DIVORCE:

Redefining Motherhood After Divorce

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A mother talks her shifting role in light of divorce. — By Kathleen Wiebe

{Part 2 of our 2-part series on Family and Divorce}

“In My Universe”

My children challenge me all the time to be creative, to trust in the unfolding of life, to participate in the evolution of consciousness that happens when we allow ourselves to continue to grow and grow and grow. But nowhere is this reevaluation and evolutionary consciousness more tested than right now, now that their father and I have uncoupled, now that we no longer live as a nuclear family under one roof, and now that my boys spend chunks of time away from me. In this new configuration of family life, with this adjusted description of mother, I have to be okay with being separated from my children. I must confidently and happily (ha!—that took some time, you’d better believe it) let them go into the care of a man whom I don’t want to live with any longer.

“Why?” asks Secundo when I explain that it will soon be time to go to his father’s house.

“Because it’s his turn to love you and take care of you,” I say.

“I’m gonna miss you, mumma,” he says in my arms, dropping his head onto my chest when it’s time to go.

“I’m gonna miss you too, honey,” I whisper, sniffng his hair, which smells of summer and little boy. I am happy to notice that I have become strong here. “And I love you so much.”

“I love you, too, mumma. As big as the moon.”

“I love you when I’m with you,” I tell him. “And I love you when I’m not. I want you to have fun when you’re gone. You know I’ll always be here when you get back.”

With that, he zooms in for a kiss and goes happily to his father. He is learning, at such an early age, that life includes these separations, that it’s okay to feel sad and to express his feelings, that longing is part of life, that he can feel all of this and still be fine.

And then I go into another part of my life in which I am not their minute-by-minute caregiver, their referee, their leader and cheerleader, their constant companion, their plaything, their servant, their disciplinarian, their harpy.

Strangely enough, this is the most difficult piece of our new family arrangement. I find that I’m not quite sure what to make of the part of my life that doesn’t include the boys—two- and three-day stretches, usually every week. At first I felt absolutely lost, bereft, alone. I would find myself at a beautiful beach thinking only that they should be here with me. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so accustomed to the warm press of their bodies. It was a most painful withdrawal. When they’re with me, it’s a tsunami of noise, a whirlwind of activity. Without them, it’s quiet, static. Peaceful. Adult. I have stretches of time to ponder and think, to file my bills, to make a to-do list and actually tick off some items. I have time to work, to write, to practice yoga, to create my own agenda. It’s a bit of a double life.

When they’re away, I worry. Will they remember me? When they come back, will they know me? Will I know them? Will I miss out on something vital? Will they? Is it too jarring for them to move back and forth between homes like that? Is it okay for children to spend so much time apart from their mom? How can I meet their needs when I’m not with them? How can I know their needs when I’m not with them?

In these moments, grief begins to rise like a tide. I miss them. I miss how good I feel when I’m with them. I have a hard time swallowing as I recall Secundo pointing to the sky and shouting, “La luna! La luna!” at the top of his lungs when we were leaving the park the other evening. I cry because I don’t want to miss out on anything: how Secundo says reptile for riptide, and sea lemony for sea anemone. What if I miss the moment when that changes?

In my more rational mind, I see how this grief is really only about me feeling sorry for myself. When Primo’s not with me, he will share his joy with his brother, his dad, his dad’s girlfriend, a teacher, caregivers, friends. And I can enumerate all the benefits of two households and a variety of caregivers: A child’s resilience is built when he has several or many people who love him passionately; his confidence increases as he learns to make his way through the world; he receives a diversity of influences, models, and supports within his two homes. In short, I realize that I can never be everything my children need, or give them everything that they need to grow, even though, as all mothers do, I wish to.

Slowly, I’m improving. When I couldn’t bear to say goodbye in the early days of our separation, neither could they. Secundo, especially, aged two, used to act up on the days before leaving; he cried and clung to me when he saw his dad. It didn’t help that I was fighting tears.

Now, eighteen months later, I can finally see that the time when the children are not with me is simply a pause. It is as though our lives together go on hold, and we start again when they return, exactly where we left off. Except that we’ve all had a break from each other, and time, perhaps to rest, refuel, reflect, and certainly to anticipate reunion. Our times apart create breathing spaces that don’t occur in the hectic lives of other families. Really, it’s a gift. And I am trying not to look this gift horse in the mouth.

