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June 20, 2011

Yesterday LOD sent me this article from the New York Times to read about being a divorced, college-educated mother in the 2010s. He knew I was going to be as irked by it as I am, and wanted to read what I had to say.

Now, first, I wasn’t surprised to read an article like this from the NY Times. They seem to miss consistently on all matters family/mothering/fathering/parenting. It’s as if they’ve never met a parent who didn’t live in Park Slope (that’s a fancy neighborhood in Brooklyn) or the Upper East Side or a fancy suburb of NYC. And they love to report on the extremes while glossing over the fact that the majority of parents are, in fact, moderate–neither neglectful nor helicopterish, neither unconcerned with our children’s academic success nor spending $30K a year on tutors for them, and not, honestly, concerned with what the NY Times thinks about us.

So I hesitate to take the article too seriously. But it did paint this whole portrait of divorced mothers as being sad, rejected failures. (Only college-educated divorced moms, though. The rest of you are either AWESOME or don’t exist–the article didn’t say.) And since I know a lot of people who will read this article, I knew I’d have to steel myself for their sad, pitying looks. And maybe some apologies from them, as last week they liked me and thought I was interesting, but now they know the truth: I am A Failure.

Duh. Yes, I am a failure. Divorce is failure. Getting divorced means you didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t hold your marriage together.

For me, though, the failure actually happened when I got married, not when I got divorced. I had been a Good Girl my whole life. My whole dutiful, never-good-enough life. My only real rebellions had been slacking on schoolwork in college (I only graduated cum laude) and running off to live in Mexico for a year and a half. I’d learned my lesson in Mexico, though, and came back ready to settle down and become the Best Wife and Mother I Could Be. So I found someone who looked good on paper: an Eagle Scout (literally) who called when he said he would, and knew how to spell my last name after only a few weeks of working together. I stuffed down my misgivings. And two days before we got married, when I had this deep knowing that he was absolutely not the one, that I was not my true self with him, that I wouldn’t be able to trust who I really was with him, well, I just ignored that, too. The wedding. All that money. Everyone’s hopes and dreams for me, for us. Marriage is hard work for everyone. You play the hand you’re dealt. I could make it work.

Make.

It.

Work.

Does this sound an awful lot like what the women in the Times article are saying about why it’s so important to them to stay married? It does to me. The same way anyone who’s been depressed can read it in someone else’s words or body language. The same way an alcoholic can tell about another alcoholic.

Women ask me all the time “How did you know?” that I had to get divorced. And what they really mean is “How will I know?” This is what I always say: At a certain point, leaving is the only thing that makes sense. And you know it will be hard but you can’t see any other path. Staying becomes impossible.

I’ve seen it with friends. The switch just flips. I remember the moment a few years ago I got an IM out of the blue from a friend who said, “I have to get divorced. He’s never going to stay on his meds. I just realized he’s never going to do it, no matter what he says.” I’ve heard variations of that from so many women (college-educated, even).

And once you hit that point of knowing, you can’t stay. You are no longer the Good Girl, the camel. And you don’t give a hot shit about what the Park Slope parenting community or the New York Times or your college roommates think anymore, because all you care about is making the best life possible for your kids and yourself. If they’re lucky, your college roommates will stick around for you (mine did). But if they don’t, you’ll still have your friends who know that failure consecrates your flesh. And that redemption is the point of every epic story.

Going through the pain and disillusionment and gauntlet of getting divorced has been the most intense experience of my life. I have seen the worst part of myself. And I have seen God and experienced his grace in a way that would have been unfathomable to me before. My heart hurts for those of you who are divorced who didn’t choose it, and I hope you are sent the same help I was sent, am still being sent.

But failure? Failure is a badge of honor. Failure means you took a chance. Failure means you’re no longer white-knuckling it through life.

What would your children do if they knew failure was just a blip on the radar? What would you do if you knew failure was the only way to learn what you needed to know to be yourself?

You’d probably stop reading NY Times articles on divorce, for one. But then you’d just get on with it, and take the next step to getting to where you want to be.

