It has been nearly three years since I left my marriage. It was the most difficult decision I have ever made, and one with the highest cost I’ve ever had to pay. You might say it was ‘Hobson’s Choice’ – the choice you have when there is really no other choice. When my marriage ended it wasn’t from lack of trying – we’d been in counselling since 2012, after all. But when all avenues have been tried and the pain being caused to all parties is greater than the benefit of staying, well, at some point you have to call ‘time’.
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No one walks away from a marriage lightly. No one launches a grenade into their family on a whim; but still, I had no idea at the time just exactly what the price would be for that decision, though all things considered it was still the only decision that could have been made.
With the decision to walk away came the death of the dream.
The death of the dream
Everything I had hoped for my family, the dream I had for my kids’ childhood, the ideals I had tried to live by, all the ways I believed a good family should be – dead.
It was like a fire ripped through my life and left me surrounded by smouldering ashes and I’ve been trying to salvage what I can ever since.
It was like our family had been smashed into pieces and I’ve been trying to pick those pieces up and form them back into some semblance of a whole, but they are jagged and splintered and all I have in my hands are the shattered bits of what once was.
A counsellor told me that the grief which accompanies divorce is called “disenfranchised grief” – the kind that is hidden and unnoticed by most people – not the kind where people turn up with flowers.
At times the grief has been completely debilitating. There are some days I stand in the ashes of my family and feel completely overwhelmed, helpless and hopeless because sole parenting is hard. Parenting teenagers is hard. (Sole parenting three kids with ADHD who are mostly teenagers – well, you can imagine.)
Some days I count my losses. Too many friendships I thought would stick but didn’t, the loss of our family home, family friends, being part of a couple team, but most of all the loss of that unbroken dream family. Counting the losses hurts.
Some days what I need to do is stop counting my losses and count my blessings instead – I have a handful of precious friends who stuck with me through the fire, I still have my kids, I still have my faith. Though much has changed I have new blessings – new job, new home, new dog. There are still many blessings in my life and much to be thankful for.
My dream of a picture-perfect nuclear family may be dead but we can still rescue the broken bits that are left and rebuild them into something new. It might not be the dream, but it’s something. Below are some things that help glue us together.
Having a dog
Yep, getting our goofy dog was the best decision I made after my marriage ended. The kids may squabble and disagree on most things but they agree 100% on how much they love our dog, Clyde. Clyde is glue.
Being around family
One thing I realised at Christmas was that we feel more like a family when we are around our wider family. When we hang out with our cousins, it’s like, “oh there we are! We are still a family.
We have not been able to have ‘fire nights’ at the townhouse we moved into and we have missed them so much. I didn’t realise just how much sitting around a fire toasting marshmallows and playing games together helped us feel like ‘us’. We are moving house again at the end of June and one of the things the kids are most looking forward to is being able to have Fire Nights again.
One of the things I have struggled with is cooking dinners for my ungrateful unappreciative hoards, so I got in the habit of not really trying. I would dish up the same tired fare on rotation week after week; I wouldn’t bother to lay the table, just let everyone disappear off to their rooms with a plate. Bad idea.
About a month ago in a fit of desperation and amid growing complaints from the inmates, I signed up for one of those food boxes for three nights a week and it has revolutionised our dinnertime. It takes the mental load off meal planning and I am maybe starting to enjoy cooking dinner just a smidge. Bonus – we are eating at the table together again and that is like glue.
Finding new family goals
Some things that I thought would be glue for us are still hard work – like holidays. I have not yet managed to pull off a successful holiday together. It’s just no fun and tent camping is way too much work for one mum on her own. In an attempt to build some new holiday memories I tried booking a cabin at our favourite former camping spot but was disappointed at how we struggled to enjoy it.
Feeling frustrated sitting out on the deck with a cuppa I observed the family in the cabin next door – a single mum in her fifties, with three grown up kids who actually seemed to be enjoying each other’s company! They were cooking together, playing cards, teasing each other good naturedly… it gave me hope. Maybe one day we will achieve this. That mum and her kids became my new family holiday goals. (I rebooked a cabin for next summer; we live in hope and will keep trying).
Letting go of the shoulds
Something I have to learn to do is to let go of the ‘shoulds’. When I compare what I manage to achieve as a single mum with how well I think I ‘should’ be doing the sense of failure is crippling and I lose all sense of hope.
If I let go of the ‘shoulds’ (and being worried what people might think of how well I’m doing) then I find that the load is not too heavy, the task is not too daunting and maybe I am not unequal to the task of parenting these children after all.
I have to hold onto hope – hope gets me through. Hope that things will get better, that this will get easier, that my kids will come through this and be okay. I have to let go of the picture I had, that dream picture of my family – it is no longer helpful. I have to get a new picture for us, a new dream that fits our reality. This, I’m still working on.
The simple thread of kindness
To finish, I’d like to share with you an excerpt from an article by John Pavlovitz –
“[All around us people are] grieving and worried and fearful, and yet none of them wear the signs, none of them have labels, and none of them come with written warnings reading, I’M STRUGGLING. BE NICE TO ME. And since they don’t, it’s up to you and me to look more closely and more deeply at everyone around us: at work or at the gas station or in the produce section, and to never assume they aren’t all just hanging by a thread. Because most people are hanging by a thread—and our simple kindness can be that thread.
We need to remind ourselves just how hard the hidden stories around us might be. We need to approach each person as a delicate, breakable, invaluable treasure—and to handle them with care.
As you make your way through the world today, people won’t be wearing signs to announce their mourning or to alert you to the attrition or to broadcast how terrified they are. But if you look with the right eyes, you’ll see the signs. There are grieving people all around you. Go easy.”
The full article originally appeared here – From the Ashes.