Image by Victoria Al-Taie

Like a hidden pearl in an oyster shell, there is some magic in divorce if you look hard enough. Through the slime of complex emotions, rotating schedules, and a new normal that feels anything but, if you can find a way to dig it out, this divorce thing can produce some magnificent treasures.

Most families quickly fall into patterns that become the stories of their lives. We need these patterns and routines to make the day-to-day run smoothly. And even in this modern, more egalitarian age, many families fall into the old-school trap of the mom doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to parenting.

It was definitely that way in our family right from the start. Between Mick’s crazy schedule and his vaguely hidden terror of newborns and me not working outside the home initially, it made sense that I did most of the caretaking of Sammi. And I was happy to do it!

Taking My Motherhood Job Seriously

I had longed to be a mother and felt so fortunate that I was afforded the luxury of being home with her. So against all my feminist leanings, we settled into very traditional family roles, with me spending a lot more time with Sammi than he did.

What I hadn’t bargained for was the toll that would take. I had worked as a hospital social worker, a child abuse investigator, a therapist at a university counseling center, and a school social worker, but all of them seemed a million times easier than being a full-time mom.

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But motherhood was my job now, and I took that very seriously, throwing myself into making sure I got it all right. But, like any job, after you do it for a while and get into a groove, you kind of put it on autopilot. Not that I was checked out by any means, but I’d be lying if I said I was fully present all the time either.

I stopped paying attention to the way her face lit up when I told her she could play in the sandbox at the park (even though that meant bringing half of it home in my car), and after what felt like the millionth time down the damn slide, seeing her giggle sort of lost some of its magic.

I know this is not what moms are supposed to say, and I feel like an asshole admitting it, but it’s true. I was physically there. I was smiling. But I wasn’t taking it in. I mean really, how many times can you be expected to play Candyland with Disney-level enthusiasm?

But once the separation happened, those moments took on a greater importance. I never imagined a reality where I didn’t get to kiss my kiddo every morning and tuck her in every night. But now there would be days that I didn’t get to see her at all, didn’t get to hear what book she was learning to read or who she played with at recess.

And I missed it. A lot.

Her Absence Made Me More Present

It felt like I was missing huge chunks of her life when she was gone, and it killed me. But when she left, it was also like the reset button was pressed. My mom battery was recharged so that when she returned home, I had the patience of Job, and I was the one begging to play one more round of Candyland before bed.

The reality of having to split time with her father gave me the clarity to see that I was guilty of the worst kind of arrogance, expecting that I would always have more time. I remember mindlessly scrolling one day and being slapped into reality when I read that I only had 940 Saturdays between Sammi’s birth and when she would turn eighteen. Her absence made me more present.

And according to Dr. Harley Rotbart, author of No Regrets Parenting, 260 of them are gone by her fifth birthday. Excuse me? That had to be wrong. But any parent knows that the days are long, but the years are painfully short and flying by faster and faster the older your children get. And I was missing them; even when she was right in front of me, I was missing them.

Every Moment Matters

I wasn’t parenting with intentionality, which meant she wasn’t getting the best of me. Her world was tiny, and her dad and I were at the center of it. Didn’t she deserve for me to show up and be in those moments with her?

Those moments mattered. More than I even realized. I know that now because I have a teenager who still remembers our pizza-in-the-park Wednesdays.

The first one was born ten years ago from my guilty conscience. Sammi had been particularly whiny the night before, and after promising her earlier in the evening that we would play a game before bed, I decided that we both needed to turn in early.

“But you promised!” she wailed as I tucked her in.

“And we will, just not tonight. You need sleep and so do I!” I snapped, thinking that what I really needed was a glass of wine and an hour of glorious silence.

The next morning when I went to wake her, instead of the usual “good morning,” I was greeted with an angelic smile and a devilish “I didn’t forget about our game!”

Seriously? This is how we are starting our day? Clearly, I was still in the doghouse because of my broken promise, and I’d have to find a way to redeem myself.

Later that day, as pickup time approached, I thought about the afternoon to come. I had zero desire to go home and fall in the Candyland abyss, and it was a particularly beautiful spring day, way too nice to spend it inside. I decided that we would pick up lunch and head to a park.

