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Family Matters

How My Kids Have Thrived Post-Divorce

When one thinks of telling their kids about getting divorced, one thinks of an after school special-type setting, right? The kids are on the couch as the parents calmly explain that this has nothing to do with them and they still love them but they’ve decided to just live separately from now on. That’s how I thought our talk would go, too, but we hemmed and hawed and dragged our heels until I blurted it out in anger one day, taking everyone—including myself—by surprise. It was almost as if, by telling them, I was forcing myself to finally take the leap I knew in my heart had to happen. I’m not proud of this moment but there’s no way to rewrite history. I had a pit in my stomach, though, as if this was an indication of how I was going to handle things with them throughout the ordeal, I wasn’t sure I could lead the way down what I knew would be a rocky path. Fortunately, I’ve done much better since then, taking the time for much more measured responses.

I have my MA in Marriage and Family Therapy and did my internship in the school system with kids and their families. I’m not naïve enough to think that my kids would get through the whole thing unscathed. It’s probably why I waffled for years despite knowing that my marriage did not have enough love to endure the long haul. There were signs right from the start that we weren’t compatible but I grew up Catholic and my parents have been married for years, so failure wasn’t an option in my mind. We continually tried to fit a square peg into a round hole and, like a once-successful sitcom that goes on for years after having “jumped the shark”; I can honestly say we tried for too long.

Memes with schmaltzy faux-inspirational messages are a dime a dozen these days—so much so that I usually scroll right by them online. However, I came across one that said, “Don’t cling to that mistake just because you spent a long time making it” and it was like a punch to the gut. I honestly think to myself sometimes, “How much of my life have I wasted trying to make something work that was doomed to fail?” But you can’t think that way. You can’t and frankly don’t want to have regrets when two healthy, amazing boys sit before you. You do, however, have to face what’s ahead. By the end, I was ugly, he was ugly, and our marriage was a house of cards. We did things we never thought we would and, despite our best intentions, we let our kids see behind the curtain one too many times. You never think you’re going to let them see the big blow-ups but, by the end, you’re so angry you can’t see past our own noses. As our mediator even said, “It’s like living in a pressure cooker with no valve.”

Many might think it’s a rationalization but there is something to be said for raising your kids in a loving environment over staying in a bad marriage at all costs. Kids are not dumb. Even if you do manage to hide your blow-ups from them, they sense the palpable tension. They see your clenched jaws as you talk to each other. They see that other parents hug and kiss while their parents sit at opposite ends of the couch. I knew my kids were seeing this, and it broke my heart. This was not the version of love I wanted them to learn. We weren’t able to lead by example when it came to showing affection and that knowledge ate away at me for years. We finally called it quits after nine years of marriage and a very short separation while I was pregnant with my second son. I can honestly say with conviction that we gave it everything we had. In fact, as I mentioned, we gave it too much. Too much effort. Too much time. I can imagine that many people might think this is a strange thing to say but we watered a dead plant for years, fooling ourselves into thinking it would bloom again.

One thing I had to set aside to be able to finally make the decision was what others thought of me. In fact, when I was pregnant with my second child and filed for separation and wrote an article about it for Disney’s website Babble, I bawled my eyes out at the negative response. There were hundreds of comments calling me a “Prima Donna” and others that said things like, “Marriage is hard work. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, you shouldn’t have done it in the first place.” It’s amazing what people will say from the comfort of their own computer chairs. I had to let the public perception go and make a decision that I truly knew was best not only for me but also for my family. If my kids weren’t going to witness a happy husband and wife team going through life together, they would at least see us be strong and pursue happiness on our own. There’s something to be said for leading by that example.

I’m not going to say that every day since I moved into my own itty-bitty apartment has been a dream come true—far from it if I’m being honest. I’ve struggled a ton. Here’s the thing, though—my kids have (for the most part!) been thriving. Again, I’m not naïve enough to think that some school struggles and bedwetting aren’t directly related to the transition. For the most part, however, I see big smiles, lots of giggles, and kids who are so resilient, they make me proud to call them my own. We have open lines of communication and make sure they understand their schedule. They know that we have their backs, even if we have to do so while living apart.

I can say with 100 percent certainty that they are doing better than I. In fact, one day when they left recently, I collapsed into a puddle of tears as I often do after they’re gone. My oldest son returned to get something and walked in on me in all my tear-stained glory and was openly shocked. As he left, he turned to me with the brightest smile you’ll ever see and said, “Hey Mom, FaceTime me, k?” And I had one of a million “I made that” moments and my heart swelled with the knowledge that we’re all going to be okay.