When I got divorced in 2013, I was most worried about how it would affect my two young children in the long run. As a single mother, I knew that I would try my best to provide for my children, but I was also burdened with guilt because I was aware that my decisions were having a significant impact on their lives.
Years had passed in my marriage before the word of divorce finally surfaced. I used to attribute my marriage issues on being a military spouse to our way of life. When one partner of a pair lives in Virginia and the other is constantly on the road, it might be difficult to find a solution to long-standing problems. But when we sat across from our third marital counselor, I believe we both realized that the true issue was us and that we would still be having problems even if the military hadn’t intervened. My marriage ended shortly after that moment of clarity.
I have never supported the idea of staying in an unhappy marriage “for the kids.” I even told myself that I was acting in the other way. I was leaving partly because of the kids. My son was nine and my daughter was five, and I didn’t want them to have to endure hearing their parents fight throughout their formative years. I didn’t want kids to believe that was how a relationship ought to be. I didn’t want kids to see their sad parents as they grew older. Both they and I were entitled to better.
However, when the kids and I moved into a Virginia Beach apartment that was only half the size of the only home they could remember, when they switched schools, and when I had to budget every penny because I was living paycheck to paycheck, I began to worry that perhaps the effects of the divorce might be worse on my kids. My shame as a single mom began to set in at that point.
Saying no to the kids’ requests for items their peers owned was only part of it. It involved more than only moving from a house with a yard to a second-floor flat. More than just becoming used to spending weekends with their father was at play. I was stretched too thin, more than anything. The thing that worried me the most was that I wasn’t able to give my kids the greatest version of me during their most impressionable years.
When I began to feel as though we had all grown accustomed to the custody arrangement, my ex-husband was ordered by the military to go abroad. I enjoyed not having to give my children to their father on Saturdays, but I also missed having weekends to recover from the week. I had to take on the role of two parents full-time. I had no relatives in the area to help, and I was a single mother working full-time as an associate editor and writer for a website. I was lonely, worried out, and worn out. I didn’t want to be the kind of mother I was.
I used to worry that the kids would notice how miserable I was in my marriage, but then I started worrying about how unhappy I would be after my divorce. Not even that I was unhappy played a role. In fact, I felt more empowered than I had in a long time because to my newfound freedom and independence. The specific kind of exhaustion, however, eclipsed everything else I was experiencing on my journey to a better life because I had nothing left to devote to myself between caring for my children and working.
I wasn’t sure at the moment how much my kids were aware of or how they were processing what they saw, but I knew as they grew older, the more they would notice. I kept telling myself that since I was their main role model and they were watching, I needed to get it together, be strong, and maintain my composure in front of them. I couldn’t let them witness my disintegration. My guilt over being a single mother tormented me, but in a strange way it also motivated me to keep going, to be patient, and to cling to the hope that things would get better and the kids would be okay.
Years went by, and life did really get easier, and the guilt lost some of its hold on me. I received a promotion at work and was able to stop living paycheck to paycheck. My kids were able to call the man I met their stepfather. We vacated that residence. But the guilt never quite left me; it always lurked just below the surface, ready to pounce at the slightest tween mood swing or teenage slip-up. Even though my children were developing and doing well, even though they both graduated from high school with grades higher than an A, and even though acceptance letters for colleges started to trickle in, I couldn’t get rid of the idea that every negative experience my children had was a direct result of the things I was unable to provide for them when I was a single mother.
It wasn’t until my kid started preparing for his impending college drop-off as the weeks became into days that I realized what had happened. All those years ago, my children were watching me, just like they are now. However, it wasn’t what I had feared that they had taken from my years as a single mother.
I started to understand that they had observed me toiling away to build a new life for myself. They had seen me stick to a spending plan, save savings, pay off debt, slog through the mud to discover pleasure, and establish a family dynamic that placed an emphasis on open communication and mutual support. They may have seen me crumble, but they also saw me get back up.
Both of my children are responsible with their financial planning and appreciate the value of setting aside money for the future. Although she is too young to work, my 15-year-old daughter begs me to perform extra household duties so she can earn more money from me when she wants to make a purchase. My kid had two jobs by the time he was a senior, which helped him save money for college.
My children struggled during the lockdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as do most teenagers. Their buddies were missed. Both of them participated in athletics that abruptly ended. So that no one felt alone in their feelings, I instituted “mental health checks” where everyone in our home randomly asked each other to grade our mental health.
When schools resumed, they found it difficult to adjust to once again attending classes in person while also being concerned about contracting COVID. We talked more about how grateful we were for each other’s support as a family and how grateful he is to be able to attend college during such a trying time after my son wrote an essay for his college applications regarding those problems. Despite the pandemic changing the most crucial years of high school for him, he persisted, maintained a good GPA, learnt how to keep an eye on his mental health, and eventually made it to the university of his choosing.
So when we traveled a few hours from our Virginia home to my son’s college campus on a Thursday in August, I had no doubt that he was prepared. The next day, I helped him unpack as he set up his dorm room. I then gave him a final embrace and left him to be the man I had nurtured. I breathed out, allowing myself to finally let go of the single mom guilt I had been holding onto for so long as I got in my car to drive myself back home without my firstborn.
I came to the realization that my children not only survived my divorce, but also thrived, over ten years after my initial concerns about how I would manage as a single mother began to surface. And realizing that helped me let go when I sent my son off at college that Friday afternoon.
My now-18-year-old kid was starting a journey that he would design on his own, just like I did following my divorce. In a few years, my daughter will take his example and follow suit. Guilt over being a single mother is no longer necessary. The kids are truly doing fine. better than okay And despite my difficulties and my worries, I am incredibly proud of my children—as well as of myself as a single mother—for developing into the persons we are today.