What It Really Feels Like To Get Divorced With A Toddler in Tow

by Michelle Dempsey
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Michelle Dempsey

Sure, I’m a pretty strong girl. I’ve been through a lot and then some. Because of that, I have built a reputation of resilience that has me feeling like no matter what I go through in my life, I’m just expected to react as though I’m strong and empowered, and nothing less.

In fact, when I run into old friends and acquaintances around town who have heard of my kind-of-recent separation, I always hear the same thing: “Wow, I never would have known you’re getting divorced. You seem so happy all the time!

Thanks largely in part to the façade that is Facebook, I’ve really been able to pull off this whole sleigh ride into divorce land looking like a real champ. I’m all up on those timelines, maintaining my business, smiling in the company of my amazingly supportive friends and family, and of course, engaging in all things adorable with my delicious toddler. But what they don’t see, what they hopefully will never know, and what I’ve tried to keep to myself for quite some time now is what it’s really like to go through divorce in your early 30s.

Here’s the truth though:

While I still fully and totally support the very hard decision I had to make in order to get to this point in my life, the only way to describe getting divorced is that it’s like being caught in a tidal wave.

Only in this tidal wave, all of your friends are waving at you from dry land while pregnant with their second babies, and you have 50-pound cinder blocks tied to each one of your fingers and toes. And just when the water starts to retreat and things seem calm again, a tsunami comes from almost out of nowhere while those people on dry land are taking their first family trips to Disney World, and still making out with their husbands at parties, and everyone runs screaming from the angry sea.

And that, my friends, is what it feels like to get divorced in your early 30s. When your daughter is only 2 1/2 and still in diapers. When you have to wrap your head around the fact that you are no longer a family, and don’t get to do family things like attend birthday parties together or take your daughter on her first trip to the Magic Kingdom in matching fucking family shirts and Mickey ears.

It’s not pretty. It’s not easy. And if half the world is really getting divorced, right now, as we speak, then I’d like to know how they’re answering their kids’ heartbreaking questions about this whole divorce situation — the ones that always seem to come just before bedtime.

I’m not looking for pity. Trust me. I don’t need a shoulder to cry on — I’ve got pillows for that, the ones I soak with tears regularly after I’ve held them in until after my daughter is fast asleep.

But in the interest of transparency, which is what I really built my whole writing, speaking, consulting, and marketing career on, I just want to clear up why I look so happy all the time.

I look happy because, despite my situation, I’ve got the world’s greatest child. When she wraps her arms around me and looks at my face and tells me that I make her happy, I’m reminded who I’m doing all of this for. I smile because even though today sucks really bad, I’ll never lose hope that tomorrow might be a bit easier. That tomorrow will allow me to enjoy life again, like a normal person, not one who is currently drowning in what it means to get divorced. I then smile even harder because of the fact that I have the most supportive and generous friends and family a girl could ever ask for.

Because no matter the time of day, I’ve got the most sincere and loving people filling up my cup when I need it the most. I enjoy the people around me even more than ever because I know what it’s like to suffer alone, and I never want to have to do that again. I keep my head up because it is my duty to teach my daughter that no matter what gets her down in life, you have to keep moving forward. She will know that you have to trust yourself, your gut, and all you know about yourself in even the most difficult situations.

And most of all, I will be as happy as I can possibly be so that my daughter never forgets that the rainbow will always, always show up after the storm. Even though I’m in my early 30s and going through a divorce with a 2-year-old daughter in tow.

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