There’s very little that’s rational about marriage or divorce.
When my husband left me, it was out of the blue. We’d been having issues, but I thought they were typical post-deployment adjustment issues following a particularly challenging combat tour. After all, we’d been together nine years, through two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, one in Korea, the birth of premature twins, my rape PTSD and a move across state.
I asked only one question: “Is there anything I can say to change your mind?”
When he said no, my mental switch was immediate and absolute. Everything was now going to be about making sure that our five-year-old twins were okay.
We figured out how to split up our assets and responsibilities then and there. He filed the next day and 90 days later, we were free. I called a realtor as soon as I got home from signing the divorce papers. The girls and I moved back to the Austin area about two months later with our two new cats.
I’ve felt anger towards my ex for his lack of interaction with our girls; for having my cat put down; for not inviting our daughters to his second wedding. None of that anger has been for his leaving me. Only my mother has issues with that. She keeps prodding me to tell her I’m crushed, diminished, broken.
I’m not. I’m relieved. For so many years, I’ve been holding my breath, expecting my marriage to end in a combat death. Having it end instead in divorce almost feels like a gift of life.
We told our daughters together that we were getting divorced. They’d never even heard the word before. We explained that Daddy and Mommy would always be a Mommy-Daddy team, but we weren’t going to be a husband-wife team. Daddy would be moving into an apartment.
I thought we did a good job of explaining, but just a few months ago, I learned from my now-seven year old that she thought I was still Daddy’s wife, even though he was remarried.
My daughters’ school has a program called Divorce Club, run by the school counselors. All the children in a grade who have divorced parents are invited to participate in the club during school hours. It’s a confidential space where they can share their stories and learn that they’re not alone. My daughter met her best friend in Divorce Club.
The counselor recommended that I consider getting my girls into therapy outside school, too. They’d been through divorce, a move, a new school, Daddy’s remarriage, the introduction of a stepmom and stepsisters and their cousin’s custody crisis, all within a single year.
We started therapy last month. The therapist says I’ve done a good job. I’m sure I could have done better, but I’ve picked up a few strategies along the way in order to be the best mother I’m capable of being through divorce and my own heartbreak.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Put the kids first. They are more important that my heartbreak, betrayal or financial worries. They need a positive relationship with their father. They can learn grace if I demonstrate it.
- Be the parent. Don’t expect your kids to take care of you. My mother made that mistake after her divorce, demanding that I be the adult. Our relationship, for that reason and many others, is now beyond repair.
- Let go. The greatest gesture of love is letting go. I will let my kids go when it is time for them to fly. I might as well practice with their father.
- Be honest. Given a choice between shedding a positive light on Daddy and being honest, I must choose the latter. It took a year of pointed questions from my girls about the reasons for the divorce for me to finally admit that I didn’t know why it happened. While one daughter was satisfied with that, the other dug deeper, insisting on answers until she knew the truth: the divorce was Daddy’s idea.
- Support a positive relationship with stepparents and stepsiblings. The blending of families is hard enough without a parent spewing venom. When my ex told me he was moving in with his new wife, I insisted on speaking to her. She’d be spending time with my kids. We had a very positive conversation and agreed that the kids, hers and mine, came first. Just as I have enough love for both of my daughters, they have enough love for me and their stepmom. It’s even okay that they like her cooking better. I still serve whole grains at my house.
- Maintain a relationship with your former in-laws. They are your kids’ grandparents. My father-in-law initially didn’t know how to keep me in his life and still honour my ex’s new wife. One year later, he realized that a relationship with me was necessary to get a full picture of what the twins were up to. My ex in-laws recently flew from Seattle to Austin, rented a house near me and took the kids for five days. They saw their school, their homework and friends. The sense of family that visit gave my girls was worth any awkwardness or discomfort on my part.
- Protect your children from negative influences. My mother wants to bad mouth my ex-husband and use foul language. I won’t have that around my kids and she is not welcome in my home.
I just hope my girls will choose partners who treat them with respect and honor (if they choose a life partners at all). I hope they choose a better man than I did. Look! There’s that anger!
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) coordinates the mother of multiples blog How Do You Do It? She is the divorced mother of seven-year-old identical twins. She lives with them and their three cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst.