Years ago I went through a divorce that changed my family completely. Not only did we separate to different homes but eventually my kids’ dad lost his rights and ability to share in their lives and because of that it’s been years since they’ve seen him.
Most days, this is our “norm.” They have gotten used to how our family has changed and what our dynamic has become without their dad as someone to rely on, confide in or spend time with. Most days, it seems as if they have done their processing of this and have moved on to acceptance. This is our family now. It’s different and that’s ok.
Then days like Father’s Day come around and my kids get thrown into a day of mourning. They are reminded of all of the parts of a family that they used to have but no longer do. They spend the day sullen and wondering where he is, what he is doing, and if he is thinking of them, too. They pull out piles of paper and crayons, glitter and tape and construct some homemade, heartfelt cards in hopes that one day, soon, they may see him again and be able to show him that on days like this, they were thinking of him.
But the cards sit in a corner in the living room. Days pass, and then months. And eventually, once I know that they have moved on from the hurt of that day, I package them up and put them into a box in the attic with the rest of their hand printed and misspelled cards made out to their dad with care. So they know that they can retrieve them whenever the time comes … if ever the time does come.
Am I doing my kids a disservice by allowing them to create these shows of affection for a man who hasn’t bothered to call or write in over a year? Who hasn’t seen their faces in so long that they’ve had 5 birthday’s between them that he hasn’t been a part of? A man who doesn’t even know that one of our children has completely transformed from the female gender he was assigned at birth into a little boy, because he’s since come out as transgender. He hasn’t seen my youngest do a perfect cartwheel or my oldest pitch a no-hitter. He doesn’t even know what team they are on or what sports they play. He isn’t aware that my oldest is “gifted,” my middle is struggling, my youngest is affectionate and sweet. He doesn’t KNOW any of these things and yet they still want to share these days dedicated to him WITH him because, he’s their dad.
I don’t know what’s “right” in this situation. I never anticipated that when I celebrated our first Father’s Day as a family that one day this day would be just the opposite of a day of celebration, but more of a yearly remembrance and memorial service for the life they’ve lost. I hadn’t expected on our very first Father’s Day that this person my first child and I were honoring as a beacon in our family would one day be totally removed from us and living a different life. One that was completely separate from ours.
I wasn’t prepared for the first Father’s Day without him. I didn’t expect my young kids to feel compelled to put their hurt aside, break out the crayons, and open their hearts so deeply despite every pain they felt. I wouldn’t have imagined they would have been so thoughtful and proud to take time out of their day to create a loving gestures for someone that seemed to not give them the same consideration and time in return.
But, after our years of experiencing this day together, I know now that come Sunday while we celebrate with my dad, the one who has become like a stand-in for the dad they once knew, my kids will ask me to make their dad a card. Cards that will end up in the corner of my living room. Cards and pictures that will be filled with hand prints and glitter, with little hearts and their names adoringly scribbled on all sides with the words “I love you” plastered on the front. Cards that will end up curled up around the edges and withered with age and stains before enough time has passed that I can safely package them up into a bin in the attic with the rest.
I wasn’t prepared for the first one, but this time I’m ready with extra markers… and glitter.
When I first realized my marriage was over I thought about what life would be like without my spouse. What changes would be made to my family now that we were a family minus one. What would it be like sleeping in bed alone? Never having someone in the house to delegate tasks I realllly didn’t want to do to? What about when bedtime gets bad and I could use a hand, but that hand lives somewhere else now?
I wondered about losing a spouse and partner in the home and what that would mean for our dynamic and how our home would function now with one less person. But I took me a while to realize that in divorce, you lose so much more than just your spouse.
You lose friends. People pick sides. Whether they intend to or not, they seem to feel the need to form alliances and mutual friends tend to lean one way or the other. Many of my ex-husband’s friends were made during our marriage, which made this especially hard for me because in my eyes, they were just as much my friends as they were his. But they didn’t see things that way. I lost a lot of friends, which in turn meant I lost a lot of support I could have used.
