It’s been 5 years since I filed for divorce.
That in itself is not such a unique thing in this modern climate. Unfortunately, divorce has become a normalized trend. For some, it truly is necessary – a life-saving option. But I venture to say that in today’s reality, with the intrinsic influence media plays in each of our lives, some people mistake divorce as a simple answer to make things perfect.
There is no perfect; not in marriage, not in divorce, not in life.
For every action there is a reaction. For every decision made there are consequences to be had – both good and bad. When you decide to divorce with children those consequences are ever more pronounced. Even in the most amicable of divorces I have seen disastrous results on the children’s sense of self. My children were not immune to such deleterious effects. When you have your own wounds to heal while caring for two innocent souls, mistakes are inevitable. When you are a married couple and work through those issues you provide a model to your children of how to strive for success within the relationship and out of love. Divorce removes that dynamic. We teach our children how to respect themselves by walking away from a toxic relationship but we must provide them with the tools of how to survive within an imperfect one.
Our children are watching us – every move.
They notice the details and extract from them meaning. They are studying us as they search for the clues to life. If we are depressed, lost, lonely, sad, indifferent – they internalize that. If we talk badly about their other parent, if we remove that person from our existence, we disregard a significant part of our child’s identity. We have a responsibility to our children to send them into the world with as much emotional intelligence as theoretical.
Despite our anger, loneliness, hurt, disappointment, we owe it to our children to respect their parent and show them human decency, no matter what the details leading to divorce are. Just as we need to put down our phones and pay attention to our children, so too must we be cognizant of the messages we send regarding the person with whom we brought children into this world.
No matter how much anger or disdain we may have for that person – we have a duty to encourage self-love and acceptance and allow for successful assimilation of all aspects of their personality. This is impossible to do when you are locked inside of your own pain, focused on self-soothing activities such as obsessive dating, over-working, substance-abuse, over-spending, and the like. A shift in consciousness must occur. If we continue to parent out of anger, hurt, disappointment we will produce people into the world with these beliefs about themselves and relationships: that is a recipe for a lot of dysfunctional and lonely souls.
Over these past 5 years, I have learned how to stop parenting out of guilt, to stop compensating for the time we spent living in a domestic violence shelter, to quell the fight-or-flight response, to be ok with the not ok. I have struggled to take on the role of both parents in the house, although being the disciplinarian has been my biggest challenge. I have thrown myself pity parties when my children are gone, I have sacrificed personal leisure time due to my own ambivalence about relinquishing my children’s independence and I have floundered and limped along during moments of despair when I thought I truly suck at single parenthood.
But this summer we celebrated my youngest son’s Bar Mitzvah together as a family, and as I watched my ex-husband lay Tefillin at the Wall in Jerusalem side-by-side our children – I was reminded of the human being without whom I could never have created them. That alone, deserves my respect and gratitude.
Getting married, having children, staying married or divorcing are grown-up decisions. We must be grown-up for our children while navigating the post-divorce path. We may not be able to stay in a marriage with the parent of our children, but the burden of humanity is on our shoulders. With love.