I genuinely never thought I would be divorced. Growing up, divorce wasn’t something that touched my life at all. My parents weren’t divorced. My close relatives weren’t divorced. Very few friends came from homes with divorce. The few who did never spoke of it. There was just one missing parent. For all I knew, their mom or dad was off somewhere fighting crime in a cape.
If I’m being honest, it led to some mental judgment on my part as I encountered divorced couples, especially those with children. To me, it was the ultimate sign of failure. Kids need families and broken homes made broken people. In my unexposed mind, it was selfish and wrong. No matter how much work it took, you did the work. You make it work.
Then I got divorced.
It was a long time coming. As the inevitable hung in the air of our once vibrant home, I sensed it for years. I tried not to look at it and every chance I had, I attempted to run in the opposite direction. The belief that those who split hadn’t tried was erased from my mind. I know this because, at varying degrees during varying times, I tried harder than anything else I ever have to hold things together. In the end, it takes two people to make a marriage work. It also takes two people to make a marriage fail. No heroes. No villains. The blame falls on everyone. Ashes to ashes. We all fall down.
The one common phrase you hear often when dealing with divorced parents is that you should “stay together for the kids.” That was my mantra. I lived by that for the final few years. In my mind, that meant that kids need parents who are together. No matter how empty the emotion in the home or how little that family does as a unit, the simple fact that everyone gets their mail at the same address is enough to keep the kids healthy and happy.
Emptiness is emptiness and children see through that. Having parents who fight openly or, in our case, live separate lives, doesn’t make for a productive family. Sure, we could pat ourselves on the back for not screaming, yelling, or saying bad things in front of them. But what we were presenting was a half-hearted presentation of family. Nothing we were doing felt real. I was sleepwalking through my life.
When it all came crashing down, I was somewhat devastated. It wasn’t because things had ended, but rather that I felt it was a personal failure. I thought about the guests at my wedding and all the hope they had for a future I had fumbled. I thought about my best man, Patrick, who had passed away a few years earlier and could hear his voice in my head chastising me. The ghosts of my past all passed judgment the most, as I had done on others growing up. I had failed my marriage. I had failed my kids. I had failed myself.
I had people explain to me that my thinking was flawed and, honestly, that helped. Moving on from a bad situation isn’t a failure, but a commitment to succeeding. No matter where the fault lies in the process, continuing on when it’s all but finished isn’t right.
The day that I knew things had to change was the day that I imagined my daughter, all grown up, in a marriage like mine. What would I say to her? What would I want for her? I knew I wouldn’t want to see her living as I had been. I also knew that was the exact example I was setting. She was all but assured to follow my example as she grew up unless I could be honest about what a marriage should be and what it shouldn’t be.
Once it was over, I saw everything in a new light. All the fears I had about how my kids would adjust were alleviated. Sure, there have been some hiccups here and there, but both my son and daughter have pulled through and are happy today. We’re all happier than ever.
In those final years, I was giving my kids 40% of my effort every day of the week. Today, I give them 100% of my effort in the half-weeks we spend together. We get more done now and are closer than we’ve ever been.
I also realized the true meaning of “staying together for the kids.” In my case, it’s a selfish one. In my old life, every lonely moment could be washed away by running upstairs and hugging my son. I could go to my daughter at any time and cajole her into watching a TV show with me. My kids were always there to lift me up and they could make me feel better in my darkest moments.
Now, there are days when their rooms are empty. The house is quiet and its soul is gone. I miss them during those times and wish they could be back here, making me crazy and screaming like banshees. It shines a light on what “staying together for the kids” really meant. It didn’t mean saying together to make life better for them. It meant staying together to make life better for me, but even that wasn’t true.
A year and change out, I can say that this was the best option for everyone. I want my kids to know their dad is happy and understand that marriage is supposed to be something to cherish, not meander through. Sure, I wish I could hug them during all my dark times, but there are less dark times now anyway. So it’s a win all around.
I love my kids with all my heart. They know that. They always have. Now, I can love me as well. I want them to know that too. And that’s the best thing I can do “for the kids”.