The guilt I carried was immense and unnecessary.
I grew up the daughter of a generation that stuck together. Nearly all of my friend’s parents had been married for decades. They waited out the hard times and celebrated the good. It’s didn’t mean they were happy people.
I loved my husband and he is a good man. One of the best I know. Kind and occasionally pretty damn funny. But I got married for all of the wrong reasons.
He was my best friend. All of my friends were getting married. I wanted a family of my own. I hated dating, even in my 20s. I got married young because I thought that was what we were supposed to do. I had left high school to the great microcosm of college and then went right back to high school as a teacher.
I did very little living of my own life. No exploration. In the summers between school years, I never traveled. I had no great adventures.
At 25-years-old, I knew absolutely nothing about myself. I had no business committing myself to life to someone. Still, I did it.
My husband and I had started to fight and things were breaking down. My daughter was only two when we got divorced. Leaving my marriage would mean that my daughter was most likely going to be an only child. That I knew. She was hard to come by and trying to have a brother or sister for her to grow up with hadn’t been panning out. Apparently, my body is just not good at making and keeping babies.
My divorce was an act of selfishness. I make no apologies about it and I don’t regret it. It what was needed for me to spend the next 60 years of my life being a happy, whole person. My greatest concern though, was what would become of my daughter.
I didn’t want her to grow up in a house where there was fighting, where unhappiness lingered in the air in a faint way that made it nearly undetectable but still heavy. So, I made the choice that my daughter would go up the product of a broken home. Nothing has made me more cognizant of my actions and behaviors as a parent than that decision.
I am proud of the job her dad and I have done in co-parenting. It’s not always been easy but it’s made us better people too. That’s a promise you need to make to your family unit, as fractured as it is. The child comes first. Communication is paramount. It’s hard work.
I worried my daughter would grow up without a solid example of how marriage worked. That would have happened if we stayed together because it wasn’t working to begin with.
Now that she’s a few short years from adulthood, we talk about marriage. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever do it. She loves the idea of a partner through life but doesn’t necessarily think that should have to include a legal commitment.
I understand this is the progressive thinking of her generation and I can’t say I blame them. At this point in my life, even I understand that there’s beauty in the fact that it would be easier to leave if you’re not married but you chose to stay.
I’m also glad that she has seen a side of life that I hadn’t. The one that tells you that you don’t need to be married to be whole. I didn’t come to this realization until after I had gotten into and out of a second marriage. Now, she sees her mom happy.
She has seen me become a woman both of us are proud of, absent of any partner at all. My happiness is my doing.
The number of plates on our table are few but the conversations over dinner are many. These one on one moments are where we’ve built trust and understanding and fostered love. Just she and I and focused, face to face time. For years it’s been she and I against the world and we’re winning.
Though she may not be with me every week, I know that wherever she is there is love. I miss the hell out of her when she’s not blaring TikToks from the other room and when she comes home, she is my everything. It’s immense joy I know she feels.
Bouncing back and forth between two homes has created chaos. Shoes left in one place, a school book in another. We’ve paid a lot of money in lost or overdue library books. She’s learned organization and how to acclimate to change.
My worries were unnecessary. They were rooted in guilt and shame and a whole myriad of other emotions that don’t serve any parent or child well. They were paper tigers our fractured family chased away.
People stay together for the kids. Don’t do this. The kids will be fine. They’ll still grow up amazing people. It may take more effort as parents but it’s effort we all signed up for the moment that little human came into our lives. My daughter’s home may have been broken, but she is far from it.