Normalizing the Bad & the Ugly of Divorce

For a lot of people divorce is something to celebrate, an opportunity to start over and feel revitalized by the possibility of new opportunities.

Unfortunately, this is not how I felt, quite the opposite in fact. When my marriage ended, I felt such profound grief, anger, stress and, I admit it, much shame.

I am not sure if the stigma of being newly divorced was real or if I was just particularly self-conscious, but the fact that I became a single mom was a difficult adjustment for me. While it may be statistically true that over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, I can also affirm that I have felt very alone throughout this process, the odd duck, lost in the sea of happy families around me.

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To say that my divorce was an atomic bomb in my life would be an understatement. Suffice to say that it was rather unexpected, at least for me. Until then, I had truly believed that despite having some highs and lows, our marriage was solid enough and that we were happily raising three extraordinary daughters.

My belief in marriage can most likely be attributed to the people around me: my parents have been married for 49 years, my twin sister has been with her husband for 27 years already (and we are still spring chickens in my humble opinion so this number is staggeringly impressive), and even my younger sister just celebrated her 14th wedding anniversary. We are believers in the institution of marriage.

This is perhaps in part why the whole “divorced” label has been hard for me. I did not want to be in this situation and felt such shame that I hid this massive life event from social media for years, preferring to let my distant acquaintances infer that my loving hubby had mysteriously and quietly disappeared from our life rather than change my status and publicly announce that I was now a divorcée. Trust me, it is taking a lot of courage and counselling to write so openly about the end of my marriage.

At the core, I felt like I had failed my children and, when I was feeling particularly raw—and maybe a tad dramatic—that somehow, I had ruined their entire lives. I felt guilt, a gut-wrenching, wake-up-at-night kind of guilt. And whether this was founded in reality or not, I felt loss in every aspect of my life.

My kids would never again take part in a family picture shoot. They would no longer open presents with two sets of doting eyes to watch their every move. I felt like our family stories were lost, and our traditions and routines were forever changed. It was overwhelming.

Beyond the fact that I was obviously dealing with massive trauma-like emotions, I sometimes wonder if my difficulty in adjusting to my new reality may also have been exacerbated by a whole host of societal systems that continue to promote the venerable institution of marriage, especially in the parenting world, and to depict divorce in an unduly superficial way.

I did a quick Google search of some parenting magazines and found the number of articles that talk about divorced parents are staggeringly low. So low that one could say that they are nonexistent, except for the occasional article about how to co-parent successfully or the occasional advice column with tips on how to find a good lawyer (how one can possibly afford said lawyer is rarely addressed).

And yet, despite this dearth of acknowledgement in the media on how hard it can be to navigate divorce, I know that I cannot be the only one who has had to grapple with some of the challenges that come with being a single-parent. Even filling out a registration form for extra-curricular activities has become an ordeal for us. Usually there is only one spot for contact information/pick-up information, and yet for our kids there were suddenly two of everything.

Weekends and holidays can be particularly difficult. It is not easy to see families riding their bikes down the street when you are without your children. Sure, it is nice to sleep in a bit and have the house stay clean for a bit longer than the nano-second it usually takes to mess it up again, but sometimes it almost feels like I am childless, a much-too-young empty-nester. Not spending Halloween with my kids two years in a row has certainly caused me to eat far too many candies on my own.

The challenges of co-parenting are undoubtedly what I was most unprepared for. Like the professional and competent person I thought I was pre-divorce, I read all the articles I could find expounding the importance of communication, about remaining close friends and putting the kids first. The problem was that once again, my reality did not come close to this Pollyanna version of divorce.

For me, co-parenting has been near impossible, a way to truly become aware of why our marriage failed, and how diametrically opposite our values and morals are. This too made me feel such shame because I again felt as though I was the only one facing the daily hurdles of making co-parenting decisions with someone who refused to communicate. I seethed alone as I learned to accept that my children were sleeping on the living room floor at a “new” friend’s place rather than in the safe cocoon of the home I had made. I felt total rage, profound sadness and powerlessness when obliged to parent with an ex who went from loving me to hating me at Mach speed.

In my experience, co-parenting can be hell, both on your stomach lining and your bank balance, as you navigate a legal system that charges $300 an hour to get you through the absurdly complex and emotionally taxing divorce process.

I am now on the other side of the hill. I am in the camp of saying that much happiness can come out of a divorce. Finding a new supportive and loving partner or seeing my kids relax after witnessing years of tension are but a few gifts that my post-marriage life has granted. My experience has shown me, too, that there can be so much shame and difficulty in navigating a world that is still built around the idea of a homogenous family unit and that amicable divorces are always possible if one puts in enough effort. I am proof that even with the best intentions, a divorce can be a source of much conflict and tension.

Although I am now one of the post-divorce (much) happier people, I am still conscious of those around us who may be hurt, scared, lost, sad, overwhelmed and alone as they ride the newly divorced single-parent roller-coaster and possibly encounter similar experiences to mine. Maybe if we were collectively more aware of the dark side of divorce, and talked more openly about the emotions and very real challenges that divorcés face daily, normalized mono-parental families in magazines, ads, and shows, we would help them get back on their feet faster than if we continue to pretend that everyone is in a great marriage with their 2.2 children and picket fence or experiencing a joyfully cooperative divorce.

I, for one, know that a more honest, rounded depiction of divorce would have helped me feel less alone and less shame as I grappled with my perceived double-failure at being happily married and harmoniously divorced.

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