Of all the parts of my impending divorce that I dreaded, telling my daughter was the part I dreaded most. I was keenly aware that telling her would not be a one time sit-down, but a slow unraveling—a peeling back of layers as the years marched on. As she gets older, there are new questions—different questions. Just as divorce was a shedding of an old life for me, it was the birth of a new reality for my daughter and that has not come without its challenges.
I vividly remember packing her tiny Frozen backpack for that first overnight. I sobbed in my car for an hour after they pulled away, trying to squash visions of her sleeping in a strange new bed. I still get choked up when I think of the nights I haven’t been able to tuck her into the bed or the boo-boos I haven’t kissed and bandaged. Co-parenting is the furthest thing from what anyone envisions when they decide to have a child. It’s one of the few times in life where you have to resolve yourself to go against your natural instincts—for years.
Still, as the years have passed, I have found it to be easy to be candid (albeit, age appropriate) with her. Recently, when she asked me if we were still a family even though we didn’t have the same last name, we made a list of all of our relatives and their last names—still family, always family. When she asks me why Mommy and Daddy can’t be together, it’s trickier, but we don’t side-step those conversations. We talk about the things that make us unique and special and how important it is to honor those parts of ourselves. I remind her that it’s okay to choose the friends who make us feel the best about ourselves. I want her to learn from my mistakes.
In the years since we started co-parenting, my ex and I have experienced some definite growing pains. I found the division of assets and time with our daughter to be the easiest part. We settled our own custody arrangement using a template we bought online—we checked off a series of boxes, I typed it up, we took it to the courthouse, and that was that. It wasn’t until we started living out that agreement that I realized you cannot put every parenting qualm into a contract.
My ex doesn’t see the value of dance class. He often keeps her up too late. He usually buys her a toy on his weekends and has created an expectation for material things I really can’t stand. There is a constant, unfiltered influence in my daughter’s life that cannot control—it’s not easy. However, I decided early, and remind myself often, that my daughter and I would not be victims of this experience. I want my daughter to look back on her childhood and value the decisions we made—that they meant less fighting, more people to love her, more fulfilled and happy parents. I think the only way to make this happen is to choose my battles.
I think I stayed married for years longer than I would have because somewhere along the line I subscribed to the narrative that a failed marriage reflected on me as a person, and a parent. Since my divorce, I have purchased my own home, excelled in my career, and met the man of my dreams. I have placed a premium on my well-being and I make sure my daughter sees that. I know that I have shown her that there is life after big mistakes. I hope that by listening to her concerns and giving her the answers she deserves, I am empowering her to be the kind of woman who can walk away from what doesn’t work and fully embrace whatever comes her way.