About eight years ago, as I was tucking my son into bed, he began telling me his friend was moving because his parents didn’t want to be married anymore.
My daughter sat in her fleece pajamas holding onto her book. We always did the bedtime story in her brother’s room. She loved it because it was the only time he’d let her go in there.
“That’s too bad, honey,” I said. But he’s just moving to the next town and we will make sure we still see him, okay?”
As he nodded, my daughter asked me if that would ever happen to us — if her father and I would ever get a divorce.
I saw myself as a little girl while I looked at her. I had asked my mom the same question when I was 9. “Never,” my mother had told me. “We’ll be married forever.”
Three years later, my parents divorced, we sold our family house, and moved to a different town with my mom.
For a moment, I hesitated when I daughter asked me that question, because I didn’t want to make such a promise to my daughter if I couldn’t keep it. But with all my being, I thought what I was about to say would be true for the rest of my days.
“Never,” I said. “We will be married forever.”
I picked her up, she smiled and wrapped her arms around my neck and was asleep by the time we got to her room.
I’ve carried that conversation with me every day since my separation. It has weighed heavily on me. And there was a huge part of me that hoped she’d forgotten I’d broken my promise to her and her brother.
But she hadn’t. In fact, she brought it up just the other day in the car as we all were driving to the mall.
Here we were, 8 years later, and she needed to talk about it.
So did I.
I could hear the nervousness in her voice — I was nervous too — but I turned off the radio and knew I needed to get this right.
That night all those years ago in her brother’s room, I had told my kids what I believed with my entire soul to be true — that I would be married to their father forever.
I let them know I loved him deeply — on the day we married, when each of them was born, and especially on the day she asked me if we’d be married forever.
But without going into too many details, I explained that people change, they grow apart, and unfortunately, there are times when love fades and you find yourself wanting to go in a different direction to preserve a very important part of yourself — and that’s okay.
It doesn’t mean I am bad. It doesn’t mean their father is bad. We just knew what was best for our family.
I told my kids how hard we tried, that you don’t wake up one day, decide you don’t want to be married, then leave. It’s a long process, other people’s feelings are not only considered, but they are put before yours. You work, you try, you struggle and wrestle with the idea for a long time before you quit. You give it your all.
“I don’t care if you guys ever get married,” I said to my kids as I drove. “I care that you have meaningful relationships with people who you love deeply, and if you feel a part of yourself dying because of who you are when you’re with your partner, you will give yourself permission, and space, to fix it.”
Then I asked them to do me a favor. “Please don’t let the fact your father and I are not married any longer discourage you from finding true love. We had a beautiful relationship. We worked hard. We loved each other enough to let go. Just because our marriage is over, it doesn’t mean we failed.”
They were quiet. I asked them if they understood what I was trying to say.
They said they did.
And I know they will remember this conversation, just as they remembered the one we had so long ago on my son’s bed after I read them a story and tucked them in.
I turned up the radio, looked at my daughter in the rear view mirror and saw her lean against her window and smile.