In the years before my husband and I mutually agreed to separate, one thing was certain: My life was predictable. There was a deep comfort in the stability of my days, and that comfort kept my husband and I together in a home, living complacently unfulfilled for quite a long period of time. We had contemplated divorce on numerous occasions, both of us resistant likely for many of the same reasons. For me, divorce forced me to come face to face with some of my biggest fears. I was terrified of losing control of the direction of my life. I could not picture what life as a single mom might look like, and I believed that all I was capable of doing was that which I already knew existed. I was convinced that losing the family stability would absolutely damage my children and direct their young childhoods into a spin of discontent and sadness. I was stuck in the fear of the unknown and I was certain that departing from this stability would lead to far worse outcomes.
In the early stages of my separation, nearly two and a half years ago, I was even more certain that I was going to lose control. I was overwhelmed with what being alone would look like and feel like. I was overwhelmed with the financial responsibilities of taking care of myself and my children, with the complicated tangle of decisions needed to be made to negotiate through the legal work, to sell my family home, to find my own home, to settle two children within two new homes, and all the while trying to make these drastic life changes as seamless and “stable” as possible for my two young children, then 9 and 5. But step by slow step, I managed to lay the pathway, with my ex-husband and I solid in our agreement that we would walk our separate ways with as much kindness as possible.
I have been told countless times that the respectful divorce that has transpired between my ex-husband and myself falls within the minority set of possible divorce outcomes. I have been told that it is indeed a rarity for two people, formerly married, to come out on the other side of divorce, relatively unscathed and with mutual respect and admiration for one another.
It has been ingrained within us to believe that following a divorce, families on either side separate exclusively, lines are drawn in the sand, and children deeply feel that separation in ways that their young minds can process it: There are separate birthday parties, separate holiday dinners and separate outings. My ex-husband and I do NOT subscribe to this method of divorce and we have paved a path of continued family unity and cohesiveness that we are incredibly proud of and we believe ultimately has allowed our children to feel secure and stable, loved and cherished throughout these very transient years.
Whenever possible, birthday parties involve both sets of parents and both sides of the family. Jewish holidays and traditional dinners include both parents at the table. School events and special ceremonies include both parents sitting together, celebrating in the joy of the experience, and truly cherishing the growth of their children together. We plan special days outings as a foursome, like apple picking and Halloween, with perhaps an unmentioned understanding that we have no expectation for each other, other than to be there to relish in our children. We play no sides with our kids. We talk of each other with pride, with kindness and with respect, and our children feel the love from this. When we talk to each other (which is often at least once a day), we speak truths and we do our best to steer completely away from any past disappointments in each other, for that carries hints of expectations, and we recognize that we no longer need to show up for each other in those ways anymore. We acknowledge and applaud ourselves for growing to become better people, better parents apart. We are neither angry nor bitter that we couldn’t do it together, because we both recognize that as a pair, our personalities danced a particular dance, and we now have the freedom to break out of those roles, create new ones and re-write the script.
Our journey has not been without bumps in the road. We have faltered, not unlike any new path being laid out before ones feet. But our children have settled into a new “normal”, and it feel just fine. Divorce is not an elephant in the room in our homes. We share our feelings about divorce, we talk about how hard it is sometimes when my son’s baseball glove is at daddy’s house or my daughter’s book was left at mommy’s. We acknowledge our feelings about being lonely or sad and we problem solve though challenges. We show up for our children when they miss us and we connect with them separately and together.
I have no shame in admitting that there were plenty of moments of sadness, distress, anxiety and fear. There were days of deep, deep doubt, both in my belief to make it though as well as my trust in whether it was worth it. Looking back, however, I know that were it not for the experience of those darkest of days, I would not carry the strong and solid belief that I do today: I can do this and I can do it well. Over the last three years on my own I have developed a great sense of inner strength, confidence and pride, outcomes of divorce that I would have considered completely impossible when I first began this journey. My children feel loved and safe. They are thriving in two homes and they are going to be okay. I am now certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the journey through divorce has led my life out of the dark fear of losing control and directly into a lit place of quiet confidence, of inner strength and of peace.