I know the rhetoric—stay together for the kids. No one wants their kids to be broken. I wrestled with this in my latest nights and in my waking moments. I get it. Watching my two kids process our divorce this past year has been excruciating. When we carry those little bundles for nine months, then look in their faces for the first time, we silently promise them that we will always keep them safe. We’ll always protect them.
But the truth? We can’t. We live in a flawed, human world. What we can do, however, is show them how to go through those struggles with either grace or resistance, with bitterness or resolve. I chose the latter. My daughter is four now. She was three when we divorced. I’ve spent some time reconciling the amount of therapy our divorce might bring our children. But as I transition into this new chapter, I’ve realized I’m also modeling qualities that I, personally, may not have otherwise.
The ability to be who she is outside of her roles
In my marriage, I allowed myself to be defined by my roles: wife, mother, teacher, daughter, sister, friend. Somewhere in there, I lost ME. From childhood, we learn that the marriage (or perhaps the wedding) is the destination. But we don’t really talk about what happens once we get there. It’s like the pro athletes who retire and don’t know what to do with themselves later. Who are we? What now? It’s so easy to wrap ourselves into our loved ones—which seems noble. It seems pure.
But what happens when it all comes crashing down? What happens when it isn’t fulfilling? My daughter has seen me push my limits this past year. I’ve traveled extensively, I’ve camped, and I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone more than I ever have. She sees a different, freer version of me. I still pack the lunches, lay out the clothes, and cook the meals. But I’m not bound to it the way I once was. I used to live for others, but I realize now that—like the oxygen masks on a plane—if I don’t take care of myself, I have nothing to give them.
Setting healthy boundaries
In a marriage on the skids, the boundaries are all over the place. We accept what we normally would not, give where we would normally hold fast, and take what we normally would not. The thing is—our kids see it. They watch us, and they see the way their parents interact as a model of how they should be a male or female, or as a counterpart in a relationship. In leaving my marriage, in our interactions co-parenting now despite our differences, she sees me set healthy boundaries that are respectful and empowering. She sees me speak up where I wouldn’t before. She sees those new boundaries extend to every part of my life; and, in doing so, I simply don’t allow drama to exist anymore.
I’m not going to lie. I’m a sucker for a man who will do things for me. My dad always showed love that way, and I was content to let my ex-husband do the (literal) heavy lifting. Then I moved into my own place,with no man to help anymore. I had to stick my hand down the garbage disposal, mow my own lawn, hang my curtains, and make everyday life happen. But I felt so much pride in doing that. I remember grilling hamburgers for the first time for us; I honestly have never felt more proud. And they were so good.
Learning to take risks
It’s hard to leave a marriage. I don’t care what the situation is. It just plain sucks. It is a risk. Is going at it alone better than staying in security but being lonely? She won’t understand it now, but one day she will. One day, when she wakes up in her own bed and wonders if this is what she is meant for (hopefully not yet in a marriage), she’ll get it. We can give and give and give . . . and sometimes it just isn’t enough. She’ll know then that her mom took the ultimate risk in discarding security, pride, and reputation to be true to herself. And I hope she’ll choose the same. I hope she will choose herself—over the money, the security, and the expectations.
I hope my daughter will learn second chances exist for all of us—that this life has so many extraordinary paths for us. We are taught from such a young age that our goal is a trajectory: school, job, marriage, children, house (not always in that order). The real secret is that there is NO REAL TRAJECTORY.
We have choices in our lives, and we can choose to begin again anytime we want. My second chance has allowed me to become self-employed and travel like I never have before. I feel alive. Every day, I wake up and know in my gut that I’m living each day deliberately and intentionally. I rarely traveled in my marriage—out of fear of being away from them (or, if I’m being honest, out of fear it would disrupt the carefully planned order I had created for all of our lives). We still have order now, but I’m not a slave to it. Instead of spending money on sweaters and shoes, I splurge on my next traveling adventure while they are away at their dad’s house. It feeds my soul and serves as a good distraction when my kids aren’t with me.
And while I miss them, this time is just as precious. I’m finding me. They may not have the mom who has it all together all day everyday anymore. But they now have the mom who knows who she is, speaks her mind, and lives without fear. And I’m okay with that.