Sunday, December 14, 2014

Successful Divorce

I have what I would term a successful divorce.

My definition of successful?  My ex and I are able to co-parent our daughter with minimal conflict.  Our daughter is doing well, personally and academically.  And I don't carry divorce anger.

I love that last one.

Of COURSE it's important to me that Katherine is thriving - her health and welfare is critical to my own happiness.  By any definition, she's a well adjusted child: she's doing well academically, socially, emotionally.  She rolls her eyes at me like any tween and begs for an iPhone (not going to happen!) but she's warm and kind and funny and....happy.  When I worry and ask her how she is doing with the divorce, if I need to change anything to help her, she smiles and says "Mom, stop worrying.  I'm fine!"

I wouldn't have gotten divorced if I didn't think I could get to that place with Katherine - the place of giving her an excellent childhood despite divorce.  It's a critical part of my own happiness that she is doing well.

But the thing that makes my divorce the most successful, and that perhaps influences Katherine's happiness the most, is that I don't carry divorce anger any more.

It has been three and a half years since I faced my husband in a marriage counseling session and said, "It's over."  There was a LOT of anger that lead to that place, and a lot of anger that came after it.  I don't think that divorce can happen without a great deal of sadness and anger, and I am no exception.

But these three and a half years later, I'm not angry or sad about my divorce, and that is what makes me think that it was incredibly successful.


If you've read my blog for a while, you know that Bryan isn't a saint.  He's not a demon, but he's not the most involved father out there, either.  While he loves his daughter (of this I'm certain), that love does not extend to spending that much time with her, or helping with homework, or taking care of chores.  He pays me child support, but it is up to me to do 100% of school shopping, doctor's appointments, health insurance, homework, etc.  On his time, he lets her watch endless amounts of My Little Pony on Netflix and eat junk food (she reports that she rarely if ever eats fruit or vegetables in his house, actually).  She spends four nights a month (two weekends) at his apartment, and often two of those are spent at sleepovers at other kids' homes.

It is far from perfect.  She has a giant school project due on Tuesday, so she's coming home early this weekend (his weekend with her) to work on it here with me, because he can't or won't help her with it.

Since he moved out two and a half years ago, she has spent ONE school night at his house, and it was a disaster because he didn't provide lunch and she was late to school (he blamed her) and he was short tempered with her.  He said, "How am I supposed to get her to school when I have to go to work?" and "It's not my fault she was late - you know how hard it is to get her out of bed in the morning!"

He seems to have forgotten that I work full time, that she is hard to get out of bed every single morning (not just on his shift), and that I pack a lunch for her and get her to school on time every single day despite these things.

I'm repeating all of this because it's important to remember that I have a successful divorce without anger DESPITE THESE THINGS.


All too often, when I read about others' divorces or talk to other divorcees, the common theme is "He's a jerk and you'd be angry too if you were married to him and how dare he put me in that position!"  I get it.  I really do.  I could work myself up into quite a tizzy over Bryan's lack of parenting skills and effort.

This week, Bryan's car broke down on the day he was supposed to take her (in addition to two weekends, he has her on Wednesday evenings for three hours).  I said, "No problem, I'll take her to gymnastics for you."  I arranged to get off work early (which meant working from home late into the evening), throw together a home made meal (pasta with cream, smoked salmon, broccoli, and tomatoes - delicious and fast), and get her to gymnastics on time.  He said he would take Katherine the next day instead, but that morning informed me that the car wasn't fixed yet so he couldn't.  So I repeated the schedule of the day before, made breakfast for dinner (home made blueberry pancakes and eggs....a bit light on the veggies but I didn't have time to pop by the store the day before the way I'd planned!).  I found out that his car was fixed, so I said, "Great.  Can you take her to gymnastics today then?" and he said, "No, my car was broken down for a day so I got behind on some errands and I need to go to the grocery store."

