Oh, how there are days when I think I got it all right. Then there are days when I think I got it all wrong.
Raising two children who were 4 weeks old and 4 years old when we ended our marriage and who are now in their 20’s! That represents a lot of growth. Growth not just for them, but for me as well.
I know I did the best I could given the cards that I was dealt. But was any of it right?
I was married 14 years and I have been single for 20 years now. I never remarried.
My parents were married for over 50 years. Both my grandparents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversaries. It just wasn’t in my DNA, I guess. Having the tools and models to cope in a divorced environment had to come from outside sources.
Coping with a divorce after infidelity was utterly foreign to me. Twenty years later, I know I am still growing as a woman; as a single woman who is now 60. I am picking up a bookmark that I laid down deliberately in order to raise a family.
But I didn’t know I still had growing to do as a single parent. Apparently, I do. And I have my two kids to show me just how much. I decided to interview them to get a little further insight.
I wanted to give voices to the children that are now 20 and 24 years old. And I wanted to share my findings with single moms who still have young children and are navigating all the frustrations and heartache that goes along with single parenting and divorce.
In my interviews, I learned a lot. I wish all three of us had the maturity then to speak back in those days. My children to have the wisdom of age to articulate how they felt, and me to have the maturity an adult should possess in order to hear them speak in ways they only knew how to communicate.
Much can be said if parents would just talk to their children and then shut up and listen. Even more, could be said if divorced parents would grow up and communicate; period. My son Scott was 4 years old when my ex-husband left. He is now 24 and works as a Congressional Aide. My daughter Olivia was 4 weeks old when my ex-husband left. She is now 20 and in college as a film major.
Here is my interview with my children.
What is your first memory or realization that your mom and dad were divorced?
There was never one instance I can recall. My memories from those days are still a bit hazy. “Divorce” was just a concept I grew up with and accepted. Even if I knew it wasn’t the norm, it was my norm. I bore it largely because I was told to. Early on I would ask dad if you were ever getting back together and he said “no.” Maybe that was the first moment that I learned it was permanent.
I have no idea. I couldn’t tell you. It’s like asking me what my first memory was. Like realizing that I am a girl or something. There is no standout memory, it was just my life.
If you could give a voice to the child that you were at that time, what would you say? What questions would you have?
I would tell him that it would impact him in ways he couldn’t imagine and still doesn’t fully understand. But I would also say that it doesn’t define you. You’re your father’s son, yes. But you’re not him. This is not a cycle that needs to repeat. I would simply try to tell my younger self that he is his own person. He might feel that he has no voice or choice but one day he will get a lot closer to finding those things for himself.
As a child back then, I would ask why can’t I choose who I want to go with and when? Why do you always ask me to tell dad how much you spent on something and vice versa for him? I would definitely say “stop asking me to be the one to give dad a check because I am obviously going to look at how much it is for. I always felt guilty about how much money was spent on me.
Were you angry? If so, what made you angry most?
Of course. I was largely confused at the time and that manifested in anger. I was angry that things were changing and for no good reason. I was angry that my parents were angry at each other and were no longer friendly with each other, but instead openly hostile. I felt that they were the adults and should have the maturity to fix it themselves. Today I still feel a bit of that. I’m mostly angry at how it contributed to my longstanding anxiety about loss that I still cope with.
I’m not angry, I get frustrated because it seems that often I am the go-between you and dad. I hate having to do the “dad said” “mom said” thing. It’s annoying and makes me remember things that aren’t necessarily my responsibility as “the kid”.
What did it feel like to have divorced parents?
Normal and yet abnormal. It was my normal. Still is. I’ve known almost nothing else. But it became abnormal when it contrasted with what my friends had, especially when I stayed over at their houses for playdates. It felt weird to talk about my parents separately as opposed to one entity. I often had to explain that they were divorced. I didn’t know how to process, let alone explain, that my parents didn’t like each other. Sometimes I felt sides had to be taken in battles that were not mine to fight.
In the grand scheme of things, it did not make me feel different at all. I don’t care that you guys are divorced, it doesn’t bother me. It only bothered me when you two had issues communicating. A lot of people’s parents are divorced. It’s almost more normal to have divorced parents now than it is to have married ones.
Did you feel different?
