well be Egyptian hieroglyphics – it contained neat and tidy edges, lacking any mess or complications. What I, in fact, produced, has been quite the opposite.
It seems I may be quite prone to “Who’s your Daddy” sort of complications.
In the early days of the blending of our family, I often wondered what in the world we’d done. I watched our older children pack little bags like tiny vagrants and wander back and forth from home to home. I cried myself to sleep thinking surely we’d ruined their lives forever.
It wasn’t that this shuffle wasn’t already occurring, from Mom’s house, now to Dad’s or vice versa. It was all the new players in the game. It was the new normal we’d given them to adjust to right when they had adjusted to the old one. It was the two new homes and families forming with different sets of rules and cultures. I couldn’t fathom how disorienting it all must be.
I knew my husband and I had chosen this. But our children had simply been plunged into yet another new landscape without a map to guide them. It seemed so cruel. How would we ever create a tiny universe within our home where everyone felt safe, valued, loved, seen, and yet still free to love the people within their other home with the fullness of their hearts? How would we ever help facilitate and support those relationships while also nurturing the ones within our own home?
When I got pregnant with my daughter, I kept myself up at night wondering how I would one day explain to her that her brother and sister had different parents than she did. How would I explain why her brother and sister sometimes went to live at other homes while she stayed behind? What would this teach her about the permanence and stability of homes, parents, and family units?
Within 48 hours of delivering my daughter, my son’s father came to pick him up for the week. At that moment, I realized how much of their lives my son and daughter would spend apart. I cried until my tears intermingled with the honey mustard dressing on my salad and the two became indistinguishable.
Along the way, the questions have come.
“Who is my sister’s Mom?”
“Why do I not have another Dad?”
“Why did you decide to marry Daddy?”
Oddly, the answers that came to me in these moments surprised me: “Because, baby, there is life after divorce.”
These words were spoken to me when life was still little more than rubble and ash in the freshly new ruin of divorce. I clung to them, believing they would hold true for me. There would be life for me again.
Divorce was never the ending I envisioned for myself. Nor, was trading out my own dad as a grown woman. Life is complex and imperfect. We don’t always find ourselves at the ending we’d anticipated or hoped for.
And yet, there is life after the first act.
I’ve come to realize there is goodness in my daughter learning this now. While it sometimes makes for tricky dinnertime conversation (and I confess to cringing when she explains the intricate details of our “Who’s your Daddy” set-up to random cashiers), I can assure you there is life, and life abundant, albeit a bit complex.
Who is your Daddy? Not sure? Is the answer tricky to pin down? Who is your baby-Daddy? Is that complicated, as well?
Good news: Life is complex regardless. Perhaps, yes, your five-year-old will spill all of your business at the grocery store. But if this is the worst that happens to any of us, I’d say we’re doing pretty well after all.

I Didn't Stay for the Kids and We're All Better For It

We decided we could love our kids better, love ourselves better, and be better parents apart than we could together. And I know we made the right decision.

I am sitting on my bed with my hands tucked safely under my thighs, listening to my parents spit words at each other they can’t take back. When they do this I sometimes scream, too, or cry, or both. The only time they’re not fighting is when they aren’t in one another’s presence.
I like it better this way, when they aren’t around each other, when I don’t have to tip toe or wonder what’s going to come next.
When I get older I swear to myself I’m never going to be with anybody I don’t want to be with just because I have kids. I swear to my mom I won’t stay as long as she did and I ask her often why she did. She always said I could never understand why until I had my own kids.
She was right.
 