You lose your confidence. Nothing makes you question your ability as a human being like realizing you made the CATASTROPHIC desicion to marry the wrong person. If your divorce is ugly and harsh, like mine, it chips even more away at your self-esteem little by little as you wonder how you could have stayed this long, how this man you shared your life with could do and say these TERRIBLE things about you, and how stupid are you that you didn’t see him for who he really was sooner? You question your judgement, your ability to move on, you wonder if you find someone new if you’ll make the same mistake(s) again. You feel fragile. Broken.
You lose your family. My ex and I were together for 12 years. His family became part of my family. And whether or not we had a great relationship, they were still family. And they are always family to my children. But during (and even after) divorce the relationship changes so drastically. They are no longer people you would want to turn to in crisis. You don’t want to confide in them or rely on them any longer. You feel like they are judging you. And you know that they are on his side, they are HIS family in blood.
You lose time with your kids. You know you’ll have to split holidays and birthdays. Share special days throughout the year or spend them in awkward silence with your future ex, but you don’t realize how much that time really adds up and how much it HURTS until it happens. And it doesn’t get easier. The minute they leave, you miss them. And the minute they get home, you’re already worrying about the next time they will leave again.
You lose STUFF. It sounds like a #firstworldproblem to be concerned about material things, but it’s true. You lose your favorite couch or your best towels. You lose your house when you’re forced to sell it and split things down the middle. You lose your credit limit because it’s no longer a shared entity. Your cars, your plates, your blender, you lose HALF OF EVERYTHING. And you don’t think about this at first, but rebuilding an entire life from 50% back up to where you left off can be hard (and costly) to do.
Which means, you lose money. Between splitting your finances and your assets, you also spend thousands on attorneys, mediators, babysitters to help you get through it all. You spend so much money on divorce that the idea of getting divorced ever again means you’ll probably never accept another proposal because you can’t risk the financial hit it sends rippling through your accounts.
You lose your pets. Maybe you are the one who keeps them, but in divorce pets can’t live in two places at once so one of you will be bound to lose your furry friend’s companionship on a daily basis. In my divorce I was so worried about my children and what would happen with them I didn’t even think about my animals until my divorce was almost finalized. They weren’t an item that came up in our talks with our attorneys and if you ask me, that’s not right. My pet stayed with me, but he’s not the same. He lost someone too.
Divorce is hard. It turns your world upside down and forces you to find yourself all over again after years of thinking that this is your “forever life.” Everyone around you gets effected by the residual effects of your mood, your change in lifestyle, your new independence. But you don’t think about how much you really LOSE when you decide to call it quits. It’s more than just the partner you’re divorcing. And that part hurts enough.
I get so frustrated as a parent sometimes, as many do. I work hard, sleep very little, feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained much of the time.
And sometimes feel like I’m literally busting my ass to make ends meet to turn around and get snapped at by a tiny human who appears ungrateful, demanding, and entitled in the wake of my roller coaster day to day life.
Being a divorced parent is hard. Being a divorced parent with no co-parent is even harder.
So while I sit here and throw myself a pity party for spending my days making up for the absent parent in my kids’ lives, I really need to take a step back and remember… my kids are going through some serious shit.
I might be the “single” parent in this parenting duo, but they have went from a family with two parents, with a semi-normal home life, to a family with one parent completely removed. Living in the house they grew up in but with a new man, who they don’t trust yet, don’t know as a dad, don’t feel the same love or connection with.
While I’m struggling to navigate life with new dynamics and a new partner they are trying to mourn a dad that is still alive, but they don’t get to see. The parent that used to be the “fun dad” who over exaggerated every event, every holiday, every big moment in their lives and now forgets to call on their birthday.
I feel worn down and complain about money, lack of support, and missing days of work to stay home with sick kids because I am their sole parent. But I forget that while I’m cuddling their feverish body and stressing about being stuck home and not at work that they are remembering what it was like to cuddle their other parent. Or maybe, they are stressing too because enough time has passed and they might not be able to remember it as well as before.
I have to remember that even though I got to experience my son’s amazing belt promotion, my daughter’s first gymnastics team, my older son’s baseball and academic achievements and cheer them all on and beam with pride, they were likely (if even for just a moment) yearning for the person missing. The one who should also be there to congratulate their big accomplishments.
