Why I Will Never Celebrate My Divorce

by Jennifer Ball
Originally Published: 
A wedding cake with little figures of the couple split in half, representing divorce

Recently, there’s been talk about how divorces should be celebrated. That they should elicit cheers instead of condolences. That the end of a marriage is sometimes worthy of a party instead of a wake.

Believe me: I understand. I get it. I’ve met thousands of divorced people over the past few years and I know some divorces are truly high-five occasions. Sometimes the death of a marriage is truly the birth of a new life. There are stories of abuse and neglect and wanting to save innocent kids from growing up amidst discord and resentment. In these cases, yes, celebrate getting out alive. Celebrate having the courage to face demons most of us can’t even fathom, and taking those huge, brave steps to be free.

But me? Nah. I will never celebrate my divorce.

Yes, I know. I’m so much better off without him! The divorce meant the end of being lied to, of being cheated on, and of being so disrespected and disregarded that I almost lost my mind and my sense of self.

But the divorce also meant the end of some pretty fabulous dreams. It meant plans that were years in the making were splintered like plywood in a tornado. When we signed that decree, we signed away promises we had made to ourselves, to each other, and to our children.

Speaking of the children, that’s another reason I refuse to party down in response to being split up. We all know that in many cases divorce means stability for kids who have lived in upheaval their whole lives. Sometimes it means seeing a parent bloom after being dragged from the shadows of an awful marriage and into the sun of freedom and independence.

For my kids? It meant none of that. When my ex and I were in the awkward, early phase of divorce, that one where you’re both still trying to figure out exactly where this person now fits into your life, we had a hushed phone conversation one night. I was in the throes of trying to “win” him back, trying to convince him that getting a divorce was a permanent solution to a temporary problem. “This is going to be hell on the kids,” I whispered through tears. “Oh Jenny,” he sighed, “people get divorced every day. They’ll be fine.”

And eight years later? The kids are, in most respects, “fine.” It wasn’t fine for a long time, though, and there are scars on their psyches that will fade to near-nothingness as times passes, but will always be there. It’s absurd to think one can survive the dismemberment of a family and not have it leave a mark.

I have four children, I saw each of them handle the divorce in their own way. There were more tears than I could have ever imagined, more anger than I could have believed. We went through very tough financial times which resulted in the loss of their childhood home. I’d been a stay-at-home mom who suddenly found herself scrambling for work and childcare. Traditions went up in smoke, holidays became a teeter-totter experience: one year here, one year there, always up or down.

There were therapy sessions and school struggles. I knew that children of divorce faced stigma not only from crass, clueless politicians, but from society in general. Every behavior that went against the norm, every bad grade became a finger wagging at me, a big “I told you so” from some invisible, judging presence.

I almost lost one of my children to depression. Did the divorce cause this? We’ll never know, but I can say with 100% certainty it sure as hell didn’t help.

My kids had to watch their mom struggle to get out of bed some mornings. The pain and grief of helplessly watching a marriage erode was overwhelming during those first few months. For a little while, I didn’t think I’d make it.

But, I did get out of bed. I did go on. And that is what I choose to celebrate.

Every day that passed and I laughed more than I cried? Celebrated.

Watching my children learn and grow and become wonderful young adults? Celebrated.

Being loved and helped and protected by the best friends in the world? Celebrated.

Discovering that adversity really does build character, and realizing our little family of five now had more character than a freaking Disney parade? Celebrated.

Filling out that first FAFSA all by myself? You bet your sweet ass I celebrated that one.

Please don’t misunderstand: I will celebrate getting over it. I will celebrate knowing I fought to save my marriage with everything I had until it became clear the fight was in vain. I will celebrate getting through all those scary “firsts,” some by the skin of my teeth, and some with absolute grace. I will certainly accept praise. And if you want to clink martini glasses over how far the kids and I come since those early dark days, I won’t object (make mine dirty, please).

The divorce itself, though? That painful, soul-smothering experience that nearly broke me? Nope. I understand if you want to celebrate yours. If you like, I’ll even join in on the festivities. But I cannot, and will not, celebrate mine.

Now, let’s talk about those martinis.

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