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My relationship started out rocky with an accidental pregnancy at 20, one of us with a hot temper, the other with ever-changing moods, and both of us with the kind of stubbornness that doesn’t listen to reason.
It may sound typical – temper and mood swings – but I assure you it wasn’t. The temper involved saying things to the extreme with no memory of even saying afterwards. The mood swings involved never knowing which version you would get but always hoping for the best version because when it was good it was bearable and when it was bad it was chilling.
Most people at our young age wouldn’t have made it past this part, past the first few years where we were figuring out our new identities as parents, trying to keep the peace, trying to be a couple when only one of us wanted to be a couple and the other was unwilling to try.
Most people would not be willing to allow themselves to be treated the way we treated each other, but we thought we had no option but to stay together for the kid. When we fought I was cold and he was mean. It didn’t matter. We stayed together for the kid.
My husband’s parents married young and in love and still were. My parents were hateful and divorced when I was six. I think we were both fighting to beat that inevitable failure that wasn’t really a failure at all. It would take a long time for us to understand that.
We had succumbed to the idea that we had to make it work, and as the frequency of the tempers got better and the moods less extreme and the coldness less cold, we decided to have another baby.
Was it to give our son a sibling, or was it to have something to take up all of our focus now that our oldest was getting older, so that we wouldn’t have to focus on each other? Or was it because we thought it would fix something? I can’t really tell you the reason but I can tell you that I don’t regret it for a minute – not only because I obviously love both my kids but because if we hadn’t had the second I don’t know that we would have had the courage to face the terrifying truth that this wasn’t going to work, to face the reality of the decision that had to be made, or to face each other.
Having a second child put an even bigger strain on our relationship and we waited, and waited, and waited some more for it to pass. We rarely talked when the kids were in bed. We never touched, never did anything together, never had sex, didn’t say I love you, and there was no warmness and no love.
There was friendship and an understanding that we both were willing to live this way for our kids. There was still the same crazy sense of humor we shared that would peek through the sadness after a couple of drinks, and we had the same political views, the same religious views, and similar goals and dreams. But it wasn’t enough. Even though both of our fundamental flaws showed their ugly heads less and less, when they did come out they came out like a ball of fire that couldn’t be put out.
I remember the moment I realized if I stayed any longer I’d stay forever and I’d forever lose myself and forever be an unhappy mom and he’d be an unhappy dad. It was the summer before my oldest was going to enter Kindergarten and nearing the age I had been when my parents got divorced. I have memories, but not as many as my older sisters have. There are things they remember that they won’t tell me and I knew when my oldest son hit five or six there was no going back. It was a now-or-never kind of thing because if I didn’t go now I would stay until they were 18 or moved out. So I had to decide.
We read relationship books, we talked, we screamed, we cried, we gave each other the silent treatment, and lastly, we tried counseling. After a few sessions and listening to us, she looked at us and said, “You guys are one of the most mature couples I have ever had in my chair and I think you are making the right decision. You have the maturity to co-parent.” I was relieved to have someone else validate what I felt in my heart and scared shitless at the same time because this was real.
Decisions had to be made, and we finally were ready to make them after seven years of pretending everything would somehow just go away.
We still spent months debating over what to do, and at a certain point we just gave in, gave up, and decided we wanted to be happy for our kids even if it meant being apart.
We decided we could love them better, love ourselves better, and be better parents apart than we could together. We decided we wanted them to see a healthy relationship filled with love and affection instead of tension and strain.
We decided even though we would miss them terribly when they weren’t with us, the time spent with them would be of more quality.
We decided we would live five minutes from each other so our oldest didn’t have to make any other major changes, and we wrote out a script and practiced what we would say when we broke the news to him.
We went through the house and decided who would keep what, all while having the same emotionless face and tone we kept our entire relationship.
When I was alone behind closed doors or in my car to work I cried. I cried for what I had tried to do and couldn’t, I cried because no matter how happy we were apart, and how happy we would be one day with someone new, nobody would ever share the love we shared for our two boys together. Nobody could love them like we could. And the day I went to sign my lease for my new apartment, I almost didn’t sign it. My hand was shaky when I grabbed the pen but once I put it to paper my decision was sturdy and determined.
The first day I got the keys and walked into my empty apartment alone, I sat on the floor but I didn’t cry. I smiled, took a deep breath, and took a picture of my new key in my hand. (A picture which would never be posted on Facebook for fear of hurting his feelings. I knew we did the right thing but back then I am not sure he was so sure of that.)
I didn’t stay for the kids, because staying for them wouldn’t have been best for them. My husband and I were both mature enough to handle the shock and confusion of the separation, the curious questions coming from our son’s innocent big blue eyes, and balance it takes to co-parent in the healthiest way possible.
When conflict came – and oh believe me it did – we lost our cool at times but never in front of them, and we still said hello at drop off on Sundays, never slamming a door even when we wanted to.
There are times when I feel like the luckiest woman alive to have this man as my children’s father and there are also times when I wonder how I stayed that long. I know there are times he wonders how he lived with someone like me. But that shit doesn’t matter anymore because now our relationship is important for different reasons. It’s important for them.
I admit, the consequence of keeping a close co-parenting relationship is the danger of blurred lines, getting too friendly again, wondering if we could maybe – just maybe – try again and do it right this time. We have entertained that idea and figured out that it was not a road we wanted to go down. We remembered why we made the choices that we did.
I still get pissed and he still acts irrational sometimes but we also have accomplished something most separated parents can’t even begin to scrape the surface of: an alliance. A union with a harmony that made not staying together for the kids the best choice for us. And our kids are happier for it.

