I seem to keep reading, and am somewhat stunned, that parents still think that divorce is akin to being a bad parent.
The most optimal situation for children is:
a) two happily partnered parents. followed by
b) for the children to have two happily separated/divorced parents who share in the raising of the children and get along for the sake of the children and put the children first or
c) have two parents who may not get along but still love their children more than they hate their ex (to quote Judge Judy) and do right by the kids no matter what.
I did not have a, b, or c. I had D. I had an ex who did not participate in my kids’ lives at all. We could not have a civil conversation about anything having to do with anything, let alone the kids. There was silent acrimony for years. I did not bad-mouth their father and I don’t think he bad-mouthed me (though his wife referred to me as “that bitch” in front of my children). But we did not operate as a team. EVER. And he was not involved in my kids’ lives…never going to a play or a game or a school assembly…never calling them just because and many times forgetting to call on their birthdays or holidays. And I was alone and bewildered and, a lot of time, unsure that I was fit enough to raise them alone.
Option D sucked in many ways…but…
…my divorce was the best thing that happened to me and my kids. Better than anything else that could have happened. Better than if we had stayed together because we were dysfunctional and without the divorce I would have never been driven to repair what was wrong. And we would have raised our kids in dysfunction and who knows where they’d be now?
So we divorced and he went tra-la-la-ing off with his girlfriend (who was his girlfriend while we were still living together). Despite his original protestations that he wanted what was best for everyone and he would be there for me and the kids, the reality is that he and his wife did everything imaginable to avoid me and any responsibility toward my children other than court-ordered support and every other weekend visitation until they were in high school (weekends where my kids were tossed in with her kids and they never had their father’s full attention even when they begged for it.).
They brought my children who were ages 9, 5 and 4 out with her kids less than 3 weeks after we had separated. My bewildered children could not fathom the two of them trying to mash the 5 kids together just weeks after their parents separated.
My kids hung on for years trying to foster a relationship with their father who never called them, who stopped visiting them to spite me, and who willingly let the relationships wither and die. All of my kids warned him…my oldest hanging on the longest and giving his father his address every time he moved. Finally, he gave up.
At one time, early in our divorce, my ex almost had me convinced to give him custody. I had not realized what a jerk he would be to my kids. I honestly believed that they had a “nuclear” family while I had single, struggling motherhood which was lacking due to my working, my commute and my trying to get better and learn how to be a healthy parent.
There is so much emphasis placed on “the family” without ever analyzing the make up of the family and is that the best thing for the kids. I almost fell for this skewed thinking. In my ex’s house there were 2 parents and they were staying in the same house until the kids were grown. I was alone and had no idea where I was going to end up (I moved several times with no clear destination).
I tussled with the decision for several months and don’t really know why I reversed course. But I experienced feeling like a bad mom, feeling like a pariah among my friends, feeling like I had to explain….and feeling ashamed whenever I had to “go into” details about it.
But, despite all that, I didn’t give up custody. Instead I set out to learn how to move past my dysfunctional past and learn to be a good parent and be there for my boys. That is Option D. And Option D is a thousand times better than staying together for the sake of the kids or because you think society will frown upon you as a single parent.
I stumbled a lot along the way. I will never say I was the world’s perfect parent. Time constraints alone were an issue for me, but when I had money and time I spent it on and with the kids. I didn’t date men who had children because I never wanted my kids to compete with another set of kids since they had their hands full already with their step-siblings on their father’s side.
But we learned and grew and through many difficult years we stayed close. I went to my kids’ plays and games and events and school assemblies. Many times I sat alone at a rehearsal or during basketball when both my boys were on the same team. I left work to go see them and then went back to work. We pinched pennies, we cut coupons and I taught them how to shop. We divided chores and had family meetings about rules and guidelines.
After a few years the insanity was down to a dull roar. I moved my kids to a stable environment and let them grow up in one town and go to high school with those they grew up with.
My kids never heard a man call me a name as their father did. They never heard the unjust accusations he hurled or the way he was never satisfied with anything I did. There were so many things he did to me and said to me and the bad ways he treated me that they never got to witness.
