Making a New Family after Divorce with Children

Tara Blair Ball

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My daughter was chosen as “Star of the Week” in her daycare class. She’s two. Her teachers sent a large posterboard home that she (read: her parents) would have to fill in with pictures and answers to questions, like what her favorite color and food are.

Thankfully, it was her father’s weekend when the board was sent home, so he had the wonderful task of completing it.

He texted me over the weekend questions like, “What do you think her favorite snack is?” “Is she afraid of anything other than the dark and spiders?”

But the one that bothered me was, “How long was she when she was born?”

I was the one to move out when I left my ex-husband. I couldn’t handle the stress of sharing a house when I’d had to call the cops on him just two weeks into the arrangement. No, my marriage didn’t end because we didn’t love each other; it ended because I found out I was actually living with a very abusive active drug addict and later, a thief.

I left with only my clothes and personal items, a mattress, and half of my kids’ toys and books. That was it. I could have stuck around and fought for items, but I fled.

I made a home for me and my children in a tiny 925 square foot house built in the 1920s that is literally a block away from a highway. It’s the safest place in Memphis I could afford that reasonably met all of our needs, and it’s been perfect.

I slept on a mattress on the floor for weeks. At night, we could hear the highway noise, and until they adjusted, my children sometimes woke up screaming at the unfamiliar sounds. I then bought for both them and myself a white noise machine that drowned it out, and now even when I’m puttering around, I barely notice it. It’s become the background noise of our new life.

I hung paintings and pictures. I put film on the windows that resembled stained glass. I put plants on a window sill. I hung their artwork, let them litter every square inch with their toys and exuberant drawings. I bought furniture and eventually got some of the furniture from the house we’d shared as a married couple.

But when I fled, I left behind a lot of things I thought I’d get back eventually, like my children’s baby book, which contained information like their birth weights and lengths.

“That’s in their baby book,” I texted my ex-husband back.

“Must be in the storage unit. I’m not going to look,” he told me.

The grief of not being able to go to the exact place to find that information smacked me in the face, that their baby book is in a storage unit instead of a home. My ex-husband rented that storage unit because he moved in with his mother after our divorce, and he seems to have no intention of moving out on his own (which is probably just fine).

The grief I experience having gone through a divorce is cyclical. Its duration, intensity, and frequency grow less and less. My griefs today are for my children.

I wish they didn’t have to go between two homes. I wish that, when I picked them up from daycare, they were always excited to see me, but they aren’t. Some days, my son bursts into tears as soon as he sees me and wails, “I want daddy!” because he knows daddy is not at mommy’s house. Those times, I have to hold him and say, “I know you miss your daddy, baby, but you’re going home with mommy, and it’s going to be so so much fun. I promise!” It breaks my heart. Every time.

I snapped the very first photo of my children and I together on the floor of my bathroom. My children were playing with me while I was attempting to get ready. My son is cradling my hair pomade against his face. My daughter, though you can’t see it, is holding my hairdryer. She was making “whirrr” noises with her lips while holding it.

Getting ready in the morning is always intensely hard with two little children, but I stopped for a moment, sat on the floor, let them climb all over me, and grabbed my phone to snap a picture.

That picture defines the “us” that is us now. My children have two families now. Two that love them deeply and completely. Two that hopefully will always have their best interests at heart.

My children weren’t even 18 months old when I filed for divorce. They were not very verbal. They understood things were different, and while they couldn’t tell me what they were thinking and feeling, I talked to them all the time about the change in ways I thought they’d understand.

Things like:

“Mommy and daddy live apart now. We are going to Mommy’s house today. This is a special house for just you and Mommy.”

“Today you get to spend time with just Mommy!”

“Aren’t you excited to go see Daddy? You’re going to see him today?” I’d say before an exchange.

My children will never remember their parents together. Having been in a very mentally and emotionally abusive home situation, I am so so grateful for this.

But there is still more work to be done for them, and for me.

Most young children regain their footing and are consistent with peers from “intact” homes by around three years after a divorce. Every child is different, but that three-year gap after divorce is crucial to a child’s future health and well-being.

Research has shown that by the time they are adults, most people who experienced divorce as young children are no more likely to have relationship issues than those who grew up in typical non-divorced families.

I am assuaged by this, that my leaving their father doesn’t guarantee they are broken.

After creating our new family separate from their father, we are in the process again. My children and I will be adding two more people to our family: the man I will marry and his teenage daughter.

This wonderful man and I have talked about how we will handle the transition. We don’t live together yet (that will come after an engagement), but we’ve talked about arranging a home together, where we will hang photos, how we will negotiate schedules. I’ve read articles, talked to my children’s father.

My children are older now. They’re more aware, more verbal, more cognizant, more prone to recognizing changes. Since we’re still in the three-year window after the divorce, being careful and choiceful is so so important.

But I’m grateful everyday to have the kind of family my children should have. I didn’t make the right choice in marrying my children’s father, but I did make the right one in leaving him. Today, I continue to make right choices because I know today that we (read: my children and I) deserve that.

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Certified Relationship Coach and Writer. E-mail: tarablairball@gmail.com

Memphis, TN
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