Let Go of the Guilt, Love Is Enough

Guilt. From the moment our children are born or even when we first feel those little flutters and kicks, it consumes us.

Moms experience almost constant worry and guilt. From the moment our children are born or even when we first feel those little flutters and kicks, it consumes us. We worry about our children every second of every day and for many sleepless hours in the night when things are dark and quiet and our minds can really take control. This worry and guilt, it’s forever. 

With one child now in high school, I am grappling with the very real fact that in three short years, she could be living somewhere other than under my roof. I can only imagine what my nighttime thoughts will be then…

Moms worry about every single step of parenthood: Did I stop breastfeeding too soon? Did I breastfeed too long? Should I have tried harder to breastfeed? Was it wrong to let them cry it out? Was it wrong to pick them up right away? Did I start solids too early and cause allergies? Did I wait too long to start solids and cause allergies? Do they eat enough vegetables? Do they eat enough of anything? Should I be more firm? Why do I yell all the time? Why aren’t they speaking? Why aren’t they walking? Why won’t they use the toilet? Am I pushing them hard enough in school? Should I push them harder in school? Should I know their friends better? Should I respect their privacy? Should I have let them quit the team? Should I have pushed them to try out for the team? On and on and on and on and on, and the emotions are always the same: worry and guilt. No matter which direction we took or which decision we made, moms always feel guilty about the outcome and question if we’re somehow letting our children down. It’s exhausting.

I have a message for all of you amazing moms out there: it’s going to be okay.

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When I was a little girl, my parents rented a farm for the first truly memorable years of my life. My father was an alcoholic and a pathological liar, so obviously things were not easy for my mom. We were extremely poor. My father spent every penny that he could get his hands on to buy alcohol or eat out at a local pub while his children and wife were at home with nothing to eat. 

My mom doesn’t talk about those years very often and I’m always surprised when she does. There’s such sadness and regret in her voice when those memories surface. She talks about the fear, the sadness, and the poverty; about feeding my brother and me oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because it was filling and there was no money for groceries. She talks about buying large men’s jeans at the Salvation Army and using them to cut and sew overalls for my brother and me. She talks about surviving thanks to our large garden and our animals. I can hear the guilt in her voice. I can hear how desperately she must have wanted a different life for us. 

Here’s the thing, I don’t remember this time period in the same way she does at all. I remember a magical place filled with rolling fields and animal friends. She remembers a crappy plastic swimming pool and a rusty swing set. I remember a place where I pretended I was in the ocean on hot summer days and swings where I used to imagine I was flying to far-off lands. I had no idea that our garden was the only reason we would have food into the winter. I remember that a carrot pulled from the ground with a bit of dirt still clinging to it was delicious. I remember watching her can and preserve, the jars filled with color, and the time spent with her in the kitchen. I remember her showing me how to knead bread and the laughter we shared while doing it. I had no idea that our chickens were the only reason we ate some days, I just remember how proud I was when she showed me how to collect the eggs and then gave it to me as my own special job. I didn’t know that we were “missing out” on store-bought yogurt, I only knew that I desperately loved the goats that provided our yogurt, and that I got to help my favorite goat bring her triplets into this world when I was a very little girl. I remember adventures in fields where the wind blew grass that was taller than me; finding fiddleheads hidden in the dark, cool woods; where the chokecherry bushes were, and helping my mom pick them and watching in our kitchen as she made jam. 

No matter how much pain, frustration, desperation, and, yes, guilt she may have been feeling, I don’t remember. I had no idea. I know she worried constantly about not being enough and not having enough, and she didn’t need to. I remember a woman who was always laughing with us, a woman who always had hugs and cuddles and read us extra stories no matter how exhausted she must’ve been. I remember a woman who knew how to grow anything, cook anything, bake anything, and who taught me to respect animals and the earth, probably without having any idea she was doing it. I remember thinking my mom was the strongest person in the world. That has never changed.

Fast forward to my twenties. Even though my mom went on to leave my dad and eventually meet and marry my step-dad, changing our lives dramatically for the better, I still managed to meet and marry a man almost exactly like my father. I had my first two children with him. He was also an alcoholic with assorted other addictions and emotional issues. Life wasn’t easy. After our children were born I spent almost every day worrying about what I had brought them into. I was consumed with guilt that this was their lives and powerlessness to change it for them. 

