Been There, Done That: My Divorce Advice
I didn’t ever expect to be a trendsetter – and I certainly am not when it comes to things like whether wedges are big this season or if stripes are in again. I’m currently wearing elastic-waist pants with a black-and-white elephant print, a red T-shirt I “borrowed” from my college roommate circa 2001, a black cardigan, flip-flops from Walgreen’s, and no makeup whatsoever.
But when it comes to Major Life Events, I somehow ended up setting the curve among my friend group.
I was the first one to get married, and so for several years, I found myself- fielding wedding questions: How did you pick a venue? Who did you choose to cater? What was your budget? Did you do favors? Who printed your program? Groom’s cake: yes or no?
Then I was the first one to have a baby, and I kind of dropped off of the social radar for a couple of years, years that are lost to me now except for vague hazy memories of spit-up and exhaustion and tears (mine and hers). One by one, though, my friends started procreating and got back in touch: What did you do for morning sickness? Did you buy a Co-Sleeper? How long does breastfeeding hurt? Did you sleep-train? Thoughts on baby-led weaning? Do you have a preferred brand of baby sling? Vaccinations: pro or con?
Now, and this is sort of depressing, I am the one they are all coming to with divorce questions.
I never wanted to be an expert on divorce, particularly divorce with kids. But because I have now been asked, so many times by so many friends, here is my Quick and Dirty Primer on Divorce With Kids. (Divorce without kids is, I’m sure, its own painful hell, but having only gone through it with a young daughter, doing it with no kids seems almost laughably easy.)
- It will hurt like fire. Nothing I have ever been through has cut me as deeply as my then-3-year-old daughter looking up at me with huge scared eyes and saying, “You’re moving, Mama?” Nothing has ever made me more ashamed and guilty than her asking me, again and again, why her dad and I couldn’t just work it out. Getting divorced is, without even a question, the most painful experience I have ever lived through – and that is including my own parents’ divorce, the death of one of my closest friends, my miscarriage, and the deaths of both of my siblings.
- People will judge you. All kinds of people, from casual acquaintances to old family friends to people you thought were your best friends to your own family members. People will take sides. They will call you selfish or imply that you’re not putting your kids first. They may say these things directly to your face, or it may filter back to you from friends who insist they are looking out for you by making sure you know what’s being said about you. You have to let it go. When the dust settles, you will know who your true friends were – and it might surprise you.
- You’re never fully divorced from someone you have a child with. I remember meeting a recently divorced friend for a drink when I was in the early stages of my divorce.
“Tell me it gets better,” I begged her.
She took a long swallow of her wine and looked at me. “It gets better,” she said. “But I’m still dealing with his shit. I’ll never not be dealing with his shit.”
And it’s true. My husband and I each have a kid from a previous marriage and one kid together, which means, basically, that our family consists of three children and four parents. Things that drove me crazy about my ex – his inability to keep track of his things, for instance – still affect my life in the form of several uniform shirts, countless water bottles, and at least two summer reading books that are lost in his house forever. (I am 100 percent sure that he would have a litany of complaints about me, as well; he is no more free of my myriad flaws than I am of his.)
Even if that weren’t the case – even if we didn’t share custody – Ruby has enough facial expressions, turns of phrase, and personality quirks that remind me exactly of her father for me to ever feel like he’s not part of my life.
- Whenever you hear of another couple getting divorced, you will feel the oddest mix of sadness and relief. Sadness, of course, because you know exactly what they’re going through and, probably even more to the point, you suddenly realize what they’ve been going through out of the public eye, that all of those smiling Facebook pictures weren’t telling the real story and that they have probably been so unhappy and hiding it for so long. Relief … well, it doesn’t make me feel like a great person to admit this, but there is a sense of relief that it wasn’t just me.
- You’ll know when the real end comes. I told a friend the other day that the end stages of a failing marriage are a lot like the end stages of life in a very old dog.
At first, though you see the end approaching, you try to rationalize.
“Oh, she still loves to have her belly scratched. She still loves her food. She mostly just sleeps.”
This is akin to all of the mental gymnastics I did trying to save my marriage.
“He’s a good dad. We don’t fight that much. We can just kind of live like roommates until Ruby is older, and it will be OK.”
But then that moment came where it was clear that the suffering was outweighing everything. There is a moment when you know it is over, when you know what the only right choice is. There is that moment when you call your vet – or in the divorce case, your lawyer – and make an appointment.
- Play nice. All that stuff people asked me, about wedding flowers, about bridesmaids’ dresses, about playpens and baby swings and when to introduce avocado: It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. But how you get divorced matters. Don’t post nasty stuff on Facebook; save your trash-talk for maybe one or two of your closest friends. Never ever say anything bad about your ex in front of your child.
Jamie and I have had exactly one fight in front of Ruby since we divorced. In the midst of our fighting, she held up a chubby 4-year-old hand and said: “Stop it. You said the whole reason you were divorcing was so I didn’t have to see you fight. Now I go back and forth between two houses and I am watching you fight. Stop. It.”
And we did. We might not always get along now, but we are always nice to each other in front of Ruby.
You’ll never regret taking the high road, especially where your kids are concerned.
- You will be happy again. I promise. There were times during my divorce when it hurt so badly I felt like I couldn’t breathe. There was one day when I drove all the way out to Target – and when I reached the parking lot, even getting out of the car and walking inside just seemed too insurmountable. I sat in my car for a full five minutes trying to muster the will to walk inside, and ultimately, I couldn’t do it. I just turned the car back on, drove home, climbed into bed, and watched TV for the rest of the day. That was a day I didn’t have Ruby. On days when I did, I would keep it together as best I could until she went to bed, and then I would sit in the bathroom and cry, running the water so I wouldn’t wake her up.
But I am happy now. I am happier than I have ever been.
I will never again be as naïve as I was that day more than 12 years again when I clutched a bouquet of roses and tulips and falsely pledged forever with tears pouring down my cheeks.
But I am happier now because I know so much more about myself, about marriage, about life. I failed at my first attempt at marriage, but I never stopped believing in love.
Even if you never get married again, a happy divorce is way better than an unhappy marriage.
- Take care of yourself. This applies to any stage of life. Planning a stressful wedding? Be sure to take care of yourself. Parenting a newborn? Take care of yourself, too. Contemplating divorce, getting divorced, starting to date again? Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids, always, but please do not forget to take care of yourself.
If you have any advice to add, please do so in the comments.