After 18 years of marriage, we decided to call it quits.
When you say those vows, you intend the love to last forever. Yet, we cannot foresee the journey life will take us on nor the experiences that will shape us along the way. Our best guess (because divorce statistics are extremely flawed) is that about 45% of marriages will end. That means there are a lot of families who have to learn how to cope - a lot of families that look like mine.
As I am sure is the case for everyone who reaches this conclusion, it was an extremely hard decision to end our marriage. However, it is one that I still stand by more than a year later. It was, and is, my belief that two happier homes is better than one tense environment.
Neurological studies have shown that children as young as six months experience physical and emotional effects from parental conflict. Even babies can sense when their parents are stressed and that stress is contagious.
The guilt of giving my kids a “broken home” was enough to keep me in a less than optimal situation for far too long. Plenty of people advised that we “stay together for the children,” and for a long time, we did just that. But ultimately, parents matter, too. While I desperately didn’t want to hurt my kids, I also didn’t want to continue being unhappy. Ultimately, we decided divorce was the better option.
As divorces go, though, ours was incredibly easy. It was very amicable. We didn’t even need lawyers as we were able to easily agree on the terms of our separation. There was no fighting in front of the kids or even behind their backs. We simply understood and accepted that our marriage was over, and we parted as friends determined to do the best we could for our kids, who are now in their early teens. We have co-parented beautifully, and we remain on good terms.
Even so, it has still been hard on our children.
There is simply no way around the pain of a family disintegrating. While there are things we, as divorcing parents, can do to make the transition easier for our children, they still must face the changes.
Even though there has been no conflict, my children must still pack their bags weekly.
And if I’m honest, this fact has caused me a lot of guilt and shame.
The Shame of a Broken Home
In her piece titled “Please Stop Saying Broken Home,” Sheila Adams Gardner describes her experience after her parents’ divorce, saying, “Throughout my childhood, teachers and other adults often said that I was from a ‘broken home.’ I was repulsed every time I heard that term. I felt a hot sense of shame as if the word ‘broken’ was branded on my chest.”
I must say that I very much relate to her experience. I, too, feel “branded” with this “failure.” We agreed to share custody of alternating weeks, and while my kids (ages 15 and 13) have both expressed to me that they like this arrangement, I am riddled with guilt each time I watch them pack their necessities to take between homes. I feel the heat of shame rising as I wrap fewer gifts to place under the tree because my finances were totally restructured after the divorce, and making ends meet is difficult. I worry constantly that I have damaged them beyond repair after dedicating more than a decade to positive parenting and raising emotionally healthy, wholehearted children.
Still, my kids assure me that they are alright. While there has been an adjustment period for all involved, they tell me they are glad that we made this choice.
That brings me comfort. And hope.
Piecing Us Back Together
In her article titled “6 Ways to Co-Parent with Your Ex,” parent educator Ashley Patek writes, “Your family is a microculture, a unique fingerprint of you, your partner, and your children. Divorce is the dissolution of this culture, but also, just as significant, the restructuring of it.”
Restructuring our individual homes has been a positive opportunity for both my ex and me to put our own unique fingerprints to our now separate yet entangled family systems. It has given us certain freedoms that we didn’t have before, and in so doing, I believe we have created a happier environment for our children to thrive in.
Gardner writes, “A family is still a family after divorce. Whether a family is ‘broken’ or a ‘loving co-parenting family’ is not determined by the parents’ marital status. It is determined by the steadfast commitment to raising healthy future adults.”
This is the commitment we hold, a commitment to our children, and also a commitment to ourselves, to show up as our best versions, and that means showing up separately.
Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s permanently damaging, particularly if children have strong, loving relationships to depend on.
So, if you, too, are navigating divorce, I want to offer these words of encouragement and hope so that you may shed the shame - you are not a failure and the kids will be alright. They have at least one loving parent (you) who is determined to give them all the love and support they need, and that makes all the difference.