If the funds were not available for their father to spend on his assorted habits or whatever material possessions he felt would make him happier, he would turn into an angry, emotionally abusive person who would fill me with such fear and dread that I would simply give in, letting him have what he wanted to keep the peace. Then the money ran out and, while he got what he wanted, I couldn’t pay our bills and struggled to buy groceries. There were countless dinners of hot dogs and macaroni because I knew the kids would eat it and it was all I could afford on our insanely tight budget. So many hot dogs. I worried and worried about not feeding the kids properly.

I felt like a robot. I was getting up every day and doing what needed to be done to get through the day at work and then the very long nights. I remember the guilt of feeling that I wasn’t emotionally available for my children. There were no vacations or special activities because I couldn’t afford them. However, there were walks in the swamp and the woods, frog catching, and turtle finding. Yet I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough when we watched other families go away on amazing trips or head off to weekends at water parks. 

Then the money became even tighter (if that was possible) and I couldn’t find the funds to indulge their father’s whims. He became even angrier. The yelling and insults increased tenfold.  So we stayed in the tub far longer than we needed to or should have, every single night, waiting for their father to pass out and for the coast to be clear. We sang and sang and made up games and stories in that bathroom, and we survived. 

Yet the guilt continued to consume me. How could I let them live this way? Finally, one day, we ran and didn’t go back. Life became so much better and so much easier, and I married an amazing man who is an incredible father to all four of our children (we had two more). Even though we left that life behind, the guilt followed. The worry followed. I still questioned, every single day, what damage I had allowed to be done to my children by staying for so long. 

Then, one day, my older two children and I were watching television together and the people on the cooking show were asking what memories people had of their childhood kitchens. What did they smell and feel like? My oldest son turned to me and said, “Mom, do you know what I remember from being really little?”

I cringed inwardly. Here it was, the moment I’d been dreading. 

He said, “I remember hot dogs and love.” 

Hot dogs and love? Really? I was as shocked as I was relieved, and then of course amused. The three of us started to chat a bit. The kids talked about all the songs I sang at bath time that they loved so much, and the extra stories at bedtime. They talked about how funny it was to watch Mommy climb into the muddy swamp barefoot to try and catch frogs, and the countless walks and animals we spotted and the trips to our free local zoo. Whether or not they remember how truly awful things were at the time, what they have focused on is the love. They remember the time I spent with them and the love I showed them.

Here’s the thing: this Mother’s Day let’s take a break from the worry and the guilt, shall we? Life is challenging and heartbreakingly difficult at times. At the end of the day, what our children remember most are the stories we read, the snuggles we gave, and the time that we shared with them. They recall when we showed them how important they are, what they mean to us, and when we made them feel safe. Those are the memories and moments that will sustain them through the hard times in their lives. We can worry ourselves sick and let the mommy guilt eat us up inside, but all that truly matters to our children is that we love them and that we show them that every day. Love: that’s what they will remember the most.

How to Tell Your Kids You’re Dating Someone New

Telling your kids you’ve begun a relationship with someone new is tricky- particularly if it’s the first time since separating from your family partner.

It was supposed to be their dad. You were supposed to stay with him forever – but that went south. That was bad enough, now they have to deal with the fact that there’s another man in your life? How’s this gonna go down?
Telling your kids you’ve begun a romantic relationship with someone new is tricky. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have – particularly if it’s the first time you’re having it since separating from your family partner. There are ways, however, to soften the blow — to make them feel more at ease with a situation that they didn’t want or ask for.

1 | Don’t do it right away

Wait until the relationship is well established and on solid ground before introducing this big change into your children’s lives.

2 | If appropriate, tell their father (or mother) first — and tell them you did so

When the children first learn you are in a new relationship, their first thought will likely be of their other parent; they’ll worry s/he is in some way being betrayed. If you can assure them that their other parent is already aware of this news, the guilt and burden they may feel will be lifted.
 
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3 | Tell them one-on-one

When you do decide the time is right, pull each child aside individually to deliver this news. A close, intimate conversation between just the two of you will afford him or her a greater sense of safety and more freedom to react in a genuine, uninhibited way.

4 | Assure them they’re still #1, no matter what

Their first reaction will be, “What about me?” Even if they don’t express that concern out loud, tell them that this in no way affects the relationship you have with them. Just because another person is in the picture doesn’t mean there’s less room in your life for your children.

5 | Encourage them to ask questions

Any and all questions are fair game. They’ve just been dealt some heavy news – allow them to ask whatever question(s) will help them to better process the information they’ve received. You can use digression in how you answer the questions — but allow them to ask, nonetheless.