Different from others? Yes. I knew I was. But I also didn’t lack for much that any middle-class kid would want or need and for that I’m always grateful. I got the toys and video games I wanted and got to see my friends often enough. But I knew that there was a wholeness and closeness that other “intact” families had that mine lacked.
I did not feel different in the slightest.
Did you feel like the divorce was your fault?
Of all the tropes of children of divorce that I may play into, feeling like it’s, my fault has never been one of them. I knew it wasn’t my fault. That doesn’t make it much better as sometimes I felt victimized and powerless. But I didn’t blame myself.
I did think the divorce was my fault (being born sort of initiated it) but I don’t think that anymore. I think every kid carries with them the idea that it’s their fault but then we grow up and realize it’s not.
What still matters to you?
I think I’ve adopted values that make a repeat of this situation less likely in my life. Commitments are important to me. One’s word in their oath. How I treat people and what I expect of myself is different – and better – as a result.
I don’t understand what you mean by what still matters to me. But I guess just having parents that are there for me matters. Knowing I have a relationship with both my mother and my father even though they’re divorced.
Does family have a deeper meaning to you or a lesser meaning to you as a result of divorce?
Family has a much deeper meaning to me but strangely marriage has a much-reduced meaning. Commitment to family – serving and protecting them – is always important and even more so now that I see the results of the opposite philosophy.
However, I honestly have a low opinion of marriage. People – ostensibly mature adults – enter into these commitments all the time and almost as often don’t see it through. I saw a perfect marriage in my parents that was squandered so how could I not think every other kind of marriage is worthless too?
Again, the divorce was not something I actively saw (like Scott). I never knew anything before it, so the value of family stays the same for me.
Do you think something good came out of the divorce at this stage of your life?
If something good did come of it, it was my perspective. Having gone through things I likely would have never experienced if the divorce had not happened. I have a greater capacity to empathize with others. Because I’ve had fewer comforts, I have fewer blinders now. That’s invaluable to me. I choose to think that it made me a better human being.
I think the divorce had to happen. I think if it didn’t happen then, it would have happened later. I think it’s good you’re divorced because you guys probably would hate each other AND live under the same roof if you hadn’t.
These responses were eye opening and made me sad at first read. I wanted a do-ver. I wanted to hug my little people. I wanted to sit with my boy and talk to him in ways that would help him express his feelings.
I wanted to tell my little girl that I am sorry for ever making her feel like she was a go-between. I wanted to take back any and all things I said in anger towards their dad, even though I know I had every right to feel the anger for leaving his young family.
I sit here now and wonder if things would have been different if there had not been infidelity. Would I have been as angry? My heart was broken, and I was frightened. And he became a mere stranger overnight.
But I had no right to make my children feel sad, or guilty or anything that would rob them of a secure childhood. My son said he didn’t feel whole and that makes me sad. But then, I didn’t feel whole either so, what else was he going to feel?
My kids do know that I did everything in my power to bridge a new kind of relationship with my ex-husband. One that would grow into being just two old friends. That was my lofty hope anyway. Afterall we had known each other since we were the ages that our children are now.
I invited him to our daughter’s 1st Birthday party, and he declined. I should have stopped at that point, but I kept asking for inclusionary behaviors and he kept refusing. Sadly, I suppose when another woman is involved, these things are not attainable.
My kids saw me try and saw him resist so, I guess I am at least glad they saw some efforts, albeit one-sided. I fell out of love with him a very long time ago. I have not had a day in 20 years that I wanted my husband back. A shattered trust for me is irreparable. But a new relationship could have been forged for our very young children.
So, what is the epilogue of this story?
I share all of this with the hopes that any divorced mom reading this who has rough feelings towards their ex-husband as I did, will hear the words of two kids that are now adults and who are giving voice to the little people they once were.
I don’t want anyone to want a do-over. You have time to change the trajectory now.
My kids are amazing people. Though they felt like they were in a taffy pull often in their life they have grown to be two very intelligent, articulate people who have good hearts.
They have made the conscious choice to take the sum of their experiences and be good citizens of the world. I am grateful for these two exceptional people and I’m so glad I am their mom! Never stop learning.
“Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”
Barack Obama (raised by a single mother)
Best wishes to all the single moms that must be dads too….and remain civil!