My Divorce Didn’t Ruin My Kids
Quite the opposite, it taught them the value of love.
There was an eerie silence in the house this morning. Eerie because I couldn’t hear anything from my nine and ten year old boys. Usually this indicates some unauthorized screen usage, so I tiptoed from the kitchen to my bedroom to catch them in the act. As I turned the corner I found them both laying side by side in my bed reading peacefully. My breath caught in my throat and I let this moment of simple and pure joy seer into my brain and then wash through the rest of my body like a rolling wave moving across the ocean.
A little over two years ago I took the biggest gamble of my life and theirs. I initiated the inevitable transition of my relationship with their father. To shelter our boys from the pain of divorce, he and I had both been holding onto the version of our love that hadn’t been working for a very long time. The thought of emotionally damaging them, holding our own needs above theirs, and even just seeing them cry knowing we were the reason, was enough to commit to continuing to cause each other deep pain for years. Parents carry pain for their children. That’s in the job description.
Another part of the job description is modeling behavior for our kids. As the years rolled by and we settled into a functional, but emotionally stunted marriage, I began to take a hard look at this question. What was I showing my boys about how to love another person? While my wasband and I were both showing them a positive way to love children, we excel in parenting together, we were also showing them that the way to love a partner was distant and cold. We supported separate lifestyles; my wasband and I rarely chose to spend our non-family time together. We cultivated an unspoken, yet ever-present sense of sadness in our home. We never showed them how to communicate love through touch. Although we had abandoned frequent and intense fighting, and when we did fight worked hard to keep it private, the tension between us never really dissipated. We didn’t even show them that partners sleep in the same bed. We hadn’t for years. More importantly, they weren’t seeing the honorable lessons of sacrifice my wasband and I were trying to practice. The nuances and complexity of those lessons are not accessible to humans that have never even been in love before. The only thing they could see and experience was the distance that made the sacrifice possible, and this is what they would eventually come to understand as the experience of love between a couple.
My two boys are growing up in a world that advocates men be cold, distant, unemotional and not affectionate. It’s passed off as “strength,” but ultimately it is just emotional inaccessibility and my boys had a front row seat to it every day in their home. I began to realize that all of the sacrificing I was making to maintain the construct of marriage for them was excerberating this huge cultural problem and would come at an equally hefty price for them personally. The price would be their inability to love a partner of their own someday in a full and healthy way. My choice rapidly transformed from how I would conduct my life to shelter them from damage, to what choice I would make to cause them the least amount of damage. Every parent has this realization at some point. You aren’t going to save your children from pain, you are going to figure out how to mitigate it.
I read a lot of articles. I talked to a lot of people. The majority of them were steering me away from divorce. “YOU ARE GOING TO FUCK YOUR KIDS UP!” was the overwhelming message. The fear was overwhelming at times. I had some hard moments of questioning myself. Was I trying to justify my selfishness? Did I even have the right to be happy independent of my children? Don’t you give up that right when you become a parent? How would I live with myself if I fucked up my kids? I would like to tell you that I had all of these questions answered when I made the choice to call the marriage over, but I didn’t. I just chose what I thought was the best option from the bad ones available to me.
What I did decide to start doing is evaluating and acting from a proactive space instead of a reactive space. Instead of strategizing around avoiding life’s pain I started strategizing around creating joy, resilience and more love with it. What ways could I show my boys how to express love? How could I teach them how to be authentic and honest; to be sad, feel helpless and be supported through that? How could I show them what it means to truly love a person when you don’t have to and how to love them forever, especially when what they bring to your life changes? How could I teach them to find beauty in life’s pain? Of all the things I have done, I think this is one that made the most difference for them and me, because it also had the added beauty of being how I authentically approach life. I was being myself, which is something I wasn’t doing during my marriage. They were finally getting to see their real mom.
This morning when I saw them laying in bed, wrapped in contentment as if it were another blanket on the bed, I began to see that my gamble may just be paying off. My boys always settle in hard the weekend they come back to me from their dad’s house. They seem to have gained an appreciation of what is unique about our relationship, and our time together, which frankly only comes from leaving it regularly. So have I. They come home to mom who is engaged, rested, and at peace. They go back home to a dad who is all of those things as well. They show real appreciation for the actions of love taken in our little home; french toast in the morning, folded laundry, cuddle time on the couch and listening to each others’ stories from the week before bed. This didn’t come to fruition immediately. Time has supported us in finding our groove, but as the boys told me last night, “life is good.”
The greatest gifts we may all have gotten through this transition are that change is required in life, bringing challenges and gifts. We can be sad, lonely and frustrated, and have both the space and the love to be supported through it. There is deep gratitude embedded in hellos and goodbyes and love provides for many paths to wholeness. I also hope someday my boys will understand the value of a big gamble.