Happily, the children finally come back, full of hugs and kisses, stories, new words, experiences, curious to see what has changed while they were away. Primo charges directly to the garden, examines his peas for new growth. “Mom, Mom!” he shrieks. “Come here.” He shows me the plump pods. “Are they ready to pick?”

The other day the subject of conception came up. “An egg and a sperm,” I told Secundo. “That’s how you started. Then I carried you in my uterus until you were ready to be born.”

At dinner, Secundo climbs down from his chair and opens the refrigerator door. He pulls out the egg carton and points. “What’s in here?” he asks. I knew what he is getting at. “Those are just eggs; to make a baby chicken the rooster has to supply sperm.”

Secundo looks at me. “Before I was born, mumma,” he says, “you carried me in your universe?”

We laugh again. “I carried you in my uterus,” I say, sobered at the aptness of his words. The thing is, I do carry them in my universe. Wherever I go, they are with me, they are part of me. They formed inside me, from my genetic material. I birthed them, nursed them, and gave myself to them. I love them and care for them so selflessly that I am ready to let them go—I have to let them go—into their own lives. And in so doing, I come more fully into my own life, into my own universe, which I have only just started to explore.

Kathleen Wiebe is a 45-year-old college student in Victoria, British Columbia. She is doggedly writing novels while being a mother to two boys and studying to be a school teacher. Her essay is excerpted from the book, Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On, edited by Candace Walsh, former features editor at Mothering Magazine. Find out more about the book at www.askmeaboutmydivorce.com.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our children’s series, Ruby’s Studio: The Feelings Show,” which helps kids identify, express, and move through their feelings. We want to be a parenting tool…  For you!

Posted in: Divorce, Parental Wisdom

Comments (6)

  1. Karen Uyenco

    Your piece poetically hit close to home. I was not married to my daughters father but we were together for a bit until she was almost 2. You never expect or are fully prepared to not see your child’s face everyday. They days without her felt like my world collapsed. It was two separate lives like you said. She was my universe. I was almost less productive without her because I was so consumed by my feelings. It gets easier. Some weeks easier and some weeks harder. I’m finding now that she dreads school because she doesn’t get to spend them with me most of the days I have her. That’s been really tough. But your shared experience and words will help me see the positive. She has so many loving parents. A large extended family. She will be well taken care of and this “imperfect” part of her life will give her strength, humility, and emotional resilience. Thank you. Looking forward to your book.

  2. parentEASY

    What a powerful, honest and genuine article about the torment a mother endures when she first separates from the man she once loved. I have a 2 and 4 year old and they stayed with their dad this weekend and I cried most of the weekend. What a relief to see them on Sunday and see that they were happy and well adjusted. Thanks for being real about something so painful.

  3. Amber

    So encouraging. I hope to continue to come across more encouraging words as I am not currently having to divide my time, but unfortunately my husband and I have begun to grow apart and I will more than likely be splitting my time with our 6-month old beautiful baby boy. I dread this more than the divorce and my heart is broken in a million pieces, but I know hundreds of thousands of women who have to share their children with their husbands and I know I will be okay.

  4. Melinda Maxwell-Smith

    Thank you, Kathleen Wiebe. Not sure how I got your article in my in-box, but I’m so glad I received it. The specificity of your loving encounters with your boys makes the situation even more poignant. Your perspective is bound to resonate with other mothers (and dads) in the same situation. And… WERE those pea-pods ready for harvest?

    As a kid I bounced from the constant address of my mom to multiple houses (and girlfriends) of my dad. The maternal stability helped my brother and me through those uncertain times.

    Looking forward to your book.

  5. Mosa

    Thank you for your heartfelt and inspiring words. I’m very excited about your book. One of my biggest frustrations in being on a similar path is my unsatisfied desire to hear firsthand accounts from other parents navigating life post-separation. Sounds like the book is just that! Can’t wait!

  6. Stacey Wilson

    Wow, I have struggled with “sharing” my 3 boys with their father for 5 years now, especially because it also involves sharing them with his girlfriend. I was feeling cheated with the time I had to give up with them, even though I knew it was the fair thing to do. It helps so much to hear such reasonable, encouraging words from another mother in my situation. Sometimes it feels like no one else knows how I feel. I still feel very guilty about not being in their lives everyday. I am going to have to look for your book! thank you