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.
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.