Need I point out that he only has her three hours during the week, whereas I have her the rest of the time, and I'd taken his shift, which was my only three hour break in the week, and I hadn't gone to the grocery store either?!  Need I point out how inconsiderate of my schedule this was, and how lacking in parenting this was?  Need I point out that for a father who loves his daughter, he sure doesn't spend that much time with her, and doesn't go out of his way for her?  Need I point out that this is enough to make a sane person very, very angry?

I'm human.  It irked me.  And I was tired, and wanted some down time.  And I didn't get it.  Despite my comment, "I need to go to the grocery store, too, and I couldn't do that yesterday as planned...." he didn't budge.  I loaded up the child and the dog into the car, drove to gymnastics, got her settled there, took the dog for a walk while she tumbled and cartwheeled and bounced.  And then I got her home and got the laundry going, and then spent some time checking work email after she went to bed, waiting for the wash to be ready for the dryer before I went to sleep.

I could be angry that this is my life.  I could be really, really pissed off that Bryan is such a mediocre father, and that, just like in our marriage, there is no equality, and he does what is best for him without the remotest consideration that his actions impact other people.

But I'm not.  I'm not angry any more.


My divorce was filled with anger and sadness just like other people's divorces.  I won't go into the rest of the details here, because I've covered it elsewhere on my blogs, but the anger was real.  I only mention the recent irksome behavior to point out that it's still a part of my regular life: divorce did not change Bryan into a fantastic human being and an amazing father.  He is still the man who inspired me to divorce him.

But I'm not angry.


I think that the key to my success - happiness with life - is that I decided, while still in the divorce process, that if I was going to put myself and my daughter through the pain and suffering of divorce, I had to use that pain and suffering to get to a really great life.

When I'm angry, I feel miserable.  That burning feeling, the focus that anger brings, the mental refrain of "it's not fair!" and "how dare he!" is all consuming, and I loathe that feeling.

I want to feel joy.  Gratitude.  Peace.  Laughter.  I want to focus on all of the good things going on in my life.  I want to be truly present to the small moments ("Wow, I can't believe that Katherine can move her body like that!" and "This smoked salmon is so delicious!" and "This song makes me feel like dancing" and "Oh I solved the problem at work!" and "That sunset is gorgeous" and "I love putting up the Christmas tree!") and not be stuck in the mire of anger.

I do not know how to lead a happy life while feeling resentment about my marriage, its end, and the divorced life.

And I really, really, really want to be happy.


I spoke to a UU minister the day before I asked for my divorce; she is the only person I told prior to telling Bryan.  I told her, "I'm SO ANGRY!" - angry at Bryan, angry that I had to get a divorce, angry to find myself leading NOT my dream life, angry that it should have been so different.  She said something wise to me in that moment.  She said:

"Your anger has served you well: it was your body's way of telling you that you needed to change things, that things were not well.  But now you've used that anger to create change, and the anger doesn't serve itself any more.  It's time to let the anger go."

At first, I thought that she was crazy.  "Let it go" is a Disney song (not yet released at the time of that conversation, but still!) and if it was that easy, well, life would be a lot easier!  I wanted REAL advice, something helpful, and I got "let it go"?!  I thought surely she'd lost her mind by passing along such watered down platitudes.

But it stuck with me.

It took a long time for her advice to sink in with me, for me to understand the message.

I think that the simplest messages are the hardest ones to understand, and this simplicity was deceptive, because it's one of the most complicated things I've ever done.


I do it imperfectly, but overall, I think I've finally let go of most of the anger around my divorce.

I have some sadness - I never wanted to grow up, get married, have a child, and then get divorced! - but I am much more focused on the joys of my life than I am that sadness.  I just don't feel burning anger any more, not because things are simple, or because Bryan is a model ex-husband, or because my life is otherwise perfect.  I am not Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce, friends with my ex and full of respect for him.  My happiness doesn't come from the situation, it comes from the decision to be happy.


