Why Getting a Divorce Made Me a Better Mom

mom kissing son goodnight
iStock.com/Ridofranz

When I was married, my husband and I disagreed frequently about how our son should be raised. I felt strongly in my core that divorce was the right choice, for me and for my child. But almost all children of divorce suffer in some way. How to pull the trigger that, no matter how soundly and earnestly the decision is made, will leave your child or children with some kind of damage? I know many people who struggle with this daily.

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I'm not here to suggest that divorce is "good." All I can tell is my story.

Moms are so tired. Everyone knows this. Not that dads don't work and help, but much has been written about the invisible and not-so-invisible work that moms do at home. If you are a working mom like I am, there's even less time and more guilt while you're trying to do everything: love, give, cook, clean, fix things, pay bills, give baths, do laundry, kiss boo-boos, and read bedtime stories. After that, if you can flop on the couch with TV and a glass of wine -- that's about all you have left to give. To battle with someone about how things get done makes each evening harder.

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I wanted to provide the structure, education, and rearing I thought my son needed without being told that I was being unfair or mean because I made the kid do some chores, or insisted he have a bath because it had been several days since the last one, or required him to brush his teeth even though he protested. It's my job to do what's best for him, even if it's not what he wants to do.

I was really tired. I was angry a lot and I yelled sometimes. I knew I wanted to do better, and I had a vision of what it would be like making decisions alone, with nobody second-guessing and arguing with me.

Then one night, I saw my tiny son registering our arguments. He was learning. How to treat me, his mother. How to treat women. How to eventually treat a girlfriend or a wife, or his own children. His seeing me treated as a second-class citizen was the last straw. It was undermining everything about me as a parent.

My ex is not a bad guy. We get along fairly well now. But our ideas about what constitutes great parenting are different enough that it was causing more conflict than was acceptable. I had to teach my son to respect me, and to respect his future partner. It was my mission and duty.

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I'm here to tell you, from the other side of the journey, that I was right. Yes, the way you envision life can be the way it ends up. My ex and I share custody completely equally, in one-week blocks. I get two weeks a month where I am not Mommy, and am just me. Me, and free to do what I want, whether that's Ubering to a bourbon tasting, going to the theater, tucking into a corner in a restaurant to write longhand for a few hours, attending a concert, or just staying home and enjoying TV shows with nobody asking me to get them anything. Baths are luxurious and nobody knocks my wine into the tub or comes in crying or pooping. I can sit outside on the patio and read. I can sleep in on Saturday morning, hike for two solid hours, meet friends for brunch, or attend parties.

As a result, I am ready when my son comes on Sundays. I'm refreshed, prepared, and can deal with whatever he dishes out. I don't yell. I have more patience, because I am well rested and organized. I plan meals. I have organized our first big vacation this summer. Nobody argued with me about where to stay or when to go. I figured it all out, got my car ready for the road, and we are going. So yes, all of that has come to fruition.

Today, when my son was in trouble at school for the second day in a row, I did not yell. I was calm, removed the privilege of the evening playground, and told him I would not tolerate this behavior. He must discipline himself or else our vacation will be canceled. To reinforce that, he had to clean my car tonight. (I supervised and helped.) Nobody argued with me that this punishment was "mean," including my son. We played the car radio loudly. I showed him how to remove the mats and bash them on the big rock and he seemed to have fun. He will sleep well, because of the activity, and he did not complain or whine, because he knew that would add to the duties. I feel it builds character. Nobody is here to argue with me about that. It's as refreshing as you imagine.

But I must tell you, if you are considering divorce, envisioning a "Shangri-La" of autonomy, of having your own life but still being a parent -- I pay a steep and sharp cost for this privilege.

I get to see my son for only half of his childhood.

Fifty percent custody means fifty percent of this child's every moment away from school -- every jumping, running, laughing, hugging, talking, learning, crying, eating, growing moment. It's fair and right, for our situation. His dad deserves equal time and the chance to run his home with his rules, his way. You want to know how not to yell? How not to be so tired? I can show you. But be careful what you wish for.

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On Sunday trade-day, when I walk by my boy's empty room and no bony kid is in there reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid amid the Cavs posters, stuffed animals, and Captain America comforter, when there is no lunch to pack but my own, nobody asking me to list my favorite foods in order, or telling me the Arctic is actually a desert, or imagining what it was like to live in the Paleolithic era; when I drive by the school but there is no reason to stop and drop anyone off -- this life and this home have never seemed so quiet and so empty. You cannot go back to the single person you were before; you are forever that person, plus your children, whether they are with you or not.

I fill up the time. But I am so aware how short and how fast the time is that I have with this little boy. The loss of half of that time is so painful it's like being punched. I have trouble breathing, if I think on it too hard. I am still his mom, even when he's not here.

I know I am a better mom because I got divorced. I see it. My friends see it. I feel it in how patient I'm able to be with him, how much I want to do all the things he wants to do, whether it's playing with cars and action figures or dancing or watching funny cat videos. We walk to the gas station once or twice a month now, the one at the end of our street. There is a little case inside with all manner of ice cream bars and popsicles. I started taking him a few years ago and would never get anything for myself, because I was always so worried about calories. "Why don't you get something, Mommy?" my son would ask. "Oh, I don't want any," I'd lie. It was about control and just doing for him, and not doing for me.

I get the ice cream bar now.

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