The sun is shining and my day is planned: The list includes a varied set of work tasks, some complex but all manageable, and personal items I may not get to. Tomorrow will be the same though more frenetic, as the holidays are approaching and I could do with a 30-hour day.
But somehow, I’ll make it work. I always do. And that’s been the story of my life since divorce. Making it work – whatever it takes.
I suppose I ought to feel good about that. It isn’t landing on my feet so much as it’s pushing through, insisting on knocking down obstacles or ignoring them, often motivated by my children in some way – even though I’ve reached Empty Nest.
I’m pleased when I realize that I made it here at all – my children raised to college age, the roof still over my head, a place for them to come home to.
“Somehow, making it work.”
That phrase ought to be emblazoned on my chest, imprinted on my clothing, and splashed in bold letters on a banner strung across the front of my house. It ought to be my personal credo, my encapsulated storyline, my claim to fame which is, no doubt, the claim to fame of millions of mothers who are also “somehow, making it work.”
So many married and single mothers alike face challenges too numerous to count, many that would make my own pale in comparison.
After Divorce, Being a Good Mother Gave Me Purpose
Before divorce, I was determined to be a good mother. But after divorce, in many respects, my role as mother became my reason for being.
“Making it work” was about making it work for my children. “Making it work” is what we do because our kids depend on us, and when children depend on us we must make it work.
We give them life and we’re responsible for raising them, which sounds very matter-of-fact but the truth is matter-of-fact, just as it is incomprehensibly physical and emotional. We cringe at their pain, we flourish in their joy, we steel ourselves for the weight of teaching them the tough lessons. The thought of causing them suffering, for most of us, is inconceivable.
Don’t mothers do whatever they can to assure the happiness of their children? Their decency? And if they do not, if for example the mother-daughter relationship goes awry, doesn’t that leave us, the daughters, more resolute to do right by the next generation?
As I face my morning and my week, sunshine aside, I feel the fatigue of these past months and years. I feel it acutely on certain days and dismiss it on others. And while the emotions change – some hours dark and others bright – the stress remains unrelenting.
Though I made it to Empty Nest, I struggle with shaking off the after-effects of so many grueling years.
Does Divorce Change Who We Are – Permanently?
I recognize that I’ve changed: I’m stronger in some ways and more fearful in others. I recognize the continuing litany of questions, and the worry that sits behind them to do with bills, paying down the post-divorce debt, wondering if I will ever feel “light” again, if I can ever be the woman I once was or if I’m simply too old, too worn, too disillusioned to reclaim myself.
I consider my feelings – some captured on the virtual page and others that are only penned for the private glance in my personal journal. The former are filtered, while the latter are scribbles, shorthand, reminders of something important or thoughts too raw to lay bare where other eyes would judge me. It is difficult enough for me to revisit those words where my eyes are more likely to criticize, and the extent to which I’ve changed is blatantly apparent.
Once upon a time, I was idealistic, open, trusting. I was emotionally energetic and adventurous. These are the hallmarks of youth of course, and they may coexist with pragmatism and even caution. But when it came to people, I trusted. When it came to myself, I trusted my ability to learn from mistakes and resolve problems. When it came to love – generosity of spirit and the ability to act on it – I never questioned myself.
Divorce Changes Us… Do We Really Want to Change Back?
I liked who I was. I assumed I would always be that woman. This isn’t to say that I dislike myself now. But I miss the innocence that is gone forever.
Despite loving a good man and being loved in return, despite a dozen years since the man I once married moved on to another life, despite surviving these years financially though barely, and raising my children – not a given, believe me – recently, I came face to face with my disillusionment. It isn’t the first time, but it was so clear that it startled me.
I saw some drawings, they sparked a set of emotions, and my change in attitude is undeniable. As I consider the prevailing sense of loss that seems to have become part of who I am, I pose myself the following question.
Is my disillusionment the result of divorce and the years that have followed?
Growing older has something to do with my perspective, as does getting out from under the daily grind of solo parenting. But when I’m honest with myself, the disillusionment returns to years of battles in which I constantly hoped and then lost, in which legal right and moral right held no weight whatsoever, in which money and wiles ruled, and that was that.
Do I miss my former innocence? Some element of romantic idealism?
Perhaps. But not the blind faith. Not the vulnerability. Not the ripple effects.
On the Other Side of Being a Divorced Mom
Fortunately, I can look to the experiences of being a mother with sweetness and a certain amount of pride. My sons are still young men – one in college and the other recently graduated. The extent to which I’ve done a good job of preparing them for the world, including their defenses and their hearts, is yet to be seen.
And a factor that is not to be diminished: they are very “their own” as they have been from the start. All parents need to keep in mind the sphere of our influence – and its limits.
Yet I am uncertain as to whether or not I want my sons to be as open as I once was, lest they someday face the sorrow of so much disillusionment.
The morning is sunny and the day’s tasks are long. The week will bring my boys returning home; there will be cooking and laundry, laughter and stories, and I will focus on beating back an inevitable sadness – for what I once imagined family life to be, my life to be.
Whatever disillusionment I feel, I will pack it away, ready to immerse myself in the pleasure of my children. I will listen and watch – as if through a peephole – for hints of the men they will become.
I have planted seeds of optimism as well as disappointment, seeds of joy as well as sadness. And I am not alone in planting seeds.