6 | Ask them questions

They may clam up; they may say nothing at all. That’s when you step in and ask them probing questions (gently) in attempt to identify how they’re feeling about it. If they don’t answer, don’t push. Revisit it at a later date.

7 | Give them space to process the news

When you’re done with the initial conversation, encourage them to take some time to themselves to sit with their emotions, but also assure them you’re available when and if they want to talk about it further.

8 | Ask your partner to give you space

Just as your kids need space to deal with their feelings on the matter, so might you. Delivering news such as this to your children can take a significant emotional toll on you as well.

9 | Give your children a say in when and how they meet your new partner

Maybe your new partner is someone they already know or maybe it’s someone new. In either case, giving your children some control over when they begin spending time with this person will make them feel more like stakeholders.

10 | Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them you love them – often

Though they may not show it, their insecurities may be skyrocketing during this time. Nurture their fragile egos with loving words of affirmation.  
There is nothing easy when it comes to navigating divorce — particularly when children are involved. It’s a slippery slope — a series of decision that can have a ripple effect in the lives of those around you. Whether children like it or not, dating after divorce is a fact of life for many. We can’t expect to stay single forever in order to protect their feelings. What we can do, however, is help to ease the transition for them.

Could My Kids Actually Be Benefitting From My Divorce?

I feel compelled to focus not on the disastrous, negative effects my divorce may be having on my children, but rather on how it might be serving them well.

It’s a painful memory that still sends a chill down my spine every time it crosses my mind: the night my husband and I told our boys, ages nine and 11 at the time, that we’d be divorcing. It was horrible – the sheer devastation on their innocent little faces, the tears they cried as they begged us to reconsider, the continuous questions of “why?” as they tried to process the news; every last second of it was torture.
Divorce is not something anyone plans for. No one walks down the aisle thinking,
This will probably end. No, you confidently say your I-dos, settle down in suburbia, and fill your home with little people as you work your way towards happily ever after.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the marriage ends. The vision you had for your life – for your kids – has been incinerated.
At least, that’s how it happened for me.
 
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In the early days of my divorce, I was hyper-focused on my kids: Were they okay? Were they acting out? Were they repressing anger, depression or anxiety? Were they scarred for life? Would this divorce damage them, irreparably?
I did not come from a divorced home. All I knew was that picture of a complete, intact family – not one with shared parenting time, alimony payments, or step-anything. My parents got married and stayed married. Divorce was simply a foreign concept to me.
Yet here I was, divorced.
As I near the three-year anniversary of that horrible, rotten conversation that changed the course of my children’s lives, I find myself pleasantly surprised at just how well they’ve adjusted. In fact, as I look for the sliver lining of the whole situation, I feel compelled to focus not on the disastrous, negative effects my divorce may be having on my children, but rather on how the divorce might actually be serving them well.

They’re no longer witness to an unhealthy marriage

Full disclosure: on the surface, my marriage looked fine. We didn’t fight all that much – no yelling, no disparaging remarks, and we still slept in the same bed – but it was flawed, nonetheless. We didn’t communicate effectively, we pretty much went our separate ways when we were home together and we didn’t exactly consider each other’s feelings or needs on any kind of consistent basis. There were many more problems than those that existed behind the scenes, but looking at the relationship through the eyes of my children, I now realize this was not one I was proud to be role-modeling for my kids.
Though I never supplied them with the specific details that led to the final plug-pull on the marriage, they are aware that it ended because it was not a healthy situation. I never wanted this for them, or for me – but at the end of the day, at least I know they’re no longer growing up in a household thinking the relationship they were witnessing was in any way something they should aspire to. They deserve better.

They see that it’s possible to get along with someone despite disagreements and past hurts

My ex-husband and I don’t just have an amicable relationship; we have a friendly one. We sit at baseball games together, discuss and decide on important events in our children’s lives, and even swap recipes on occasion. My kids have witnessed a few divorce-gone-bad scenarios in their friends’ parents – and in the beginning, they feared their father and I would succumb to the same fate: firing spews of venomous rage at each other as we fought over money, the children, or the color of the sky.
Instead, what they’ve observed over the last three years is two no-longer-married people – with vastly different personalities who don’t agree on everything – finding a way to get along for the sake of a common interest: the children. They see that in spite of past hurts, crushed egos, and financial complexities, we’ve been able to make a co-parenting relationship work. While I was not proud of the relationship we were role modeling when we were married, I am proud of the one we’re role-modeling today.  