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2011 11:55 am

    Reporting on getting divorced or staying married as if these major life choices are just another fashion trend is as dumb as when magazines say that this season curvy figures are back in. Not everything is “the new black.” You have to do what is right for you.

  2. June 20, 2011 12:04 pm

    You’ve made some really important points here. I’ve written many times that divorce isn’t a failure but instead a really brave decision to do something difficult because you know it is the right thing to do. I love how you describe it as a badge of honor.

    I think that one of the greatest lessons that we can teach our children is to listen to their feelings. If they are unhappy, maybe they need to make a change in their circumstances so that they can find what does make them happy. By modeling that, we have taught them to do what is right for them, not what their community or society finds most acceptable.

    Call me crazy, but I’m just not the kind of person that makes life decisions based on what my peers are going to think of them. The acceptance of the Park Slope moms is not going to ultimately make anyone happy, now is it?

  3. June 20, 2011 12:09 pm

    There’s a certain nastiness in that article. I don’t understand divorce in the personal sense, but I do understand that for many, it is the right choice. We’re all human and I don’t think it is out of the realm of humanity to make mistakes, or fail, or not be perfect. As long as the kids know that they are loved by both parents, I don’t see the problem…sigh.

  4. June 20, 2011 12:11 pm

    I read somewhere, “Depression isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign you’ve been strong too long.” Divorce isn’t a sign of weakness or failure either.

  5. June 20, 2011 12:16 pm

    Yeah, I really just don’t understand why something like this has to be trendy, or not. No one gets married going “wheee, I can’t wait to get divorced!” (At least, I hope not.) and no one should get divorced if they can agree as a couple there is a chance to work it out and be happy. You do what you need to do, whether it’s socially acceptable in Park Slope or not.

    So, yay, the divorce rate is dropping (IF you’re college-educated, of course, and if you’re not, who cares about you!) That’s great. No, really, it is, if it means that fewer people are getting married to each other who should not be, and not that more people are sucking it up and laying (lying) in the bed they made, afraid to make other choices.

  6. June 20, 2011 12:55 pm

    Great response, Moxie.

  7. sheila permalink
    June 20, 2011 1:40 pm

    I read the article last night and don’t have it with me to refer to – but I got a different sense of it. I thought the article was about trends… divorce is less common among a certain demographic so the people that do get divorced a treated differently than they used to be. More “poor you” and less “yay, you’re free!” But I didn’t think there was judgment from the author, and I think it was one person that was interviewed who called herself a failure, and that was probably how she felt — but that was her. I thought it was an interesting article and not at all about judging people who get divorced.

    • SingleMomof3 permalink
      September 19, 2011 10:47 am

      I read moxie’s response first before I read the article (not a NY Times regular, because who has time as a working single mom!) and then read the article. I had the same read on the article as you did, more as a comment on the trends than a condemnation of divorce, and thought it was fairly even-handed, actually. I thought they did a reasonable job of portraying life for a specific demographic and thought they portrayed others’ reactions to divorce and news of divorce accurately as well as how divorce, when it does (necessarily) happen, is different today, can be different, and can be a positive for all including children, if done right.

  8. June 20, 2011 1:42 pm

    I read that article, too, and thought it sounded off. It painted a very unflattering picture of divorced women, to be sure. I suppose you can argue that divorce is technically the failure of a marriage. But if it also means two people get to draw a line under a chapter in their lives and move on to something healthier, then failure doesn’t really come close to describing it as a whole.

    Divorces (and marriages, for that matter) are so individual that I am skeptical of generalities on principle. From the perspective of a happily married person, I thought the article also did a handy job of making most married couples look like fearful children, still reeling from their own parents failed marriages, towing the line of matrimony, often against their best interest. They were painted as judgmental of their divorced peers and willing to accept an unhappy marriage rather than the stigma of divorce. This picture of the world of marriage is pretty far off the mark for me and, I suspect, for a lot of other people, too.

    The article showed a pretty bleak world, implying that, married or divorced, we’re all basically unhappy and afraid. I don’t accept that. Many people are happily married. Many people who divorce find themselves in a much happier and healthier place. But I guess that wouldn’t make for such a dramatic article, nor would it offend so many different people. Or maybe I just don’t get it because I don’t live in the cultural epicenter of the civilized world.

