Cultural differences. Familial differences. How could you ever say a person is wrong in their beliefs, traditions or values? And what do you do if one person in a relationship is satisfied with the chosen boundaries, and another is left feeling unfulfilled, unsupported, traumatised, even.
What do you do?
One mother may birth a child with the expectation that her job is simply to raise a child to adulthood and set her free when she comes of age. The child has been given life. She will be guided. She will be taught to fend for herself. But a mother is a mother, says the mother. Her boundaries are strict, yet fair, and she has no intention to provide for her child beyond basic care, until she dies. She has provided well, therefore, she has loved.
Another mother may birth a child with the expectation that her job has only just begun, and will never end. She is love, and she will give and give and give, in every way, to this child until her final breaths. She will provide the role of parent. She will provide the role of best friend and confidant. Her boundaries are far and wide: anywhere love lives, she and her daughter will wander, together, always. She has provided, therefore, she has loved.
What is a mother?
It is an individual question.
It is an individual answer.
And it is only one of the question answer combinations of life with no black or white answer to relieve us of conflict and struggle.
The rules of life and love.
There are none.
But there are many.
How easy it is to fight for our right to be right.
How difficult it is to find true peace amidst the chaos of life.
We had small children. Three and six years old: button noses, tiny hands. When my husband and I separated, we needed to because that was the next and only step we knew how to take. We’d forgotten how to breathe our own breaths, and breathing each other’s breaths had taken both our souls.
The first nights away from each other after 11 years together were strange. We said, ‘How are we going to do this?’ Neither of us knew. We didn’t belong together, anymore, but we still loved each other…we didn’t know how to be apart. Not from each other, and certainly not from our children.
The children. I was ripped into a million flimsy shreds of soul tissue. I admit, a part of me was relieved at the thought of the new found freedom I’d have when the children stayed at their Dads house. I’d have time to find myself. Time to learn who I was as a human being— I’d never truly done that before. The rest of me grieved for the half of my children’s lives that I would miss.
No one ever talks about that part when discussing divorce. No one ever presents the true reality of what ‘splitting the children 50/50’ means. It means missing precious moments, it means not being there to hold their tiny heads when they vomit, it means not being able to comfort them the way a mother needs to at a primal level. I was learning this new, startling reality for myself. It tore me to pieces.
A friend had mentioned how I might like to keep an open mind (and heart, perhaps.) That maybe down the track we might rekindle what we had—she had travelled a similar path and found joy on the other side of separation. A second chance with her husband. A new love for each other beyond the grey. They’d even gone on to have another child after the devastation had faded; which was lovely for her, I thought, but not a likely scenario for us. Our broken parts had solidified. There was nothing of the old us remaining to encourage us to remember the beautiful pair we once made.
Months passed and though I thrived in my new world, finding and learning to nurture new and beautiful parts of myself, I was depressed. My soul howled when my daughter cried for her Dad. Three years old. (I still ache when she picks up the photograph of him that laid beside her bed while she was without the real thing.)
Although there was no shame for me around the idea of divorce, I was crippled when it came to my daughter. My little girl is highly sensitive. I am too, and no matter which way I spun it: we would both lose if this separation continued. I couldn’t see how future good times would outweigh the depths of that kind of despair; it was a joint pain, mine and hers. We all know what empathy feels like, but my empathy goes to the extreme. I embody the pain of others, as if that pain is my own. As spiritually strong as I had grown in my life, even I wasn’t sure I could handle such a heavy dose of pain, every few days.
Then COVID struck. I couldn’t believe the timing. As if a marriage falling apart wasn’t enough pain and confusion to navigate, now the world was falling apart. Supermarket shelves were bare and people in the streets walked around with frightened eyes, wondering things they’d never wondered about others, before.
I’ll never forget the eerie feeling in the supermarket; shelves of silver I’d never seen beneath the normal abundance of household items, not a toilet roll in sight. It was a feeling of doom, is the only way I can describe it. A feeling of charcoal and cold-grey stone. Who had I been sharing the world with all this time? I thought I had known. Now, I was frightened by the realisation that I had no idea.
Fragile me both thrived and fell, during COVID. I used my skills in writing to entertain and help others learn more about books and writing while in lockdown, and this brought my life colour, confidence and inspiration. I became a version of myself I’d only ever dreamed of. Intelligent.Wild. Sexy. Empowered. Free.
Still, I was depressed. Divorce, and what divorce would mean for our family’s future, weighed so heavily on my mind. I tried to frame each negative I found with a positive, and yet always I would find myself back in the same place. Not home. Home, for me, was where my babies were. Where my family was. My husband was a part of that family, and divorced or not, I would be damned if I would allow us to become emotionally separate. So we started spending time together as a family, and though it was odd and uncomfortable at times, it was home. Both of us knew that, both of us needed that.
I sit here, perhaps eighteen months later, twenty-four weeks pregnant with our third precious babe: my two little ones in the next room, my husband at work. I often think back to that conversation with my friend, the one who told me to keep an open mind. It’s hard not to giggle, thinking of the absolute unlikelihoods that have come to pass. A healing marriage. A new member of the family on the way. It’s broken, beautiful life: messy and glorious, and it’s mine. It’s ours.
Is my whole soul entirely happy? No.Will it ever be? Perhaps not. I am, and always have been, as deep as the ocean, as free as a bird, as soft as a petal. Very few people, places, things have ever truly fulfilled me.
But there is hope and there is home. There is a beautiful, supportive husband, who truly is a magnificent human being and father. I adore him. He adores me. We are good.
And, of course, there are my babies, still so small, still so in need of their Mum.