It’s nearly Mother’s Day, so of course I’m thinking about my mother, and my own performance over the years as mother to my two sons. I was married for the first 8 years of their lives more or less, and divorced since — more than a dozen years. For at least part of my marriage, I think we were all happy. The sense of family we shared was an enormous part of that.
My kids are no longer children, and while I have some inkling of what they will be like as men, they are still young adults. I am not in a position to judge what would have been better for them — an intact unhappy marriage or the life we have led instead.
I suppose this is what many men and women wonder about, lying awake at night, even after papers are filed. I know I did.
My concern was far more about the happiness and security of my children than it was for my own emotional state.
I remember listening to my mother complain about my dad. She complained to me when I was a child; she was still complaining when I was an adult. She was unhappily married for more than 30 years, though I would like to think that some of that time she was married she was reasonably content. At the very least, considering the significance of a ring in the 21st century, certainly the mid-century woman — and my mother qualifies — was even more validated by her title of Mrs.
Still, I wondered why my mother didn’t divorce my dad since she took issue with him so often, directing her derogatory remarks toward me in his frequent absence. I am well aware that I was deeply affected by my mother’s unhappiness; it is surely part of the reason that I waited so long to marry, and no doubt a factor in why I tolerated so much loneliness in my own marriage before I began to speak up.
Growing up, and even in my twenties, I knew that if I ever walked down that aisle, I wanted a marriage that was different from hers. I wanted children to bask in the glow of their well-matched parents. I swore to myself that should I ever have a husband, I would do everything to make him happy. But sometimes, regardless of good intentions, marriages cannot be saved. Both parties must want to make each other happy.
Eventually, my parents divorced. My father went on to remarry and enjoy his life; my mother never found whatever she was seeking — a means to “fill herself up” in a way that no other person can provide.
We often speak of happy marriages and unhappy marriages — as if there weren’t a wide spectrum in between, not to mention a roller coaster in any relationship as life brings on its onslaught of blessings and challenges. We should give more attention to “good” marriages and good relationships. We should carefully consider their underpinnings so we can learn from them, by example.
On the other hand, it’s rare that we speak of happy and unhappy divorces. I don’t mean the divorcing process itself; that’s unlikely to be pleasant for most of us. I mean the years that follow, particularly for men and women with children, who live out an aftermath of divorce that continues bumping along with negative impacts to one or both former spouses, and of course, their children.
The other option — a couple that arrives at a reasonably peaceful, adult, even pleasant coexistence. And surely, their sons and daughters will benefit from this. We might think this should be easy to accomplish, were we all to really act “in the best interests of the child.”
That said, I note with enormous sadness that my boys were raised by a mother — yours truly — who was unhappily divorced. Our household was constantly shaken by aftershocks that went on for more than a decade.
A decade is a very long time.
While I would no longer say that is the case, the fact that it continued throughout my boys’ childhood and adolescence inevitably shaped who they will be as adults, just as my parents’ unhappy marriage influenced me. And I wish with all my heart that I could have cushioned my children from more of our rocky reality.
The Dating Life (With Kids)
For myself, knowing that my children were adjusting to family as a threesome was more important than getting back out into the dating world. And when I did re-enter those waters, I found they added both a spark and confusion to my life. I was out of sync. I was an older mom, and most of the men my age wanted to date women whose children were already grown, or, women much younger than me (and much younger than them).
So a word of caution: Know where a potential partner stands as soon as possible. In particular, find out the age of his children as compared to yours; be sure he’s okay with the age of your children. When you’re dating, if you want something that is more than casual, believe me — it matters. No doubt the fact that I was unable to establish a long-term serious relationship that included my children also left me vulnerable to the rocky years of “unhappily divorced.”
I like to think that surrendering the fairy tale will lead to greater serenity… serenity in knowing that we can be ourselves, and setting expectations of others that are reasonable.
Happily Ever After
For some of us, “happily ever after” is not the objective. Of course we want to be happy, but we also seek to experience life, to discover our place in it, to find meaning in what we do, and to have some fun along the way! We don’t paint walking down the aisle as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Some of us don’t believe there is only one “right” person for us, or possibly two. We come to understand that every relationship isn’t a keeper, that we can love in different ways, and there will be periods of time when being on our own is absolutely perfect.
As for the elusive search for some blissful state in which we are ever adored (and our mates, ever valiant and doting), perhaps we should remind ourselves that no relationship comes with a guarantee, and every relationship requires work, compromise, understanding, and acceptance.
My happily ever after?
Knowing my children are healthy, grounded, and feel good about who they are. Me, able to be who I am, even as that changes. My heart, open to those around me, and wise enough to know how much to give to others, and how much to give to myself.