They spend more time with each of us

Strangely, they spend more time with their dad now that he’s out of the house than when he lived at home. The fact is, prior to the divorce they spent most of their time with me. He traveled a lot, so we got used to it just being the three of us most of the time. When he was home, that didn’t really change much. Whenever they needed something, they came to me. When they wanted to play a game, watch a movie, or go to the park, I was their go-to. It was the three of us, most of the time. I’m not tooting my own horn, here; it’s just how it worked out – and we were all content with those roles.
Now when they see their dad, as per the parenting schedule, the time they spend with him is quality. They go out for dinner, hit the batting cages, and even go on weekend trips together – all things they never did before. It’s not just the fun stuff, either: when they’re with him, it is he who makes their breakfast, enforces bedtimes and removes the occasional splinter. Now they see both parents as their caretakers – not just the one they see more often.
Divorce is an incredibly painful life event – and when kids are in the picture, we need to protect not only our own hearts, but theirs as well. That’s exactly what my ex-husband and I set out to do. Despite being raised in what many would consider a “broken home,” my children have adjusted beautifully. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning or encouraging divorce in any way  – but finding the positives in a less-than-ideal situation has been a saving grace to this divorced mom and her impressionable children.

8 Meaningful Ways to Support a Friend Through a Divorce

When it came to helping friends through divorce, I was as comfortable as a seventh grader at a school dance. Then they told me what they needed

The first time I attended the wedding of a friend, I knew exactly what to do. I brought a gift, set it on the gift table, and sat on the bride’s side of the aisle. I took advantage of the open bar, and joined the other guests in celebrating the couple.
Later, I’d learn you have a year to give a gift, and never to expect the cake to be moist. By the time I got married, I’d been in so many weddings I could have filled the role of bridesmaid blindfolded with my hands bound behind my back. I was a pro when it came to helping friends tie the knot.
But when it came to helping friends through divorce, I was as comfortable as a seventh grader at a school dance.
 
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For years, I’d known how to help my bestie through any crisis. I’d functioned as wingman, fashion advisor, therapist, career counselor, and dog sitter. I was there when she met her now ex-husband, and I was there to soothe her nerves the first time she met his parents. I knew not to bother talking her out of chocolate pudding for breakfast or running alone at night. Yet, I didn’t know exactly how to help when she got divorced.
If, like me, for most of your adult life, the full extent of your knowledge of how to help a friend navigate a divorce consists of snippets from a grown-up conversation you overheard in the 80’s, read on. The following tips are based on the experiences of friends of have been through divorce and were kind enough to share their stories with me.

Don’t Interrogate

When you ask questions about how the split happened, you might think you’re expressing interest or concern, but it doesn’t necessarily come off that way. As one of my friends recalled over a decade after the fact, “Many people had a million nosy, judgy questions that just made me cry even harder. Like I was supposed to explain to them how it came about.” Remember, the vibe you’re going for is Friends, not CSI.

Don’t Judge

You might have your own ideas about why the marriage didn’t last, but that is not what your friend wants to hear right now (or maybe ever). Comments like “Of course your marriage didn’t work out because you’re too…” are helpful only if they end with “too good for him/her.” Unless your friend specifically asks you what you think went wrong, keep it to yourself. Said one friend, “The people who were just completely accepting and supportive were the best.”  

Validate

Divorce has essentially flipped your friend’s whole life upside down. Regardless of the circumstances, the process can be scary, disorienting, and overwhelming, which can cause him or her to second guess the decision. One friend described, “going blank” at times, like you would during trauma. She recalled how important it was for friends to remind her of the details of why she made the choice to leave and all the actions she took to try to save the marriage.

Be a Haven

When your friend is going through a divorce, she may not know where she fits in anymore, especially if she’s separated (emotionally or geographically) from family. An invitation to dinner, especially at the holidays, goes a long way.
If dinner isn’t your jam, give your friend liquid nutrition and laughs. One friend remembered, in the tender weeks following her divorce, “the best person just made time to let me crash on her couch after her kids went to bed and we drank beer and watched the kind of trashy shows that make you feel like your life is pretty together.”

Give a Gift

It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive to show you care. One friend, recalling her long-ago divorce, mentioned a simple fridge magnet with a heart on it that a friend sent her. “Every time I opened the refrigerator I knew she was thinking of me.”

Do a task

It’s nice to say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” but what really helps is rolling up your sleeves and working. One friend recalled being grateful when someone cleaned out her fridge without being asked, when another friend helped reset all her bank passwords, and for the people who took on housework and childcare.