    • askmoxie permalink*
      June 20, 2011 2:06 pm

      T, I, too, was disturbed by the implication that all marriages are unhappy and people either get out or grin and bear it. One of the things that helped me when I was making the decision to leave was seeing that there were people who really had good marriages. It made me realize that there was,. indeed, something fundamentally wrong with mine, and that there was the possibility that I might have a good one the second time around. I’m glad you’re happy in yours.

      • June 26, 2011 5:56 pm

        I too was convinced for years that all marriages were similar to my own until someone very close to me answered my question of “Don’t you feel like that too?” with a resounding “NO! And you shouldn’t have to either…” It was a wake-up call that I had become too comfortable in my own unhappy marriage. And it was so refreshing to hear that it didn’t have to be that way… and that there were happy couples out there. I’m still in the midst of my (our) decisions about divorce but finding out that not all marriages are like mine is proving to be a key point.

    • SingleMomof3 permalink
      September 19, 2011 10:50 am

      Excellent comment. As an almost divorced person, I hadn’t thought about the article in terms of what it said about *marriage* versus how it was portraying those of use going through the wringer of divorce, but think your comments are clearly on the mark.

  9. Robyn permalink
    June 20, 2011 1:58 pm

    Nicely said. Thanks.

  10. JLS717 permalink
    June 20, 2011 2:28 pm

    I didn’t read it that way at all. I am freshly divorced (8 months) and to me, this struck a chord — in how it feels to be the anomaly of the divorcee. I live in an idyllic little suburb, and I am the only one I know who is divorced. (I have other friends who are divorced — just not in my immediate neighborhood circle.) I have, at times, felt (a) that my friends fear this is contagious; (b) that my friends are jealous of what they perceive to be “freedom” every other weekend; (c) that they judge me for trying to do just about anything to fill my “free” weekends (which, in reality, are incredibly painful and lonely — thus the willingness to do anything and go anywhere with anyone who will take me); and (d) that I am being judged, pitied, and gossiped about. This spoke to me in a big way. These are things the never-divorced will simply never understand.

    • SingleMomof3 permalink
      September 19, 2011 10:58 am

      Another valid perspective for me! I am so glad moxie commented on this article and got this conversation going! :) This is also how I read this article – as both a comment on trends and how the current trends can change how those of us going through divorce experience it with less company and (sometimes) more judgment. I don’t think this means we are more sad (read: pathetic) or more of a failure than others, but that the experience has changed both positively and negatively from a generation ago.

      I also think your statements highlight that, just like experiences of marriage, each person’s divorce experiences are so individual. An article on “trends” will not resonate with everyone whose experience does not fit the demographic or trend represented in the piece.

  11. Jen permalink
    June 20, 2011 2:52 pm

    I’m torn on this one. As a child of an acrimonious divorce, getting divorced became my biggest fear. I thought that I simply had to choose to make my marriage work and it would. Obviously I was only half of the equation and when my husband decided he loved another woman and then left I was devastated. While I can now acknowledge that there were problems (possibly even insurmountable problems) in my marriage, I most certainly did not choose to get divorced. I cannot say if we might have ended up the same way down the road if this other woman hadn’t come along. Perhaps. Either way, much of what the article describes rings true to me (I’m university-educated, btw). Six years have passed and we’ve moved on, but I still feel the stigma of being divorced, still feel like I failed at something pretty monumental, and still fear for the negative effect it has and will have on my children.

    I suspect that one of the reasons my marriage ended was that I never really witnessed a mature, respectful relationship growing up. I did not know how to behave in a marriage and that likely contributed to my husband’s decision to look elsewhere. I wonder if this isn’t a factor in many of today’s failed marriages, and some of the “successes,” too.

    I wonder what kind of an example we would have set for our children if we had stayed together. One saving grace for me is that at least my ex-husband and I are now in healthy and happy relationships. Our children are learning from what they see of these relationships and I am confident we are better role models now than before.

