Those Bittersweet Moments As Parents, After Divorce

A few nights ago I watched one of the “Parenthood” episodes queued up in my DVR list. The show is a gem; one of the most honest looks at the beauty and complexities of family relationships ever to grace the screen.

One of the stories in this particular episode had to do with the efforts of Sara — a single mother of two teens — to help her former husband get into, and stay in, rehab. Despite the admonitions of her worried father and brother, she visits Seth, wanting to offer support, participating in some of his therapy, and who knows? Perhaps harboring a secret desire to restore her family to wholeness.

One scene hit me squarely in the heart. Sara and Seth are sitting on a bench, reminiscing about a photograph of the four of them when their children were toddlers. There’s a palpable tenderness as they share memories and feelings that no one but the two of them could understand. Seth takes a leap, inviting Sara to watch one of their favorite movies in the group lounge, and you can feel Sara grappling with the longing for the past she once hoped for with Seth — a life in which her children lived happily under one roof with both parents — and the truth of their lives now.

She makes what she knows is the healthier decision, saying simply, “I can’t”. But it’s a supremely poignant moment. The two of them hug for a long time. So much is said, without needing to be spoken.

Only a parent who has gone through divorce understands this scene. We share the longing that we might have been able to give our children both of their parents, sparing them the shuttling between houses, or worse, the loss of contact with a parent because of their inability to stay the course.

We know the grief, the guilt, or the worry that our children have been shortchanged. We know the pangs of sadness that occasionally descend when we see a happy family playing around in the park, or we observe the intimate glance between married parents as they comfort a troubled child. As well adjusted as our post-divorce children may be, it doesn’t mean that that particular sorrow doesn’t ever rear its head and ask to be felt for a little while.

That’s what happened to me during that show. Something way down in my heart rumbled. I sat with it for a few minutes until — duly acknowledged — it moved on. I don’t regret my divorce; my life is much better now, as is my former husband’s. Our son is doing terrifically well; he’s close to us both, and has never shown signs of significant harm because his parents didn’t stay together, perhaps in part because of how we handled our separation. I speak often with his dad, who is a dear friend and will forever be part of my family.

But when those feelings bubble up, I give them their due. Even though I haven’t been with my son’s dad for 10 years and we clearly weren’t right for one another, it is still a significant loss, and deserves to be treated as such. It is no small thing to create a life with someone, to become parents together, to embark down a road full of hope and promise, only to see it unravel.

I for one believe in honoring that breeze of sadness when it occasionally blows through my heart, rather than talking myself out of those feelings with the list of reasons our marriage had to end.

Unless you have traveled this road, you won’t understand what I’m talking about. And if you have traveled this road, you know exactly what I mean. Even years after loss, there will be moments when we’re reminded of what might have been. I don’t regret my marriage, and I don’t regret my divorce. Mostly, I’m grateful that my heart is soft enough to feel these things — all of them — as bravely as I can.


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Susan Stiffelman

Family therapist, Author, Parenting With Presence, Parenting Without Power Struggles

This Blogger’s Books and Other Items from…

Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition)

by Susan Stiffelman

Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Connected

by Susan Stiffelman

Originally published at on January 21, 2012.