Show up

And keep showing up, over and over. Said one friend, in the wake of her divorce, she was grateful for a handful of friends who kept showing up, extending invitations to coffee, and “continuing to call, even when I was at the point where I ‘should’ be okay but I wasn’t, and asking how I was, then not flinching when I gave an honest response.”

Be a cheerleader

Let your friend know you believe in them. One friend described the wrenching decision to leave his partner just one month prior to the wedding and how powerful it was to receive a letter from a family member. “[She wrote that] I made the most difficult decision of my life.
Plenty of people would have gone through with [the wedding]. I carry that card in my bag every day. It meant the world to me when I felt like I was the worst type of human being.” Other friends recalled appreciating advice to go out, have experiences, and figure out who you are without him, and to be selfish for a while.
It turns out, being a friend through a divorce isn’t much different than being a friend through the rest of life’s messes. As my best friend recalled, while she and her ex were splitting up, I did better than I thought I did, as a friend. “You didn’t give advice and you listened, and that’s the best you can do for someone.”

How to Streamline Your Co-Parenting Communication

Keep it civil and everyone benefits.

A communication book can be a device for separated parents to keep communication between them short and to the point. Parents can choose to use a communication book or a court may order them to use it, particularly if the parents seem unable to communicate with each other.

Being a separated parent is not easy and it can be downright impossible if you and your ex are still feuding. Harsh words and criticism can continue long after parties have separated, with the kids stuck in the middle. Acrimonious separations come with low levels of trust and high levels of criticism and abuse. No one likes to be criticized and so communication from both sides usually involves mud slinging. What should be a civil exchange of information about the children from one parent to the other can become an accusation of poor parenting or a criticism about the other parent’s life, from what they watch on television to the types of friends they have.

Communication is not only about actual words said, it includes body language, tone of voice, and facial expression. An exchange like this can lead to a barrage of verbal abuse:

Parent one: “The kids were really tired last time I picked them up. Make sure they go to bed on time.”

Parent two: “Why should I listen to you when you don’t send them to bed on time at your house. What’s more, Sophie tells me you let Josh watch M-rated movies, he’s only eight for crying out loud.”

Looking at this dispute from an emotionally detached position, it is clear that parent one might not have meant to convey anything other than that the kids were tired and might need to go to bed a bit earlier. The emotionally-attached parent, however, reads veiled criticism into the comment.

Using a communication book reduces the need for face-to-face communication. (If used inappropriately, it can lead to more problems.) Remember when using a communication book, less is best.

Stick to the following five rules to avoid the communication book failing in its purpose.

Keep it Short and Simple

It’s a communication book to communicate important things about the children. It is not an invitation to express your opinion about the other parent or their parenting practice.

For example, enter the date (and time if appropriate): Vicki vomited after lunch. Kept an eye on her for the rest of the afternoon but she seemed fine. Not taken to the doctor.

Keep it short and simple, don’t veer off track.

Avoid a Lecture

If Emma and Oscar are with you for the weekend and you notice they have nits, don’t use the communication book to lecture your ex about hygiene.

Or if George has come for his weekend stay and doesn’t have his sneakers, don’t go on a tirade in the communication book. It will serve no purpose to start your entry (if you actually make a note of it in the book) with “once again you have failed to pack George’s bag properly. This is not acceptable.”

Stop and think. Perhaps you could take the opportunity to buy George a second-hand pair of sneakers, which you might keep at your house.

Nothing but the Facts

Making an entry about giving Isabella some panadol/neurofen (or another type of pain medication) because of a headache should be written like this: Date – at about three o’clock today I gave Isabella some panadol as she complained of a severe headache. About an hour later she felt much better.

This is a precise account of what transpired.

While it may be tempting, the entry should not follow along these lines:

Date – at about 3 this afternoon I gave Isabella some panadol. She complained of a severe headache, probably brought on by the fact you fill her up with sugar before sending her to spend time with me and when it wears off she suffers withdrawal symptoms in the form of a headache. How many times do I have to tell you to feed her properly?

This entry serves no purpose. At best you will experience short-lived satisfaction at having vented. Then you too will feel worse, anger spreading through your body like a cancer as you recall all the other things your ex does that annoy you.

Accept that your child has a headache, treat it, and move on.

Keep it About the Children

Let’s face it, your ex does not want to open the communication book and read what you got up to during the week, or what you think of him/her having gone to the movies and left Granny in charge of Eva. Remember, the two of you have separated and there is no need for you to comment, abuse, or harass your ex about any personal or parenting matter. The communication book is purely there for important issues relating to the children.