Not only were they spared our brutal arguments but they were not privy to even his most basic mistreatment of me which were the snarls and the blame for just about everything that ever went wrong. They never saw their father’s disdain for their mother.
I taught my kids about choice. I taught my kids that it is possible to be loved and cared for and happy. I taught my kids that life can be calm and good. I taught my kids that you can leave a bad situation and, while initially painful and difficult, survive and thrive afterwards. I taught my kids not to settle for less.
After my divorce I did not bring home men that I dated. Even if I dated someone for a few weeks or few months, they did not meet my kids. There were only two men in my kids’ lives after their father. Both kind and both gentle and both loving toward me and my kids and my pets.
Through counseling and support meetings and working hard to change my life, those were the kind of men I learned to pick. Those were the kind of men my kids grew into.
My kids have only good things to say about the first and they consider the second, my late husband Michael, to be their “real” father.
My boys are all good people. They are grown men. Two are married with children and are wonderful partners and parents. My middle son is a wonderful uncle to his nieces and nephews. And they all know what crazy is and they avoid it. They all treat the women in their lives with love and respect and consideration.
My youngest son wouldn’t leave his wife after her 7th month of pregnancy. Not even to go away for a few hours. When I was in active labor my ex left me alone with a 5 year old and a 16 month old to go to his girlfriend’s house. These are things none of my boys would ever do. My boys are wonderful fathers and wonderful partners to the women in their lives. Two things they didn’t learn from their father. And would not have learned.
That is what happened with Option D. My ex hated me more than he loved my children. His wife hated me more than she cared about my kids. Her kids came first. Her entire family came first. The situation with my ex was very very difficult on my kids.
But they still had me and I put them first and learned how to make a home, make a life and teach them what is acceptable and unacceptable and bring men into their lives who showed them how to be a real man and take responsibility for their lives.
They don’t belittle women as their father did. They don’t use language as their father did. My two boys who are fathers put NOTHING and NO ONE before their children. And I’d bet my life that they never will.
As a mom I wanted to shield my kids from the unpleasantness of divorced parents and a father who broke their hearts. It would have been nice….but it wouldn’t have been the best.
The best thing for me and my kids was Option D. I am a strong, independent woman who found true love and a wonderful man. My kids are functional, loving, funny people with wonderful families of their own.
My ex’s brother says he loves hanging with my kids…that they’re cool guys even if they weren’t his nephews. And they are… They’re kind and funny and family-oriented…and in return for being there for them, they were there for me and for Michael when he was sick.
But their biological father got sick and the step mother wrote my kids and said she didn’t know what happened and that she and their father never stopped loving them. My youngest son let loose a barrage on her. How dare she. She read his letter to everyone that would listen. And my son was glad he said it and, to this day, I am too. I know it did not make him popular in that family but not one person ever went up against my ex to defend his kids and say he should have been with them. And so finally my son said it…and I’m glad he did. The man died less than a year later and my oldest went to the wake but the other two did not. And as usual, somehow they were wrong for that. But I raised them that neither think they did wrong. Neither felt they owed that man or that woman a single thing. And they didn’t. It was their father’s choice to leave their lives and then blame them for it. And he didn’t even have the cojones to say he was sorry when he knew he was dying. He told someone else to tell them he was wrong. Big man. I abandoned my children and I treated other children as my own instead and now that I’m dying, can you tell them I was wrong? Couldn’t scratch it out on a napkin? Couldn’t leave a message on one of their phones? Couldn’t send a gift when his grandchildren were born or they got married? Big man. Big big man. He died with his children detesting him. Nice job.
When I’m together with my kids, my grandkids and my daughters-in-law, we have fun. We enjoy each other and we spend a fair amount of time together. When I sit there some days and listen to the laughter, the banter, watch them toss a football around and hear the grandkids go squealing by…I know that none of this would have been possible without having Option D.
My divorce was the very best thing that ever happened to me or my kids…and about a million times better than staying together for the sake of the kids….because the “sake of the kids” should always be what is best for them…and sometimes that is Option D.