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I’m getting a divorce—why am I thriving compared to the other moms I know?

divorced parents with child happy
fizkes/Shutterstock

A story that now feels familiar: two kids under five, two working parents, a global pandemic. A relationship strained to the breaking point, for these reasons and many others. Millennial parents, especially moms, have been pushed to their limits again and again. In the US alone we’ve faced shortages of formula, diapers and affordable childcare. Many of us have left the workforce, some by choice and some not. Those of us with caregiving responsibilities have been left with few options but to grid ourselves down and indulge in the occasional primal scream.

When my marriage started to show major cracks in 2020, I chalked it up to these factors, told myself “it’s just a season” and poured another glass of wine after the bedtime routine got especially tough. Seemingly, all my mom friends were experiencing the exact same stressors, and I would often hear validation that what we were living through was impossible, followed by a quick swap of podcast recommendations a good babysitter or some other solution that kept the responsibility on the individual and not the structural changes that needed to take place to actually support working mothers.

In my case, the pressure became too much and my ex-husband and I made the excruciating decision to divorce in the fall of 2022. It wasn’t acrimonious or bitter but it still felt like such a failure. I realized I had some deep-seated beliefs that giving up on my marriage would permanently harm my children, deprive them of a loving family, and leave me isolated and alone. Now, a year on from that choice, I’m reflecting on the fact that not only was it not a failure, I would say it’s one of the most successful choices I’ve ever made for me or my young family. Today, when I catch up with  fellow moms, I often hear that they are jealous of my new parenting schedule, which has afforded me the rare opportunity to travel and pursue some long-dormant passions.

The 24/7/365 nature of parenthood (particularly motherhood), may feel especially jarring to women of my generation who have invested so much time building rich inner-lives prior to becoming mothers. In many ways, I am experiencing this transition as an unexpected homecoming to myself, and getting to know myself again. I think the primary reason I am thriving today is that, unlike my married mom friends, I get actual, long, meaningful breaks. I’m not talking about a quick solo trip to the grocery store, or an annual girls’ weekend. Our custody schedule of one week on, one week off, has given my nervous system some actual time to reset after the collective trauma of the past few years. I often tell people who ask that I wish for them the divorced person’s schedule without the divorce itself. So ideally, find what those actual breaks can look like and build them into your life.

What my ex-husband and I came to realize is that while we still loved each other and the life we had built, we were no longer in love with each other. There were no more tweaks or life-hacks we could make that would replace being genuinely in love, and modeling that for our children. Like many of us, I had initially rolled my eyes at the concept of conscious uncoupling nearly a decade ago, but I have found that book and others like it to be helpful resources in this process. Below are some of the additional strategies and steps that have been pivotal for me during the process of designing the divorce I wanted.

Therapy

Do it alone, do it together. My ex-husband and I have done a lot of therapy (and continue to do so!) which helped lay a good foundation for our coparenting relationship. While divorce without kids may seem more like a bad breakup, divorce with kids isn’t really a breakup at all but rather a transition to a new form of relationship that you’ll have with your ex-partner for the rest of your life. Viewing my ex-husband as my teammate in raising our children helps us stay positive, collaborative and respectful, even when hard moments arise.

Communication

Something we did when we were married, and we continue to do, is have a weekly meeting where we discuss what’s happening in the week ahead, where we need support and share information.We also communicate with our children in age-appropriate ways, not giving them more information than they ask for. When we initially told them we were separating, we told them, “Every family has a different routine that works for them, and in our family we have a mommy week and a daddy week,” and then we got a color coded wall calendar to help them track it. That’s all. They have had some questions but we answer them honestly and age-appropriately and we keep it moving. We expect they will continue to have more questions as they age, and we’ll keep the dialogue open.

Mindful transitions

When we first separated, we used the nesting approach, where the kids stayed in the house and the adults transitioned in and out each week. We did that for a year and I think it was pivotal to supporting the kids’ transition. When things felt more stable, we moved on to having two houses and the kids switching back and forth. To support that transition, we typically spend Sundays together as a family and all eat dinner together before the kids switch.

Dropping the guilt

All mothers carry way too much guilt, and I would be lying if I said I don’t feel guilty at times that my children don’t have the “perfect nuclear family.” It can be a bit awkward at times explaining our situation to other parents at school, or even to family and friends who see divorce as a tragedy. I seem to wind up consoling others that not only are we okay, we are better than we were when we were in a seemingly perfect Instagrammable relationship. The truth I keep coming back to is, I want my children to see me being my authentic self. That’s nothing to feel guilty about.

It’s important for me to mark this entire piece with a huge asterisk that this approach comes from a place of enormous privilege. Many single moms are not single moms by choice, and it’s no exaggeration to say I think often about how those mothers do it with tremendous respect and admiration. As a white woman with a middle class background and a high level of education, I recognize the choice to leave my marriage was less fraught, and speaks directly to my own lived experience, which is drastically different from the lived experiences of others. There is so much power in women having the right to make the choices that support them.

As the child of divorced parents, I never imagined I’d wind up navigating a divorce of my own. Who does? But, as a result of a lot of hard inner work and reflection on how I can break intergenerational cycles of trauma, I can say that my divorce is quite the opposite of what my parents modeled, or what the popular culture would have us believe. I love my divorce, my divorce makes me happy and my divorce is a positive thing for my family. I hope it can be a positive thing for others who may be thinking about what the next chapter of their life could look like.

I am proud to say that I think we are building a better divorce than many people’s marriages—through open communication, putting our kids first and a high degree of mutual respect. While this approach is certainly not for everyone, I’m sharing it in the hopes that it can open a dialogue about the many forms healthy families can take, and the many ways mothers can build meaningful and happy lives.