When Bryan bails on Katherine - and hence, on me - I reframe it this way:

Man, he's a mess.  I'm so glad I'm not that much of a mess.  He doesn't realize how he's missing out on so much of Katherine's life - she is such a great kid, and he hardly spends any time with her!  I'm so glad that I have the capacity to be there for her.  Look at me, I'm Wonder Woman!  I can go to work, make the home made meal, and get my daughter where she needs to go, and still find time to read a book or go on a date.  Yay, me!  I'm so glad that I can show up for Katherine in that way.  And I won't say a word to her about it, because she doesn't need to hear that her dad's a schmuck - she can see it anyway.  Too bad for him that he doesn't see what he's missing out, but lucky me, I get to spend more time with my daughter.  Let's go!

I have friends who think that I'm giving him too much, making his life too easy, with my behavior.  He drops the ball, and I pick it up.  He doesn't manage, so I manage.  He leaves all the heavy parenting to me.  Is it fair?  No way.  Do I make his life easier?  Absolutely.

For Christmas, he will come to the party that I throw, and eat my food and drink my drinks.  He will sit by my Christmas tree, and likely make rude comments (it cost too much or it's too traditional or it's too big or there are needles below it and he hates the needles on the floor or the tree skirt is too girly or trees are such a waste of time - I've heard it all).  He will not only eat my food and drink my drink, he will ask for special things and put down other things ("What?  Don't you have scotch?  Man, it's Christmas!" or "What's this salad for, rabbit food?!") even after he helps himself a bit too much to the bottle of Maker's Mark that I put out, leaves his dishes all over the house, asks me to get him another drink as he calls out from the sofa.  Seriously?!

And I'll let it all go.  Sometimes I'll say, "No, sorry, I don't have that," and sometimes I'll say "Help yourself," but I won't say a word as I clean up his messes, and I won't respond to his jibes.

I'll look to Katherine, to her face as she delights in Christmas.  I'll turn to my friends, and we'll catch eyes and they'll go "Is he kidding?" and I'll cheerfully say, "Nope!" and they'll say "I don't know how you do it!" and I'll say "I'm Wonder Woman.  It's a skill," and we'll laugh together.

And I'll feel sorry for Bryan, who doesn't realize that everyone sees his behavior, not just me, and that it reflects poorly on him.

I'll look at my beautiful tree, my happy daughter, my room full of friends, and I will smile that this is my life.  I will enjoy the food - a combination of delicious treats like fondue and chocolate torte, combined with healthier kale salad and fruit salad with pomegranate and satsumas - and be pleased.

This is my definition of a successful divorce.  My life isn't perfect, but I'm not angry any more.  I'm thriving, and my daughter is thriving.  I see more good than bad.

But I wouldn't be human if I didn't look at his behavior, and mine, and think "Buddy, you never had it so good as when we were married.  In the divorce, you got stuck with yourself, and I got this beautiful new life.  Lucky me, because now I only deal with you sometimes, and not every day!  It must stink to be you."

Well, I never said I was perfect or a Zen master.


  1. I agree; during a divorce, your child should always be your top priority. You have to protect her at all cause, and ensure that she is fine, emotionally and psychologically. And it’s good to know that she’s doing very well, despite of the new changes that has happened to her life. She’s a brave one; and I’m sure you’re very proud of her.

    Audrey Butler @ A. GoodBlatt

  2. I think it’s your daughter’s sunny disposition that helped you most in coping with your battle. And I find her amazing as well. At the very young age, she is matured enough to understand your situation. So at the very least, you didn’t have to pretend and say that you’re okay, when you’re clearly not. Aside from that, you have someone who will give you strength on every odds you might face. Thanks for sharing!

    Sammy Jackson @ Ken Phillips Law

  3. I'm glad that you don't carry unnecessary anger. I'm sorry that your ex-husband hasn't been the responsible father you've thought of him to be. You're very strong to have looked at that situation in another perspective, PollyAnna. A divorce is truly not worth having unhealthy feelings for. Katherine is so lucky to have a wonderful mom like you. Thanks for sharing that! All the best! :)

    Joanne Krueger @ Kurtz And Blum