I didn’t plan to end up a divorced mom of three.
My divorce devastated me, my husband, and our children. Like any family facing that or any other major catastrophe, we spent much of the first year coming to terms with the left turn our lives had taken and mourning our loss.
That was then.
Now, years later, I see a fuller picture. I look back and see the grief and pain we all faced. I look back and see our separation as both a defining moment for our family and also a defining moment for me as a mother.
Our divorce made me a better parent.
1. I got really clear about my parenting choices.
When my ex-husband and I were raising the children in one home, our parenting choices were often what everyone else was doing or what seemed like the next logical choice. Time seemed endless, and “someday” was a common answer to the children’s questions.
Until we divorced.
Once we divorced, the pain and guilt I carried urged me to be more conscious about my choices. We made one huge choice with lifelong effects on our children. I reasoned the others should be as thoughtful. This began out of wanting to heal our children, wanting to pain-proof their futures.
Now the conscious choices I make about talking to our children candidly about money, showing them how I participate in the political process, and teaching them the importance of limiting sugar are in service to the adults I am raising. If I want to raise citizens of the world, I need to plan experiences that do that. If I want to raise men who respect their partners, we need to talk about what that looks like. In my house, it is up to me.
2. I walked my talk.
I once spoke often about telling the truth even if it was difficult. I spoke about making choices that align with your values. I talked about choosing to be happy. I wasn’t actually doing much of it.
The divorce changed all that.
I had to get really clear, for myself and my children, on why we’d made this life-altering decision. And once I did, I talked about it with a depth of understanding I didn’t have before. My children know our divorce story and understand why their dad and I made the painful decision to separate. They witnessed two adults aligning their values and actions, even when it was messy and painful.
3. I stopped trying to rescue my kids from difficult emotions.
There is a uniquely excruciating pain to watching your child process pain you’ve caused. At first, I rushed to heal the wound. I learned quickly that their father and I couldn’t fix this. No one could.
Divorce can’t be fixed any more than cancer or a car accident or the birth of a baby or a marriage. Divorce is a life event, with difficult emotions. Like any life event, everyone involved comes out the other side changed. That change involves pain and learning and shifting expectations and realities.
Just like I can’t rush a new mom through the first weeks of her motherhood by telling her to calm down, that her baby will eventually sleep through the night, I couldn’t rush my children through this process. Our divorce had become a part of their life experience, and I could only support them. I learned to hold space for my children and watch for signs they needed additional support.
4. I mastered presence (kind of).
I don’t have the luxury of my children in my house every day anymore. I have 26 weekends a year. I am aware that the days and years of their childhood with me are short and passing quickly.
I work to be fully present in the time I have with them. I listen to the detailed stories about camp shenanigans, watch the dance she invented during quiet time, linger when he asks me to stay at bedtime. I’m not always the Carol-Brady sunshine-and-light mama, carpe-ing every diem, but I’m closer. I can hear the clock ticking.
5. I gave the kids a front-row seat to Life Rebuilding 101.
My children know that you can begin again. They know a relationship with someone you once loved can continue even as that love shifts. They’ve seen their father and me set up new homes, untangle our finances, and learn a new normal. They’ve watched as we struggled and witnessed our mistakes. They’ve seen us steady our footing on this new ground, gaining confidence and each finding the joy that eluded us before.
My sweethearts will one day find themselves stuck in a place that seems hard to exit. They will feel trapped. Perhaps they will feel undervalued and unseen. I hope they remember then how to start over.
In a perfect world, I still wouldn’t choose to be parenting through divorce. It is sticky and hard and more complicated than the rosy first-family alternative. But I didn’t have a rosy first-family. This isn’t a perfect world.
And the truth is, I am a richer, stronger, better parent forged in the fires of our divorce.