Maybe pepperoni pizza and lots of swing time would get me back in her good graces. There was a yummy pizza joint and a nice park just a few minutes from her school. I called in an order of her favorite pizza, then stopped off at a convenience store to get the requisite barbeque chips and lemonade that had to accompany the pizza, and was feeling pretty confident in my plan. Yup, that oughta do it.

I could hardly contain my smug enthusiasm when she crawled into the car.

“Hey, bug, guess what? I’ve got the best surprise for you— it’s pizza in the park Wednesday!”

I totally made that up on the fly, but the look on her face told me it was a winner.

“Pizza? Yes!” she screamed, her face lighting up with excitement.

“I even got chips and lemonade!” I said, hoping that would seal the deal and get me back on her good side.

“This is awesome, Mommy! Are we gonna do this every Wednesday?” she asked excitedly.

“Yes,” I replied without missing a beat. “Yes, we sure are.”

Those days became ones that we both really looked for­ward to. For me, no matter what else was going on that day or week, no matter how much adulting stress was swimming around in my head, pizza in the park Wednesdays became our sacred time. I’m grateful that this idea came when she was so young because it helped me realize the opportunity I had been squandering.

Creating Memories

It hadn’t taken much at all for me to create a memory that she would carry with her. I’d love to say that we had long heart-to-heart talks and I imparted all kinds of priceless mommy wisdom during these afternoons together, but I’d totally be lying. We had some of those moments, to be sure, but these days were just about me being there in the moment with her and making sure she knew there was no place I’d rather be.

Divorce can also give you the most important gift of all; it can give you back you. As parents, we often put ourselves on the back burner, putting all our focus and energy into our children. Then divorce comes along, and we feel even more pressure to be the ever-present parent to make up for the family that we fear they are missing.

We tend to forget that divorce thrusts us into a scenario where you are on twenty-four seven when your kids are with you. There is no one to tag in when you have had a rough day, when you are sick, or when you are just emotionally spent. It’s all on you.

And that’s a lot, even for the most patient and enthusi­astic parent. I know that I felt a ton of guilt the first time I felt myself exhale after dropping Sammi off with her dad. As ashamed as I was to admit it, I was so relieved that I would have some time to myself, some downtime to do the things I needed to do to take care of myself without feeling like I was somehow cheating her.

It took a while for me to recognize that this time was my opportunity to practice the kind of self-love that enabled me to do the hard work of becoming a better person for myself and my daughter. The time that she was away gave me the space to nurture the most important relationship of all, the one I had with myself.

Divorce had done a number on my confidence, my self-image, the whole outlook I had on myself and my world. To have blocks of time when I wasn’t responsible for parenting gave me permission to focus on healing those wounds.

Getting divorced was one of my biggest fears come to life. I never imagined that in it, I would find the space to love my baby girl and myself in a way I didn’t even know we needed.

Wisdom Recap:

Show up and be in the mo­ment with your child. The moments don’t have to be big—they just have to be. And they will make a difference.

Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Adapted with permission.

Article Source: 

BOOK: It's Not About Us

It's Not About Us: A Co-parenting Survival Guide to Taking the High Road
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book cover of:  It's Not About Us by Darlene TaylorPart memoir, part survival guide, It’s Not About Us shares with hilarious honesty her imperfect attempts at forging a new path for her family after divorce. Darlene Taylor provides 15 nuggets of co-parenting wisdom, including: * When to make decisions solo and when to consult your ex; * The worst thing children of divorce beg you not to do; * How family and friends can help; * The surprising lesson from a boyfriend’s ex-wife; * The most impactful decision you can make.

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About the Author

taylor darleneDARLENE TAYLOR is a first-time author whose superpower is helping people see the very best in themselves and achieve things they never thought possible. Since 2010 she has worked as the conductor of the crazy train called postdivorce parenting, hoping that her ten years of experience as a clinical social worker would keep the train from derail­ing. She has managed to keep the train on the tracks while rocking out this mom thing, shaping young minds as a gender studies professor at the University of Cincinnati, and helping people become the best versions of themselves as a personal trainer and wellness coach. These days, she is doing her part to leave the world better than she found it through her work as a diversity consultant.

Visit her website at