When my ex and I separated, I was 34. I knew only one other person who was divorced—a coworker who was a decade older. I had no one to talk to who could relate to my situation. And while a few close friends stood by me, a lot did not. A few openly disapproved; others just disappeared.
Divorce seems to come in waves—six years later, a number of friends and colleagues my age have gone through divorces—so at this point in our lives, chances are you know a single mom or will soon. Here’s what I wish my friends back then had understood.
1. Divorce was the hardest decision I ever made.
Please don’t say you could never get divorced, or ask me if I’m really sure, or cite studies that show divorce is bad for kids. You think I haven’t read (and lain awake obsessing over) those same articles? Trust me when I say almost no one wants to get divorced. We all get married hoping for a happy ending. But that’s not how life works. Just because I don’t share all the gory details, don’t assume I made the decision quickly or lightly. This could be you in a few years, so be careful who you judge.
2. Divorced does not equal desperate.
Forget what you see in the movies—divorcées are not all out to hook any and every available man. Most of the divorced moms I know are far more focused on day-to-day survival than on dating. And we are absolutely not interested in our friends’ husbands. The last thing we want to deal with is the fallout of someone else’s marriage imploding. We also don’t want to be set up with every random guy you happen to know, no matter how old or incompatible. Now, your cute, smart, age-appropriate coworker? Maybe.
3. Divorced parents can get along.
My ex is neither a saint nor a bad guy. Like me, he is just someone who married the wrong person. Did he make mistakes? Absolutely. Do I hate him? Not so much anymore. I’d even go so far as to say that we’re friends.
But no matter how I’ve felt about him, we have always celebrated holidays and the kids’ birthdays together. Was it weird the first time I hosted his girlfriend and my then-boyfriend for Thanksgiving alongside my mom, sister, and stepfather? Only because it wasn’t weird at all. It was actually a lot of fun. Don’t act so shocked and amused that we’re able to set aside our feelings for the sake of our kids. And no, that does not mean there’s any chance we’ll get back together.
4. The wicked stepmother trope is tired.
My ex dated a few people after our separation, but about a year after we split, it became clear he’d met someone he really liked. I had set clear guidelines for introducing the kids to the person I was dating—I waited three months before he even met them—and was upset when my ex introduced the kids to his new girlfriend early on.
I had nothing to worry about. Five years later, she is a constant and loving presence in their lives. Her family has embraced my kids as their own, exposing them to a culture and traditions they would never hav experienced. She attends every music performance, sporting event, and holiday. Not to mention that she has made my ex a calmer, happier person, and that makes him a better dad. So why would you think I should hate her?
5. Divorce is not contagious.
Sure, there are a few studies that suggest that among tight-knit groups, one couple divorcing can cause others to have problems. But just inviting me over for coffee isn’t going to hurt your marriage. Yet at a time when I needed my friends most, all but my very closest pals just kind of vanished. Friends I saw weekly stopped making plans. A standing monthly girls’ night got “rescheduled” several times until Facebook posts revealed I just hadn’t been invited.
I didn’t feel like a different person, but my former mom friends treated me differently. Why? I suppose I’ll never know for sure, but to me, it felt like I had a deadly disease they were desperate not to catch (or they were guarding their men). To the few friends who never treated me any differently, thank you. To everyone else, don’t avoid a friend going through a divorce—I bet she really needs that girls’ night out.
6. The kids are all right.
Now, I have to be careful here, because I don’t want to gloss over the very real pain divorce can cause. But by every measure, my kids are good. They do not act out. They are always among the best-behaved kids in their class. They have never once asked if their dad and I will get back together, tried to play us off each other, or any other cliché from either version of The Parent Trap.
It helps that they were very young (5 and 2) when we separated, so their memories of us all together are fuzzy at best. We make sure they have both parents at every special occasion and we’ve never fought in front of them or bad-mouthed each other to them. We learned early on not to trust hearsay: should a kid say something like “daddy let us have wine,” a quick text usually clears up the issue (dad was cooking with wine, not serving it to my then-preschooler). Are they completely unscathed? I’m not that naïve. But I sleep well at night knowing they are learning how people should treat each other in good times and in bad. Don’t feel sorry for them or worry they’ll be a bad influence on your offspring.
So the next time you hear about a friend or coworker whose marriage has ended, lean in, not out. Offer a hug, an ear, or a doughnut—but keep your judgments to yourself.
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