    I said I still feel like I failed, but I also agree with what the article said about how it isn’t divorce that’s devastating, it’s the way divorce is handled. I think in that respect, I have succeeded.

  12. Lisa V permalink
    June 20, 2011 8:27 pm

    Why are only the moms failures? Doesn’t it take two?

    • askmoxie permalink*
      June 21, 2011 9:50 am

      Exactly.

    • LOD permalink*
      June 21, 2011 10:15 am

      Moxie and I talked about that when I first sent her the article. I haven’t felt the slightest bit of judgment among my friends. I guess it’s consistent with a lot perceptions about parenthood: When it comes to taking care of the kids AND the marriage, moms are the ones expected to do the heavy lifting.

      • June 21, 2011 10:52 am

        That’s exactly it. The societal assumption is that it’s the mom’s job to manage the fall-out from divorce and the kids’ reactions. The dad gets credit for anything extra he does beyond every-other-weekend and one night a week. I’ve seen it with my ex — his friends and co-workers give him a hard time when he does something to help me out with the kids, or to make my life a little easier, and he says “um, I would like my children’s mother to be able to function, you know?”

      • Lisa V permalink
        June 22, 2011 9:39 pm

        Yeah, I can totally see that people talk about women becoming “single moms” and “men leaving their kids”. I rarely hear it phrased the opposite way. Moms do do the heavy lifting in most peoples minds. It’s perception I guess.

  13. parodie permalink
    June 20, 2011 11:31 pm

    I haven’t read the article (sorry!) but I wanted to add that while I wasn’t the one who chose divorce (I did chose to not insist on staying married to someone who told me he wanted a divorce…) I found divorce to be one of the most fertile periods of spiritual development in my life. Nothing compares. Trial by fire, really. I was really struck by how you mentioned the same thing, Moxie, and I wanted to affirm that.

  14. June 21, 2011 8:40 am

    I went through a painful split that wasn’t my choice and experienced exactly what these women went through with their so-called friends. After time and some therapy I realized that their treatment of me was more reflective of their relationships than my former one.

    The article references a study that found when one couple gets divorced, the other couples in their social network are 75% more likely to split as well. I now suspect watching my relationship collapse (we were not married, but had been together for years), made them see how tenuous most relationships are regardless of whether or not vows were exchanged. It’s scary to realize that you never truly know what’s going on in your partner’s head.

    The NY Times is embarrassingly guilty of “me and my friends” journalism, especially when it comes to lifestyle pieces, but this is one of the few times they tapped into something that I can see as an interesting trend, even if the reporting was clumsy.

    • LOD permalink*
      June 21, 2011 10:27 am

      THAT was the crux for me, too. People don’t want divorce to be contagious, but I’ve seen that it is. And for every friend who’s gotten divorced since I did, there’s another who wants to but is too conflicted to pull the trigger.

      • June 21, 2011 4:07 pm

        I’ve seen it as well. What I do find funny (in a ha ha, sad kind of way) is watching peer groups that all had kids at the same time start to have marital problems and separate at roughly the same time.

        When it’s kids, it’s joyous (“something in the water…”) but then turns to sad. When I was going through my problems I was pretty angry at those people, but now I just shake my head and am thankful that my drama was moderate compared to some of the frightening trainwrecks (ugly custody battles, foreclosures, etc.) that I’ve witnessed this year. (Four so far.)

  15. Sherry permalink
    June 21, 2011 10:27 am

    Awesome. I’m in tears.

  16. Sherry permalink
    June 21, 2011 10:33 am

    Awesome. I’m teary.

  17. June 21, 2011 4:53 pm

    You’re brilliant. I couldn’t have said it better myselfl.

  18. Dana Childs permalink
    June 21, 2011 5:30 pm

    I think your response would have been a better article than the one that was in the NY Times. Other than a few key phrases that I did relate to, I thought the article was poorly written and didn’t really seem to have any point. I was left with:…And the point is? It started with a story with a beginning and I was left with no middle and and no end-like a bad movie script. And those of us who can relate to the situation (of the article) or partially relate, are chewing on the stick and then having the toy taken away. So this is what I say to that article…WHATEVER!