I have to remember that if my kid seems like he doesn’t like any of the gifts he got for his birthday, even if it’s EXACTLY what he asked for, it’s not me. Or the gifts. It’s because the one true gift he wanted isn’t something that can be bought at all.
He told me his one wish this year. That his dad would come back and be the dad he was years ago before his demons took over. And my only saving grace is that someone reminded him days later that if you share your wish, it won’t come true.
My kid may never tell me his wishes again.
While I’m simultaneously making sure that my kids get to continue their sports, have birthday parties, the tooth fairy shows up, Santa is good to them, and everything is *somewhat* normal and like it used to be, they are wondering what magical being can step in and “fix” this.
When I am exhausted and overwhelmed at bedtime and fighting back tears because my kids have heard two songs, been read three books, and had multiple bathroom breaks, there are nights I bet they’re also wishing their mom wasn’t the one ALWAYS putting them to bed.
There is likely a place of common ground in the root of most of our mutual frustration.
My kids have it pretty rough for kids that on the outside appear happy, carefree, friendly, and smart. The guise they wear sometimes fades and the sadness pours out, but sometimes it doesn’t. Most of the time, it doesn’t. At least not in obvious ways.
On those days I forget that they are battling with feelings and thoughts and fears and worries that *most* kids their age don’t experience at such a young age. Or ever. I have to remember that my kids, even if they seem fine, might be really struggling on the inside.
I have to keep in mind that they aren’t aware of their feelings yet and aren’t mature enough to express them and so they manifest in ways that look like ungratefulness, attitude, or anger towards me.
I have to be vigilant that even if my kids are smiling, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fleeting thought about the thing they all miss most. The PERSON.
I also have to remember that while I’m over here feeling sorry for myself in my position as mom AND dad, that they most likely want a break from me as much as I do from them sometimes, but that break is nowhere in either of our immediate futures. I just have to keep reminding myself…. my kids are going through some serious shit right now.
If this article connects with you here are some others about my relationship struggles:
When I was a newly single parent trying to navigate how to handle life with kids, but without a partner, I remember getting really annoyed, and frankly hurt, when I would see women complaining on social media about being a “single parent” because their husband was on a fishing trip. Or a work trip. Or whatever. He was gone for a short time and suddenly they understood what it was like to be a “single mom”.
But they didn’t. Their situation was temporary. Their partner is coming back (eventually). As a single mom, your situation is forever.
Or maybe not.
Maybe, sometime in the future, you will find someone new to share your life with. And then what? Are you not a “single mom” anymore?
Once I found a new partner and things started getting serious (meeting the kids, living together, and eventually engaged) I had been told by a handful of people that I should stop defining myself as a “single parent” as if I’m alone. I’m not a single parent anymore. I have someone.
And I get it. I understand someone who is TRULY single being annoyed by someone like me. A not-actually-single-single-mom. I would venture to guess that had I come across this situation during my new singleton life, I probably would have been vexed by someone bickering about being a single mom with a partner to share their life with.
But I am here to say, just because you are not “single” anymore, doesn’t mean you’re not exactly living like a single mom anymore either. Maybe just a different breed of single mom.
And here’s why…
I spent the better part of a year alone with my kids, working on my marriage (but apart) and then realizing it was ending, and going from having my kids all the time to most of the time to all of the time again.
I did the daily grind of ALL.THINGS.KIDS. every day, all day.
And then I met someone.
And eventually it moved to the next level. And things are great.
(Side note: Blending families, especially when you have kids from divorce, kids who have experienced a parent’s addiction and mental illness, kids who are already annoyed with their blood siblings and now have more kids around A LOT, is really fucking hard. It’s almost (dare I say) harder than keeping a marriage together when you’ve built your life, your family, together. But the difference is, now you have had the experience of hell that goes with breaking up your family. And so you’re either going to put in the work to make it last and be beneficial for everyone involved. Or you’re not.)
But regardless of how much work you put in or how “normal” you try to make your family, it’s just not the same. And it never will be.
