The messages of hope for anyone in a similar position
It was a March day in 2006. I sat in the driver’s seat of a hired truck, my share of the marital possessions loaded meticulously in the back of it. My wife and I had just locked the door of our former marital home for the last time and were about to go our separate ways in life, metaphorically and literally.
We said our final farewell (albeit in a symbolic sense) and a few tears were shed. Having jointly resolved that we’d play an active part in raising our two daughters, then aged 6 and 3, we knew we’d be seeing each other regularly in the years that followed. Nonetheless it felt like the last goodbye.
She drove away to hand over the keys to the real-estate agent ready for collection by the person who had bought our house; perhaps it’d be a happier family home for them than it had been for us.
It was over.
We’d decided to part late in the summer of 2005 but it had taken from then until now to part. Since agreeing that our marriage had reached its natural end, we’d been living together (but apart) while gradually figuring out how to disentangle our lives fairly and equitably. I’m forever grateful that it was a no-fault split, and that acrimony and anger were limited. It still hurt though, and at many points throughout the process I’d felt like throwing in the towel on the whole thing. I’m sure she had too.
With our house sold, a new rental secured for her and our daughters and a new job for me, around 150 miles away (thankfully in the same town as my sister who’d go on to provide invaluable moral support) we were finally on our separate ways.
There’d been no catastrophic event that ended our marriage — with hindsight we’d simply got together too young, taken on too much responsibility too quickly and burnt ourselves out trying to make it work. We’d eventually divorce legally a couple of years later.
That day in March 2006 felt like the actual end though.
I recall a mixture of feelings as I sat in the cab of that van — none of them particularly positive.
I’d failed my kids first and foremost, denying them the opportunity for a stable, cohesive childhood with both parents present and active in their lives. I’d enjoyed that myself and felt we were stripping them of that opportunity.
I’d been the first of my friends to have a baby, to buy a home, to marry and now I’d be the first to divorce too — shame came from the admission that I’d failed. I’d always tried to portray myself as a trailblazer, a leader and a risk-taker among my peers. Perhaps it was that outlook that was responsible for my current predicament, an admission that was uncomfortable and embarrassing to make.
I’d let my parents and grandparents down and failed to honour the example they’d set for me throughout my childhood. I’ve always been blessed with a close-knit family whose advice and guidance had always come from a place of love and care for my happiness first and foremost. I’d betrayed that care and love through my actions.
Finally, I feared I’d stripped myself of ever living a life of more than getting by, surviving, managing and making-do. I’d be unlikely to ever meet someone else with whom to spend my life given the complexities of my new existence. I’d struggle to build a career of any significance or success with such complex family commitments. With so much of my time and money now accounted for in supporting my kids and trying to maintain a foot in their lives, I’d be unlikely to have the time or resources for leisure or fun for myself.
I had no means of seeing into the future or indeed, much appetite to look beyond the next day or so. My focus in recent months was to merely get through the next step and the next day. When I could manage to look further ahead, the future seemed oppressively bleak and dark.
As I look back on that day some 14 years later, I now see it for what it was — a day of sadness and of endings, but also, importantly, as a day of new beginnings.
I was plagued with worry and uncertainty as I pushed forwards into the unknown — a new job in a new town, far away from my beloved daughters. Nothing seemed certain.
As I look back with rose-tinted hindsight I can see that divorcing was the right thing for both me and my ex, but also for our kids (who’ve grown up knowing our slightly unusual family structure as their norm).
In spite of the unavoidable pain, we took the difficult decision to part when we did and I’m proud that we gave ourselves (and our kids) the chance at a happy life while there was still time to start over.
While our relationship as husband and wife failed, our relationship as parents to our daughters would endure for life. We’ve co-parented the girls equally for alternate weeks for over 13 years now, jointly raising them, supporting them and sharing in the highs and lows.
Back in 2006 I had no feeling of comfort or certainty over how the years ahead would pan-out. Only through the passing of time has life taught me the lessons that it has.
I’d love to have known these things on that dark March day, if only to give me hope, if not a guarantee that it could all work out.
Life will go on
Nobody lives a life devoid of stresses, strains or upset. The happiest people experience sadness and loss too. The strongest couples argue and go through times of difficulty. Successful and stable people experience hardship and deprivation from time-to-time.
