Empty-Nest, 15 Years Too Early: A Letter to Children of Divorce

The end of a marriage often brings regular separations from children as they move between households. We may find ourselves in a quiet, empty house many years before we were expecting that to be a regular experience. It’s a major emotional adjustment, especially since we typically have to face it while grieving the end of a marriage. It’s also difficult for many children who may never have been away from one parent overnight before. This is a letter of love and support for them, so they know that despite all the challenges, they are fully loved.

For the first few years of your life it was as if you were an extension of myself. I could barely breathe when I was separated from you. I made sure it almost never happened. As did you.

From your birth, you were so much more important to me, than me. It was both a terror to need you so madly, and at once an unspeakable relief to hold you — the one that had always dwelt in my body and soul, now here, in the outer world.

My boy and I

Then, when my marriage broke, I was an empty-nester, but 15 years too early. My heart was tearing, pulling into long sinews to stay with you each weekend you were not under my roof.

What were you eating?

Who else was with you?

Did you cry for me and I could not answer?

I learned to bear unbearable separations because there was no choice. My heart stretched to you constantly wherever in the world we were. Sometimes my body shook on the inside with the anxiety of distance, even for just a few nights.

I understand why others stay, despite their dead eyes, in marriages that do not give them the partner-love they yearn for, decade in, decade out. They find comfort and passionate engagement in the constant presence of their children. But at a terrible cost to the other kinds of presence — adult love, their own heart’s desire, the erotic life — these. I told myself, sometimes I had to sell it to myself, that if I did not honour these, then I failed to teach you about truth, self-fulfilment, about becoming your own hero.

If I’d stayed in the marriage, I would have taught you fear and sacrifice instead. A false gift?

The cost is not too high. The cost is not too high, I repeated to myself. Sometimes I believed it. Sometimes I doubted myself completely.

Together, we came up with the idea of a golden string that joins our hearts and souls. It’s a string that cannot be broken by distance, pain, or loss. It flexes through any element and is utterly invincible. Pure, unending, unvanquishable love. I turn to that image repeatedly in the emptiness of a mothering life, without the presence of the child. I remind myself that we’re still alive, we’re healthy — we have everything to look forward to.

When I remarried, as did your father, I knew we took great liberties with your heart. We took great liberties with your life, making such sweeping decisions for you. For your grace and trust I thank you for the rest of my days.

May I rarely disappoint you. May I rarely let you down. May I see you grow into a life of emotional freedom, integrity, and love.

You are my one true prayer.

Going Deeper

For more on thriving through life’s challenges and becoming the heroine of your own story, you’ll find my book Lovelands on Amazon and Audible.