Marital breakdown is a catastrophic event for the whole family – one minute you’re driving down the road, all three kids on board, headed for routine activities, and the next you’ve hit a wall of water with nowhere to go but to bail out. You might swerve off the road to avoid going under, and whatever dry ground you do find will only be temporary. At least, that’s how it was for us.
In hindsight, I am not of proud of who I was as a mother during my divorce. Even though it has been almost twenty years, I still witness the fallout of those unfortunate years and how it affects my children.
I hadn’t see it coming (okay, I ignored all the signs, but who wouldn’t). I wasn’t looking for an end; my eyes were on the road ahead – future education for the kids, a retirement fund – I didn’t see the flood until it hit me, and even though I’m a fairly good swimmer, this particular onslaught caught me off guard.
Plus, I had my children in tow. Every interaction between my former husband and I- every decision or battle we fought – affected the kids. They were submerged in the same chilly waters as I was, and even though we were together, our struggles were uniquely personal.
What I tried to appreciate, and failed at, was the fact that I was the one driving in the situation – I was the adult – and despite how out of control my life felt, I owed it to my children to set an example, a task I bungled sorely.
I know I’m not the only divorced parent to screw up, but this doesn’t make it right. I feel like Pandora, who opened the box only to unleash chaos into our world. My need to be loved thrust my children right into the snakes’ pit, and when my daughter was bitten, I wasn’t even conscious enough to get her the help she needed. For six years after the rupture, I exposed my children to undeserved torment. And then, I tried to push it all under the rug, hoping it wouldn’t rear its ugly head again.
“We never talk about anything,” my middle daughter complained recently. “We just skip over the issues and pretend.”
Her words stopped me cold.
“I know I have made many poor choices that have hurt you children greatly,” I offered.
“You know, Dad never says a bad word about you,” she added. “Never.”
So this is where it ends up, people – let it be a warning. No matter how much your spouse has wronged you (and believe me, he did), in the end it is the wrongs you do your children that will count the most. There is no righteousness in divorce; there is only hurt that ripples outwards and catches many in its wake. The first betrayal might have been his, but the final one was mine.
Like Pandora, I cling to a ray of hope – at least my children haven’t written me off. Now that I’ve landed on my feet, I pray I can help them navigate their way through the aftermath.
(p.s. Only after writing and rereading did I realize: I am a child of divorce.)