And here is where I say, being in a new relationship doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not a single mom anymore. In some situations you might be more comfortable, you might have help, but in almost all cases you will never share the same type of relationship you had before, especially when it comes to your kids.
You can love someone’s kids as much as your own and they can love yours just the same, but your experiences with your kids that started from the first positive pee-stick aren’t shared like they were with someone else.
Your history with this new person starts years later. And eventually, the goal would get to a point where all of those “before” experiences are water under the bridge. But it’s going to be awhile before you get there.
And despite their ability and desire to help, there are just some things that they simply can’t do (or your kids won’t allow them to) that your previous spouse was able to step in and be a part of.
My kids are young, their needs are still ever draining on a parent. I still wipe butts, give baths, cut food into little bite sized pieces, make snacks, tie shoes, get them dressed, open juice boxes, (etc, etc, etc….)
Some of these things, sure, my partner can help with. But so could one of my friends if I needed it that bad, when I was single. Other things? Even if he wanted to, he just can’t.
Any sort of major parenting decisions we weigh as a team, yet…. he’s not their dad. He wasn’t there from the beginning and so oftentimes I find myself doing more explaining than discussing.
He can’t give my kids baths, tuck them in, kiss their boo-boos or do my daughter’s hair. They won’t allow him to. It might be never that he is the someone they feel comfortable with confiding in, so the burden of all of the heavy stuff weighs solely on me. Maybe in time that will change, but for now, it’s mine to bear.
Financially, his job in this family wasn’t to come in and support me and my kids. That’s my job. And they have their own dad. But what if their dad is not contributing like an active and responsible parent? It’s not his responsibility to pick up the slack, that load falls on me too.
If my kid does something I find super quirky and cute, I’ll share it with him. But the reaction I get isn’t the same because he wasn’t there years ago when my older child did something similar and we laughed and laughed.
And the moments that my kids have that used to be endearing reminders of their father, now are terrifying indicators that his genes are still alive and strong within them.
If one of my kids gets sick I’m the one who has to call in to work, not him.
If there are conferences, meetings at school, doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, play dates to be made, birthday parties to plan… he will join in the fun, but he’s not taking care of those things for my children, and he shouldn’t have to. But that doesn’t mean having him around makes my life “easier” as I’ve been told it should.
The discipline is my job, and so is the explosive reaction I get if/when that discipline is met by an angry child. As much as he would like to step in and help sometimes, ultimately, it’s not his place.
So despite not technically being a “single mom” anymore, I find myself still feeling overwhelmed at times. Wishing I could get some help. Some support. And what’s strange is I have it, but it comes in a different form and not one I’m entirely used to (yet).
People don’t seem to understand that just because you have another adult in the house, all of your struggles and responsibilities as a single parent don’t vanish.
Everyone feels and experiences their situations differently. I am starting to think I shouldn’t have been so quick to feel stabby and wronged by the mom claiming to understand my life as a single mom because her husband was absent for a weekend on a business trip. Maybe she was feeling really alone.
Being a single mom, completely raising my kids ALONE was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Having someone around definitely helps make the days go by faster. I feel less overwhelmed, less tired, less lonely than I did when I was doing this thing all by myself.
I refuse to be a sanctimonious mom that claims I have the same life as a true single mom that is raising her kids completely solo. I’m not. At least not anymore. But as a mom who has done that before and lived to tell about it, I gotta be honest… the way I’m living now with a new partner is (some days) not that far off. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Getting divorced sucks. It’s an all-around bad time for anyone that has to go through the ugly experience of court, lawyers, money talk, and the excruciating idea of dividing up time with your kids.
The legal jargon, structure, and rigidity of it alone is enough to make you sick. And that doesn’t include the emotional distress.
Divorcing someone you once loved hurts. Divorcing someone you no longer love because they are madly in love with themselves is in a whole new realm of torment. It’s debilitating, mind-blowing, crippling at times.
Any person with any empathy at all knows that literally no one wins in a divorce. Even the most amicable divorce brings hurt, grief, and pain. Your life as you know it is vastly different. Your home, your daily routine, EVERYTHING about your existence utterly changes. This is not a win in anyone’s book, except the narcissist.
