Making Space: 3 Ways I Love my Boys through Divorce
There’s a reason we call periods of change transitions - the space between one thing and the next. The uncomfortable interim where all the growth happens. Death, for example, happens in an instant – but after we lose someone, the space of grief, growth and transition that follows remains long and treacherous. Actually, the spaces - the passages - are longer in life than the actual events.
After signing my name on the line in front of the judge, the one where we declare our marriage to be irreconcilable, I know I am officially divorced. But, after 11 years of being married, my reaction to the judge’s ruling is slow and awkward. I wander the house, trying to redecorate. I clean out clutter, trying to fit myself - and the boys - into our new (old) space.
Some days the house feels so expansive the three of us crawl into the same bed at night, making the space cozier with one another’s breathing. Other days, the tight squeeze of change takes up every room, and it seems there's no place to sit and breathe without an anvil of grief resting on our chests.
Being a witness as my boys navigate the divorce, and giving them the space to feel their pain, to make the passage, has been the ultimate sacrifice as a mother. The guilt of getting divorced hits me like a hammer falling on glass, and I feel broken all over again. When the boys tell me they are sad, or that they miss their dad, or that they’re the only kids in their class with divorced parents, my natural instinct is to protect myself - change the subject, give them the divorce statistics, turn them away from the flame.
Then I remember we are all still in freefall – the space between leaping and landing, the gap between what was and what is. For me, it’s both terrifying and exhilarating – as an adult, I know life doesn’t go as planned, I know this end makes room for a new beginning. I have had more time and more awareness to process the reality – so at this point, I am not only hopeful, I am stronger than ever. My boys aren’t there yet. For them, there is no silver lining. They sense there may be nothing to land on, no end to their unpredictable emotions and challenges.
Here are 3 ways I’ve held them through it,
Therapy. I see a therapist. The boys see a therapist (they are 8 and 9). Their dad sees a therapist. And, their dad and I see a co-parenting therapist together. How many therapists does one family need?? I’ll take as much as I can get – especially right now. Sign me up, again and again, and I don’t care if it’s a good week or a bad week or a terribly busy week – our mental health is a priority. It’s a shame we didn’t start going until the flames got so high, but I’m really glad we’re all there now.
We are honest, not polite, even when it’s inconvenient. We are ruthless with our language and our feelings. There’s yelling and arguing. I allow the sadness and confusion to come to the surface how it needs to. He boys always know they can sneak away with me and cry – no matter when or where we are.
In response to their sadness I no longer say, “It’ll be ok.” Or even, “I’m sorry.” I’m not trying to turn off the valve, or pretend this doesn’t suck.
I say, “Yeah, I’m sad too.” Or, “It’s hard and I know you’re hurting.” I want to open them up – we spend so much time and energy remaining closed, protected. Most of the time it’s just acknowledging the feeling – and then it moves right on through.
I tell the boys how proud I am of them. It feels really weird to say, but I am blessed and grateful to be a witness to something so profound, something that will affect them forever – something I’ve never experienced since my parents are still together. I want to help them flourish from the experience rather than shut down. Their level of trust in me and in their dad, their strength, and their capacity amaze me every single day.
I have to make space.
It would be so much easier to erase the whole incident, ignore my own needs and put everyone back together, even if you could still see the tape and glue and flaws. Divorce is not something I wished for my children.
Today I am less affected by the guilt – over time and therapy, writing and yoga, healing and support groups, I can withstand their questions. I can remain still, like in Mountain Pose, with my hands at my sides, but still working to hang there. I’ve learned it’s not about me in the boys’ moments of need, but about making the leap, the scary space of change, easier on them. So hopefully, the next time something knocks them off a cliff, they will know their ability to fly.