Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Another reason to feel like shit if you're a divorced mama

A few days ago, in order not to run out of things to write about on this blog, I signed up to receive news alerts from Google. Among other things, one of the topics I signed up for was divorce. This was very, very stupid of me as a divorced mama. There was an article on divorce's effects on children published in the Washington Post about a week ago that's generating lots of heated commentary. The author, Elizabeth Marquardt, is affiliated with the Institue for American Values, which I know next to nothing about except that from their website they appear to be some kind of conservative organization backing research on the glories of (hetero- only!) marriage and how much you suck if you divorce your spouse. I am not generally in the habit of taking what right-wing pundits say to heart. Nevertheless, it's hard not to feel like a complete asshole mommy once again for having left Sister's father and apparently doing her irreparable harm.

I suspect my angst is going to generate a flurry of comforting comments, which would not be unwelcome, but the reason why this article bothers me so much is that some of it really rings true. Marquardt cites a study where children of divorce complain that they become different people depending on whether they're at mom's or dad's house. Sister totally does this already, at 7 years old. At our house, she is generally well-behaved and polite, has chores that she does, uses table manners, that sort of thing. But I've witnessed her in her dad's care acting...perhaps "chaotically" is the right word. There's this element to her behaviour that is kind of wide-open, skating the edge between ebullience and out-of-control. I beat myself up sometimes thinking that she's going to hate me when she's a little older and I'm the disciplinarian, the one who enforces the rules. I know, I know, kids need structure, they feel more secure with rules, yada yada. But I worry sometimes that I'm overcompensating and being too strict. I dread the day that she tells me she'd rather live with her dad and grandparents than with me.

It wasn't an easy decision to leave the Ex 6 years ago. Sister was only a year old, still nursing even. The Ex and I had actually decided that Sister and I would move out for just a few months to see if that would help alleviate our very stressed marriage. I was discussing this on the phone with a good friend who asked me did I really think this would help or did I just need to decide to leave permanently. A good question--I realized in an instant that this leaving was for keeps. I wanted out. The Ex's mother sent me a letter pleading for me to stay and go to marriage counselling instead, that I was going to scar Sister for life, that she would never be happy. Ugh. A study had just come out then, too, concluding that children of unhappy marriages are still happier and healthier than children of divorced parents. I agonized over that, but ultimately decided that I just couldn't do it. The Ex wasn't abusive or anything, but I just couldn't stay with him in a miserable marriage, no matter who it was going to hurt. I told myself that it wasn't doing Sister any good to witness her parents being so unhappy, that she really needed more positive models, etc. But really I knew that it was an entirely selfish decision.

So here I am now. My life is great with a new baby and a marriage that shows no signs of wear at all, to a husband I adore. But it feels like Sister is only half a part of it since she's gone nearly half the time. Scratch the surface and my life is odd and tense. I hope desperately that Sister will be o.k., that somehow we'll do this the right way and she'll grow up not feeling the 2 halves of her life as that awfully separate.

In the meantime, I'm going to stop receiving news alerts about divorce.


Piece of Work said...

There are so many things to beat ourselves up about as parents, I'm sure being divorced just adds that much more ammunition. I don't know about any studies, but I can't imagine it would be better for Sister to live with miserable parents. She is going to do just fine. Yes, the divorce is going to be part of her life--but only part of it. There are lots of kids with divorced parents that have all survived just fine.

Sugarmama said...

I'm one of them, as a matter of fact, and aside from periods of indignant self-righteousness and fits of red meat eating, I feel like I turned out o.k.

Mommygoth said...

Oh, sweet girl. Sister is going to be just fine. She is safer and healthier not living in the house regularly with Ex, and you are saner and happier, which means that she is growing up with a Momma who has it together instead of one who is falling apart. Please don't beat yourself up about a decision that wasn't even really a decision - you would have withered inside if you'd stayed with him, and that could never have been good for anyone.

Sugarmama said...

Well that's for damn sure, mommygoth, but when I'm feeling especially sorry for myself I go into a fit of guilt about it all over again. Mostly Sister seems o.k., but it's damn hard to keep it together around her sometimes.

a nice jewish girl said...

I have noticed very much the same thing. That sister is in fact more chaotic in their care.
I have alot more respect for your school of raising children and i bet sister does too.
I'll bet you that she never will chose her "other life" over what you provide for her.