As we discussed in the first chapter ― under the Rose Garden Syndrome ― some of us believe that we deserve to have it all work out like Cinderella. Let’s think about this: all we know about the prince in Cinderella is that he was good looking and had a great horse. We’ll never know if he was from a dysfunctional family or if he has problems with intimacy. Remember that they only met once at a ball, for heaven’s sake! But we do know that Cinderella suffered at the hands of the wicked stepmother and two stepsisters, probably the most evil and unattractive trio ever to inhabit a fairy tale. So Cinderella, by virtue of all of these trials deserved the good-looking prince on the great horse and all future happiness. Other than that, all we know about her is that she had tiny feet. Too bad we can’t revisit the prince and Cinderella on their 10th anniversary.
If you have not conquered the Rose Garden Syndrome, then you are in real danger of coming down with the chronic and fatal disease of single mothers ― bitterness. Unfortunately, there is no shot to prevent this disease, just hard work and a willingness to look back at your marriage, extract the good, forgive yourself and your spouse for the painful loss of dreams and move on.
Divorce can change a lot of things about your life ― your economic status, where you live, the number of presents under the Christmas tree. But, it cannot ― I repeat, cannot ― change you into a bitter person, unless you let it. Bitterness doesn’t just appear like a rash it is nurtured by days and years of dwelling on the bad, unfair, evil things done to you, going over them until you lose all perspective about yourself and others. Every one of us can think of a woman like this. She’s unhappy, bitter, alone and never has a kind word for anyone. She has a chip on her shoulder. She wonders why her children don’t like to visit (after all she did raise them alone, after their “no-good” father left). You do not want to become this person, for your sake and the sake of your children. Be conscious of the symptoms of this disease, excessive self-pity and sarcasm, as well as the belief that “everyone is happy but me”. If you have any or all of these symptoms run, don’t walk, to your nearest mental health clinic, find someone to talk to and work this through. This is the greatest challenge of a divorced mother, to take whatever happened and work through it until you make peace with it. There are terrible things that people do to each other, particularly when your private life is thrust into the legal system and the outcomes are often cruel and unfair. No matter what the result, resolve not to let it harden your heart and soul. In truth, how you come to grips with the end of your marriage and the new relationship with your former husband will determine, to a great extent, how well you emerge as a person and how well adjusted your children will be under your care.
No matter what has happened in your marriage or after, this man will forever be the father of your children. I am very fortunate to have a kind and caring second husband who has assumed the day-to-day role of father, shopping with my girls for prom dresses, walking them down the aisle at their weddings and everything in between and beyond. But rejection is a powerful thing and even in their absence, fathers cast a shadow over children’s lives. In absence there is longing.
On your worst days, when you are in a Queen for a Day mode, and you are wallowing in victimization, awash in chocolate chip cookies, it might make you feel better to think of your former spouse as Charles Manson and you as a saintly victim. Think about this – on no day is it to comforting for a child to think of their father as Charles Manson because they are linked this person by genetics, heredity and destiny. You, on the other hand, are linked only by choice and a contract that can be undone. Your children need to come to know their fathers, good and bad, on their own, not through your filter of the hurt and pain of a failed marriage. This is why it is so important to recall the good times of their baby years to give them some joy, however brief, in terms of their parents’ marriage.
There is another picture that I found recently, and I was struck by the hopeful, young faces looking back at me. It is in a hospital room the day after my oldest daughter was born. I am holding her awkwardly and my husband is sitting nervously on the edge of the bed. We are looking with awe and amazement at our new daughter. The three of us are frozen in time – young and hopeful. Hold on to that moment, forgive each other for lost dreams and pass on the hope to your children. They are the living proof of the good that was.
To Become – Formerly Married
1. Divorce cannot make you a bitter person – only you can do that
2. You are no longer a wife but your former spouse will forever be a father
3. Forgive your spouse and let go – really let go
4. Invent your future and don’t live in your past
This is an excerpt from “You’re It! Successful Single Mothering after Divorce.” Chapter Two, Part Two
Article by Jeanne L. Ward