  19. June 21, 2011 6:11 pm

    I agree with what @T. said “It painted a very unflattering picture of divorced women, to be sure… Divorces (and marriages, for that matter) are so individual that I am skeptical of generalities on principle.” Amen!

    And @Lisa V, @Moxie, @LOD & @Jen – re: “Why are only the moms failures?” YES! Thank you for pointing out the patriarchal b.s. that runs rampant in our society. Shame on the NYT for failing to understand what is painfully obvious to so many of us. Instead, the NYT chooses to perpetuate it.

    Amen @Dana Childs – “I think your response would have been a better article than the one that was in the NY Times.” Totally!

  20. June 21, 2011 8:55 pm

    I recently had a conversation with a guy who said he was tired of the “My ex left me financially ruined” excuse he gets from divorced women. He said he’s a target because he’s a “good guy” for women taking advantage of him. He ended it with “Good guys come in last” and I said “Good girls always try to make it work and that’s where they get themselves in trouble.” So, it’s funny that you would say the very same thing in this post.

  21. Kelly permalink
    June 22, 2011 8:35 am

    What about those of us where one person has a college education, one doesn’t, and we don’t live in a suburb? Where do we fit into the NYT ‘equation’? I love (sarcasm) this reporting on “trends” and “studies.” They are essentially garbage. When they do correlative studies or even empirical ones about human behavior, they can NEVER determine cause and effect. Only correlations. Statistical likelihoods. These headlines of “Study finds that most women love shoes!” are just bunk and grossly misleading. It is especially true of articles about a subculture like the wealthy socialites of NYC. What an elitist bunch of bullshit.

  22. June 22, 2011 10:34 am

    WORD! Perfectly said. And I was even in the article, though I’m not sure I agreed with the central thesis. (I also said that the Park Slope Mommy Contingent would scare anyone, not just the divorced, but the writer didn’t publish that.)

    • askmoxie permalink*
      June 22, 2011 10:37 am

      Bahahaha, Stacy! Yes. Molly (up above) was also in the article. It sounded to me like she interviewed a bunch of people and then just said what her own experience was and pulled whatever quotes she thought would support that.

  23. June 24, 2011 2:43 am

    This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday – http://t.co/LyzHPpr

  24. kimberlymoore permalink
    June 25, 2011 12:13 am

    The whole idea that a successful marriage is based on longevity is a myth. I had a successful mariage that included having two amazing children. I also had a successful divorce. It does not have to be sad, It does not have to be traumatic, and no one has to be right or wrong.

    The other annoying phrase I found was the whole single mom. I was a divorced mom, not a single mom. Their father still went to all of the games, meetings plays etc. Divorced men are usually never referred to as single fathers.

    I was happy to read your story of your marriage. It mirrors my own. I wouldn’t change my journey for anything…

    • July 10, 2011 3:03 pm

      I thought it was interesting that you said no one refers to divorced dads as single fathers. I think you’re right. The only time I hear that term is when they’re widowers, again demonstrating that if there’s a mom alive the societal onus is on her for raising the kids.

    • SingleMomof3 permalink
      September 19, 2011 11:09 am

      I do hear of and refer to divorced dads as single dads. I don’t see using the single mom label as a comment on the children’s father not being involved or present. I call myself “SingleMomof3″ and have a very active, involved co-parent in my children’s father. I just don’t like the term “divorced mom” because I don’t want to define myself or my role with my children in terms of the end of my marriage. My children’s other parent and I are both single now and both active and involved with our children.

  25. July 19, 2011 12:27 pm

    I did not choose my divorce, it was thrust upon me and I’m trying to make a new life from it the best I can. I do feel like a failure – because I had no idea the life XH was leading. I’ve tried to blog, journal, scream, draw, cry and therapy out my thoughts and emotions, but I seem to have hit the proverbial brick wall. Kudos to you both for being able to communicate and raise your kids.

  26. August 14, 2011 7:52 pm

    Awesome post. I blog about divorce often, and have never found a post that resonates with me quite as much as this one. Very well said.

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