Nobody has it easy.
When you’re in the midst of a divorce, your world feels like it’s crumbling and that the breakdown will spread and infect all aspects of life. It’s essential to remember that sooner or later, the situation will improve though.
Pain starts to fade away when the healing hand of time is allowed to do its thing. Perhaps we don’t reach a place of comfort as fast as we’d like, but it happens eventually.
As the joint instigator of our divorce I was resigned to my fate and accepting of the possibility of a future alone. It seemed somehow right and just, that all my time, energy and money should go towards supporting the kids — they’d not asked for their parents to part, after all.
The years have taught me that while things are never easy and resources can feel stretched to the limit, there is always a way to carve out a better life, the life you want if your will is strong and backed by action.
My ex and I have both gone on to marry other people. My second wife and I have a blended family of six of us, with two homes to maintain (to enable me to continue to co-parent my daughters until they leave home) and kids in three different schools. We spend half our time apart and I live for much of my life out of a suitcase, split between two towns. It’s not ideal but we make it work.
It’s not easy but we accept the constraints, we focus on our priorities and do what’s necessary to make the best life we can for all of us.
I’m pretty sure that’s the same basic formula that most people follow, divorced or not?
The kids will be fine
My biggest fear when we parted was that the kids would be scarred by it.
Certainly there were harrowing phone conversations in the early days when they pressed me with sadness and innocence, trying to understand why we no longer lived together in our old house. They endured many hours sat in the back of my car as I fetched them from their Mums on a Friday and returned them on a Sunday, three weekends out of four so that I could have them with me.
Maybe I was selfish in putting them through that?
After 18-months of living away I moved back to our old town and we started co-parenting for alternate weeks with the girls moving back and forth for a week at a time between their Mum and me. That too had its challenges and on occasions they’ve expressed dissatisfaction and frustration. They’ve always known that somehow their home life was different to that of their friends.
Through it all though they’ve known that they had two parents who were both there for them and who loved them. That has made the most difference and played the biggest part in making it work.
They’re happy, stable, well-adjusted and accomplished young women and I’m immensely proud of them (if a little biased in my assessment).
I don’t believe they’ve been harmed by the experience of us parting and in many ways I think they’ve had as much, if not more input from both parents than many kids have in a conventional family set-up. If there has been any lasting negative effect, I’ve yet to see it manifest.
You will be fine
I was convinced my life was over on all significant levels when we parted. I was resigned to a life lived alone. I didn’t believe I could have a rewarding or interesting career. I thought that I’d always be struggling for financial stability. I wouldn’t have time for hobbies or to incorporate fun into my life. I’d given up.
I’ve learned in the years since that none of those things come naturally, or by right to anyone, regardless of their situation in life.
I’m remarried now but had other relationships in-between marriages, some happy, some less-so. There’ve been times when I was happily single and other times when I wasn’t. Good relationships don’t just happen but have to be sought-out and made to work. It’s never too late though.
I’ve had various careers and dabbled with business ventures. At times I’ve loved what I do and at other times have hated everything about work. None of this has been determined by my being divorced.
Money has been occasionally plentiful and at other times, painfully scarce. Certainly our basic financial needs are higher than many average families but this hasn’t caused disproportionate hardship. Someone who earns a million dollars a day can still be short of money if they have a poor relationship with it, after all.
Divorce hasn’t been defined my life any more than I’ve allowed it to, or in any way that hasn’t been possible to work around through determination and the passing of a little time.
For every person there will be events that are taken in their stride and others that have the capacity to be permanently life-changing. My purpose is certainly not to belittle the significance of such events nor to berate anyone for feeling broken when such things strike.
Relationship breakdowns, the loss of a job, illness, bereavement, conflict and even natural disasters can all strike with little or no warning and each has the potential to rock our faith in ourselves in fate, karma or whatever guiding force we may believe in.
If I could meet that version of myself, sat in the cab of the truck in March 2006, contemplating the end of his first marriage, I’m not sure he’d even listen to me to or take in the positive messages of hope I could share with him. Perhaps if you’re facing a similar challenge in your life you’ll be equally sceptical of what I’ve shared.
All I can say is that where there is life, there is hope. Never before has a cliche seemed so true as it does to me right now, as I reflect on that March day in 2006.