Around two years ago, I realised that what I was accepting in terms of my marriage was not an acceptable example for my children.
Did I really want them to develop their own ideas of what a healthy relationship was, based on my lead? The answer was a resounding, deafening no.
Desperate and Fighting
To understand why I believe - no, actually - why I am now a better parent than I was when married, you need to understand what the "before" was. Before divorce (BD), I was both desperate and desperately fighting for my marriage.
I had a lot on my plate. There was a hotchpotch of physical training three times a week to keep up with the younger female competition. There was the obsessive dieting to ensure that I didn't get a cauliflower for a bottom. There was a lot of going out drinking and clubbing with my (now) ex-husband and his friends or younger work colleagues to prove in some way that I was still fun and interesting, that I was still "with it" and had still "got it".
I was also maintaining a full-time job and trying to develop my career following a career break to have the children - and I was trying to meet the demands of my family hundreds of miles away - and failing because, in fact, they didn't really 'demand', they just quietly 'needed', especially when it came to providing care for my terminally ill mother. Oh, and trying to be the proverbial 'domestic goddess'.
Married - but Far from Engaged
I made sure that if I couldn't do a task, or didn't want to do it, that there was someone who would pick up the pieces. My husband certainly wouldn't, arguing that he worked full time and didn't have the capacity to help. I had an au pair, a babysitter, a gardener, a cleaner; for all external intents and purposes, I was a woman who had absolutely nailed it.
Only, I was not that 'present' with any of this - I was not truly engaged with any one thing. I ticked the boxes but, that is all I did; despite my best efforts - as I perceived them at the time - I was not actually being the best I could be. Instead of channelling all my energy into my children, I wasted it, fighting fires of disloyalty, anxiety, and fear of failure.
Making and Taking the Decision
The decision to ask for a divorce took five years. It was when the penny dropped and I realised that my husband's behaviours (and mine as a consequence) were never going to change, and not even if it was clear that they were negatively impacting our children. It clicked that I was facilitating these behaviours and it needed to stop.
I can recall the precise moment I finally accepted that this was it - the end. And the moment I delivered these three short sentences.
"I cannot do this anymore. We cannot go on like this. I want a divorce".
These were met with "you're overreacting / you're joking" responses, and so on. But I was not.
A Seismic Change
So, what has changed and why has this made me a better parent? Well, let's start with the fact that I no longer have an au pair. I realised that I was the best person for the job. It's been a seismic change, and not having an au pair has meant that I help my own children myself - and, because I no longer have to give my ex-husband my attention or fight the aforementioned fires, I have so much more positive attention to give to them. It is utterly brilliant. Exhausting but brilliant.
A Healthy Balance
I still work full time and so I have childcare organised to help facilitate this, but not to the extent that the childcare 'lives in'. My children have also learnt that we are a team and that I rely on them to help themselves and each other.
They now have a healthy balance which will stand them in good stead. My expectations of them are realistic. They know how to sort laundry and how to load and start the washing machine.
I no longer go out as much as I did. I am too busy 'adulting' and parenting to have time to hit the town. I value my spare time, and now as a member of a 'rearranged' (not 'broken') family, I have no need to prove that I am interesting or have still 'got it'. I am more encouraging and present for my children. I also have a new relationship and it complements our lives rather than detracting from the family unit. It adds real value. The children are witnessing a committed loving relationship for the first time, and they like it; I know because they tell me so. We spend more time with 'my' family, we have more adventures travelling together.
Divorce really has been liberating. The first summer that we were a 'three' and not a 'four', I travelled with the children to the south of France to visit a campsite where I holidayed with my mum, as a child. We explored the area as if it was a new world. Memory making, capturing moments of adventure, we climbed mountains, hiked up rivers, went wild swimming at night, and collapsed into bed each night sun-kissed, exhausted, and happy. I felt free. The children saw that we (three) were 'OK'; that mum could manage.
Growing Up and Understanding
Divorce is an ugly word, with horrid connotations. To get to the point of separation takes prolonged pain and deep hurt, but it does not have to be a wholly negative process. My ex-husband and I have worked hard to negotiate the murky waters of the process and despite the odd whirlpool (largely because of the opinions of others) we are nearly there.
Shrugging off the damp, cold, wet duvet of a broken marriage has meant that we both are able to be the parents our children deserve. I know that the children will grow up with the understanding that if they have tried their absolute best - as long as they can look themselves in the mirror; that they can answer to their own children - that they should not, and cannot stay, in an unhealthy relationship just because of the expectations of others that they should.
The one thing that makes my children sad is the transition - leaving one parent to go to the other. For that, I sometimes feel anger and sadness, but I know that being human is hard and that leaving anything good is difficult, and so that, if they feel uncomfortable at these times, then it is a testament to the fact that they are developing their resilience and emotional intelligence.
And so, we go forward.
But 'monkey see; monkey do'. Our children follow our lead.
We not only owe it to ourselves to live the best life we can but also to them.
Kim; far happier now than before. And whatever 'it' is, she's still 'got it'
(The author's name has been changed to protect their privacy)