Any potential threat to the narcissist’s self-esteem is perceived as a highly personal attack, even if your approach is civil. And to a narcissist, divorce is a sign of weakness, of failure. The ultimate ego bruiser.
Once the papers are filed, everything becomes a game to be won to the narcissist. And only they get to decide when it’s over. Every move they make is a calculated one and no issue is too ludicrous or too minute to raise hell over.
Nothing is off limits when the narcissist’s self-image is at stake. He will literally do whatever it takes to maintain the façade of the injured party, without shame or remorse. Even if it means sharing private, intimate details of your lives, or making you look like an unstable and incapable parent. If it were up to the narcissist, you would have no rights as a parent (or a human being, if they had it their way) at all. They may proclaim an intention of peace and amicability, but their goal is, without a doubt, to win.
Money unquestionably becomes insignificant. They will drain your accounts and any equity you might share, and when they are done they will move on to family and friends they can exploit for help because they can’t back down. Peace doesn’t fuel the narcissist.
In the end, you will have collectively wasted 70k fighting over an old, broken microwave.
And that’s just the beginning.
The narcissist will take every last ounce of energy they think you might have left and drag it through the mud, depicting you as a complete piece of shit. Be vigilant. Because no matter how the cards fall, this (whatever *this* is) is going to be your fault.
They will take every single thing you do and twist it into something it’s not just to paint a bigger picture of the monster they want to portray you as. Because surrender without complete destruction is just not an option for the narcissist.
And even though it’s a battle to the death of your sanity, it really doesn’t matter in the end if they actually win what they are fighting for. They have a plan to explain that away too. It won’t be because of their shotty tactics or inappropriateness. It will be because of the unjust court system, an unfair judge, or a “bad” lawyer. They will have a thought out and exceptionally detailed list of the “wrong-doings” that happened to them because a narcissist never accepts blame or responsibility. He’d rather take everyone he’s ever loved down with him than show any sign of feebleness or fault.
It won’t feel like a “win” to you either after the battle you’ve just fought to get out of a living hell. Even if you do walk away the “victor” in this relentless personal encounter with psychological warfare, you will have convinced yourself you don’t deserve it, because all along the narcissist has been telling you so.
And he’s not done yet.
Narcissists are amazing, manipulative story tellers. And they will tell their stories to anyone that will listen. Long after the show is over they will continue to spread their elaborate lies until they are fulfilled with enough sympathy or applause to fuel their vainness.
Lies and deceit are their playbook. You find yourself documenting EVERY.SINGLE.INTERACTION to back up the absurdity that’s become your reality because you’re sure no one will believe you when you tell them. And the narcissist has convinced you that you’re crazy, so you need reassurance. Someone to agree that this is not how things should be. Ever.
It’s really hard to talk to someone who can’t reason with logic. You continuously try to show them how out of control the entire situation is, but you’re wasting your breath. It’s useless. And to other people, it looks as though you’ve given up, or given in, but in reality, you’re just trying hard to save your sanity on the brink of what seems like a never-ending pandemonium.
Trying to stay quiet and be the “rational” one while all of this is going on might be harder than divorce itself. Because he will intentionally try to push you over the edge so he can justify his actions and build evidence to back up the picture he’s painted of you along the way.
The smallest lull in chaos might give you hope. You yearn so badly for things to calm down, finally get better. However, it’s an unfortunate truth that with a narcissist, things will never not be in complete mayhem because this is the bane of their existence. Without havoc, they can’t function. Can’t exist.
If they find that things have settled or that they have been “found out” they will seek out someone new to disrupt and dominate. Because they thrive on it.
Divorce is terrible. Nobody gets married thinking that one day this will all come to an end. It hurts enough all on its own. But when you’re divorcing a narcissist, hurt doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s unimaginable, humiliating, and exhausting.
They are so in love with themselves that they simply can’t fathom the fact that someone doesn’t feel the same. The only way to come to terms with this is to completely self-destruct and carry their loved ones through the ruins. No matter the cost.
Divorcing a narcissist made up the worst year of my life, hands down. But it has to be said, I would do it all over again after truly seeing what he was capable of. I just might do things a little differently this time around.