I grew up in a family which seemed to be teetering on divorce from my earliest memories. Somehow, my parents managed to keep it together until I had finished university – a very noble effort – but I often wondered would things had been better, or easier, if they had just bitten the bullet and divorced when my sister and I were young children? Would we have noticed more, or less? Been more or less messed up? But more precisely, what exactly is going through the head of a parent who is divorcing with young children in the mix of parenthood?
So many questions, and I only have speculation in response. And so it’s those wonderings that are the subject of this issue of the “What is it really like….?” series – as I get in conversation with Robin, a fellow blogger and author of The Queen of Quite a Lot – about what it’s really like to go through a divorce with young children in your parenthood life.
Can you tell us a little bit about your family?
At the present time, I have been remarried for 5 years, my children are a 21 year old son, a 17 year old son, a 16 year old daughter, and I have a 25 year old stepson. My boys do not live with me which I will explain later, so for the past 6 years my daughter has been basically an only child during the week.
Can you tell us a little about what happened during and after the divorce and how your children factored into that?
My ex-husband is a great guy, and a great dad. He just was not what I needed in a mate for myself. We were married four years before starting our family, and nearly 12 years before the divorce was final. When I decided I wanted out of the marriage we split up for several months, then reconciled to see if I was making the right choice, then split up again about five months later. Then it took about 10 months to get everything finalized. By the time it was all legal and over, the kids were aged three, four and nine.
The littles really have no memories of us ever having lived together as a whole family. We had a very amicable divorce, with him taking legal guardianship of the oldest child and me of the two little ones, but joint custody. We have always worked out visitation to accommodate work schedules, holidays, and now that the kids are older to go along with their schedules.
You hear a lot about things getting bitter in divorce. Did this happen to you?
Things were not pleasant for a time during the separation up until it was all final. I was the one that wanted out. He did not. My family did not want us to split. I got blamed for ruining my children’s lives (by my mother) and everyone in our little tiny town seemed to try and talk me out of it. But once it became a reality of what was going to happen, things got better.
How did your children deal with the divorce? How did it impact them? And what did you do to help support them during the divorce?
My eldest son had the hardest time with it. He was eight the first time we separated. He could see how much it was hurting his dad. He would ask me why I wouldn’t let daddy come home. He developed a bad stutter which he has to this day as an adult (and which I have to live with knowing I caused.)
When I moved away to my current town, 75 miles from where we lived then, he wanted to stay in the smaller town with his dad and his friends and his school. He was 10 by then, and with other factors in his life, I knew it was the best thing for him (and I was right) but it was one of the two hardest things I’ve ever done.
He went through some counselling at school to deal with it all during the divorce, and his dad and I were always supportive and there for him. The other two were so young that they really don’t know a life where we were married and all living together. Us being divorced is all they remember.
My second son went to live with his dad when he started the 6th grade because he was having trouble being bullied and not standing up for himself at school. After a lot of discussions we decided to let him try the smaller school and have some time in a “manly” home with his father and brother. It was the best decision I ever made for him. He came out of his shell and flourished in the new school. He is still a “mama’s boy” and spends every possible weekend/holiday with me in our town, but living there, with his dad has been so good for him.
What do you think is the single hardest thing for children to get their heads round in a divorce?
For my oldest, he just couldn’t understand why. And I really don’t think anyone in my family could. His dad is a wonderful man, a great friend, would do anything for anyone. But as a husband he was lacking in several areas, and after over 10 years, I finally realized that I deserved better and I also did not want my daughter especially, to grow up thinking that the marriage we had was what she was to strive for herself one day…that she would also deserve better.
So in your eyes, is divorce always the utter disaster for children that it is made to seem? Or can it sometimes be better than parents trying to “make it work”?
For us, I think it was better, because if I had tried to make it work “until the kids got out of school” (as my sister suggested…even though my daughter wasn’t even two at the time!). I think *I* would’ve become bitter and ugly. I am now in a loving marriage.. the kind I want my children to have when they get older.
With the children in mind here, what was life like after the divorce? How did they learn to adjust, and how long did it take them to adjust?
Financially it was hard. I am a teacher, and in our agreement I forfeited child support (long story). So.. we did without a lot. No cable TV, no gymnastics, no dance lessons, no karate lessons, no camps… we ate mac and cheese and hot dogs and fish fingers for months. We’d go to McDonald’s and I’d get one combo meal and the three of them would split it and I’d go without. My parents would help out when they could. But.. we made it.
The littles adjusted from the get-go, because they were little and didn’t really know any different. They would cry when I’d leave them at their dad’s on his weekends/nights to have them…they both have always been “mama’s babies”. The oldest pulled away from me for awhile.. we lost our close relationship, but it has gotten better as he’s gotten older.
What is the hardest thing, as a mother, going through a divorce?
The doing it all by myself. The loneliness. The exhaustion. A year after the divorce I moved away from our small town where their dad and my parents lived, to a bigger town 75 miles away where we knew nobody, to take a teaching job. It was the right move, but it was hard at first. A couple years later I met my now husband, and we dated for five years before getting married and moving in with him.
What advice would you give to mothers going through a divorce?
Seek out other women, friends. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Take help when offered. Let some things (expectations) go and just enjoy your kids. Don’t rush into another relationship. And when you do find someone else, make sure he is good for your whole family, not just for you and your needs.
Did you go through a divorce with young children? Can you relate to the above? I’d love to hear if this resonates with you….
Enjoyed reading this post? Please do give it a little share on your social networks and if you’re so inclined, you can read other issues in the “What is it really like” series on the dedicated page here.
And if you’re reading this, going through tough times and need to connect to other mums without judgement, reach out to the awesome #Mommitment group on Facebook here.