It may be that on some visits there is no need to make any entries into the book. It is not a diary for each parent to describe in minute detail what they did with the child (or children) when in their care.

Offer No Opinion

If you stick to the facts, you will not fall into the trap of offering an opinion. If you find nits in your child’s hair, treat them, tell the facts, and don’t tell the other parent how they should treat nits. Nits are one of those creatures kids will bring home from school no matter how clean a child is or what preventative strategies are taken, hence there’s no point in you making things worse by offering your opinion.

Or, if you have to treat Sophie for a cold, tell the facts of how you treated her before sending her back home but don’t tell the other parent why you think Sophie keeps getting colds. It will fall on deaf ears. Everyone tries to be the best parent they can be and some things are out of a parent’s control, like how many colds a child catches.

Before pulling the communication book out of your child’s bag to make an entry, stop, think, and wait. Does the other parent really need to know what you are about to write in the book? If, after some thought, you think they do, make your entry with the above points in mind.

A general rule of thumb is an entry should only be a few lines in length, not several pages. You are making an entry about some aspect relating to your child, not writing a novel.

Do you have suggestions on how to better communicate with a co-parent? If so, please leave them in the comments section below.

A Double-Date With My Ex-Husband Brought Clarity, Not Complete Awkwardness

It was abundantly clear to me that the four of us, all ex-spouses to someone, were exactly where we were meant to be.

Last Saturday, I went on a double date…with my ex-husband. Okay, it wasn’t exactly a double date, it was my 14-year old son’s birthday party. But for all intents and purposes, it was a double date.

Picture this: we’re in Buffalo Wild Wings with eight teenage boys at one table (wanting nothing to do with the accompanying adults), and my ex-husband, his live-in girlfriend, my boyfriend, and me at the next table.

The four of us sat there for two hours, laughing, joking, and chatting like we were couples who’ve been friends for years. Only, two of us sitting across the table from one another, each cozied up to someone new, were once married. To each other. For 15 years.

My ex-husband lost interest in me long before our marriage officially ended. I probably should’ve seen the divorce coming but I didn’t. When he informed me of his intentions to leave, I was blindsided. Within weeks, he was gone.

I was angry, sad, and confused. My heart was shattered as was my ego, and I hit bottom. I hung out there for a while – in the fetal position rocking back and forth. But here’s the thing about the bottom, once you’re there, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Little by little, I rebuilt myself, and as I did, I had an epiphany: the marriage really hadn’t been serving me in any meaningful way either. I’d been settling for a long time and I deserved better.

From this place of healing, the anger subsided, the pain eased, and I began to feel strong, whole, and secure in my own skin. With a sense of inner peace, I was able to move forward in life and love. I was also able to forgive my ex-husband for nearly breaking me. This was a critical building block to the friendly and productive co-parenting relationship we share today.

As we sat around the table noshing on wings and making friendly small talk, I unemotionally watched the man I once vowed “till death do us part” show loving affection to his new partner. That’s when it hit it me: maybe it wasn’t just me who was settling in the marriage, maybe he’d been, too. Maybe he, like me, deserved better. He was the one who chose to leave the marriage, so naturally, I made myself the victim. He was the bad guy, I was the good guy, and that was that. But possibly, I wondered, could he have been a victim, too?

He was animated and almost youthful in his interactions with her – playful, light, and doting. I hadn’t seen that side of him in years. He looked happy. He is happy! He wasn’t happy with me, but he clearly is with her. Let’s face it, had I been meeting his needs in a meaningful way, he would’ve paid more attention to me and showed me the loving affection I was watching him show to her.

I turned to the man sitting to my right, the true love of my life, and locked eyes with him. In that moment, I felt so completely content. It was abundantly clear to me that the four of us, all ex-spouses to someone, were exactly where we were meant to be.

Marriages go south, blame is placed, and hearts are broken. But at the end of the day, we’re all human. We all want to be loved, and feel needed, and have certain needs of our own met. Sometimes you just can’t find that in the person you married. Sometimes it takes a failed marriage, some crippling soul searching, and a new start to see that.

Three years after my divorce, I’m proud of the relationship I have with my ex-husband, and I’m thrilled that our extended circle can peacefully co-exist on a friendly level. Is it a little weird for ex-spouses and their dates to enjoy lighthearted conversation on a pseudo double date? Sure. But how great is it that we’re all weird enough to do so?