What 5 years of divorce have taught me
Five years have passed since my divorce was finalized.
As milestones go, it’s not much. A relatively short amount of time, a fairly somber occasion. But I’ve learned a great deal, and I want to tell you some of it.
Many of you have emailed me over the years with your own divorce stories — you’re contemplating one; you’re in the midst of one; you’re wondering how to recover from one.
I won’t pretend my experience is universal or even typical. But it’s real and it’s true, and five years ago I was pretty desperate for both.
If your life is touched by a defining, life-changing breakup, it feels like chaos will be your new normal. It won’t be. And some of what I understand now would have helped me recognize that sooner.
Your kids will know joy.
My deepest, most profound fear was that my divorce would break my children’s hearts in ways that could never be repaired. I figured an asterisk would forever accompany their happiness — happy, mostly.
They started to disprove that assumption almost immediately. Our first divorced Christmas, I dreaded taking them to the soulless, fluorescent storage unit that housed the holiday decorations we kept in our old garage. How stark. How nontraditional. How glaring a reminder that I’d taken everything my children knew and loved and set fire to it. (Not literally. That would be a very different column.)
They skipped up and down the empty halls. They hollered carols at the tops of their lungs and listened for their echoes. They played hide and seek. They laughed.
They have continued to disprove my happy, mostly theory daily. They have complex emotions with a whole lot of layers, as all kids do. We talk about them all, as a lot of families do.
But joy is the thing I see most often. And that’s something I’ll never take for granted.
You will hate (but also love) their absences.
For a divorced parent, I have my children a relatively large amount of time. They’re with their dad just two days a month and a week each summer.
I often cry, still, when they leave. It hasn’t stopped feeling like a wholly unnatural disruption to send them packing, and it’s hard to accept them making family memories without me.
But there are hidden benefits. I visit with my parents, and we have the sort of sustained conversations that are nearly impossible with lovely, loud little people vying for their grandparents’ attention. I exercise. I call girlfriends. I read books. I do things that many parents — other parents — are adept at squeezing in while their children are home and in their care. I was never good at the squeezing. Alone time is a gift, and I’m getting better at cherishing it.
You might like your ex’s new partner.
I do. I wrote a column once about how she handmade my kids’ Halloween costumes and how much I appreciate her giving my children the gift of being doted on by another loving grown-up. It fills them up in ways that even I can’t.
Over brunch one day, a friend who’s also divorced was telling me how much she likes her ex’s new girlfriend. I asked whether that surprised her.
“Not really,” she answered. “He’s always had great taste in women.”
You will still disagree with your ex.
Maybe even a lot. But it will matter a lot less.
You will learn to not even bring up most of the things with which you disagree. Because you will learn to let go of the crazy notion that you’ll co-parent with the same philosophies or zeal. You’ll realize that you’ll never derive pleasure from all the same parenting moments or fret over all the same parenting worries or share all the same parenting goals.
Because if you did, as a wise therapist once told me, “You would have stayed married.”