The Elusive Happy Family

006I have an idea in my mind of a happy family. This image has caused me profound sadness. The more I reached for it, the more elusive it became. Divorce destroyed that image and for years I let the guilt of being the one who ruined everything hold me back from completely enjoying the family I finally made.

The family I was born into was not happy; I knew that because my mother yelled a lot. My dad wasn’t around much, maybe because he didn’t want to get yelled at. Or maybe my mom yelled because she wanted him to be home and he wasn’t. Mom probably had an idea of a happy family, too, and maybe she yelled because she was trying to make one and failing.

Growing up in discord made me long for a kind of special happiness, and that was my only goal: make a happy family. Be a better mother to my children than my own had been to me. Happy kids were key. My husband’s role would be to come home from work without stopping at the bar or being late for dinner. That was the recipe I put together and it worked just fine for awhile.

In my perfect family, the father had far less lines, many less opinions, than the man I actually married. My perfect husband was simply happy that WE were happy.

Men don’t come like that.

Being a better mother than my own took a lot of work, too. She kept an immaculate house, always had nutritious meals ready at regular hours, made sure we bathed and brushed our teeth every night, kissed our foreheads before bed. So I had to do all that plus add in what I’d craved as a child: kisses and hugs all day long, an abundance of love and acceptance.

Giving myself completely over to my family only worked for a little while. I had to be selfless, and that, I regret, is not in my nature. I left my husband and took my children with me. This brought relief and sadness. My kids were crushed and I had to live with what I’d done: I smashed my family. On purpose.

So there I was, 28, a single working mom. Despite long hours at my pink collar job as a secretary, my income hovered at the poverty line. I had not done better than my own mother. I had done worse.

I added things to my life–love, education, a better job, the freedom to write–that made me happier. I tried very hard to continue my most important task: to be a good mother. It was a balancing act, but I was determined that this time, no matter what, I wasn’t going to walk away from my marriage. I would stay married for my children’s sake. Just not to their dad.

Sounds a little crazy but I didn’t want to put them through any more drama. My new husband was a fully realized human with dreams, wants, and desires of his own, something I knew before I married him. This worked in our favor. A couple of times I felt I had to leave him or die. I didn’t leave and I didn’t die. I learned to ride out the rough times and my marriage came out the other side just fine.

My children grew into fine young men. I figured I’d fucked them up for good, what with the divorce and all the adjustments they had to go through. I braced myself for drugs or DUIs or other forms of rebellion. None of that happened. They never got in trouble, finished college with good grades, snagged great jobs, married women they loved. I don’t give myself any credit for any of this.

Well, except for maybe those extra hugs and kisses.


  1. Marriage is hard work. We write happily ever after into our romance books, but we don’t mention the rough roads taken to get there. We end our story with the promise, which can lead the naive into thinking it will always stay that way. I’m sure you are being hard on yourself. You gave your boys the security of knowing they were loved, and hugs and kisses. They wouldn’t be fine young men without that. So pat yourself on the back. : )


    1. I second that, Robena! Cindy, you are a fabulous friend and I am sure, knowing you, you were and are a fabulous mum too. Showing a child they are loved, valued, respected and cherished is worth more than all the material things the world has to offer. You gave them what they needed the most x


    2. Thanks Robena. Just when I think I’m done feeling guilty, there I go again…yes, I did the best I could and I made the right decision–with both husbands.


  2. I think we all have a dream of what our marriage will be, and in time it’s not going in that direction but we say it will get better and if you truly love someone it does fall into place. Ups and downs are here to stay we women have to deal with that. I always thought of marriage as a JOB that I LOVED and it got me threw the rough times There is no fairy tale to a marriage too many distractions in the end we look back and say I did the best I could with what I had there were fun times they come early then sad times when friends pass then kids grow up and move out your left with the one that stood by you threw it all


  3. I think you hit the nail on the head, Cindy. Kids need a lot of hugs and love. Both of those are more important than a constant stream of shiny new toys. They need us and all our imperfections. I always joke with mine that I work really hard not to be perfect because that would be too much pressure for them. Wouldn’t want to create an impossible act to follow. 🙂


  4. You are so right, Barb. I know a few folks who gave their kids everything and did them no favors. But it really was what I missed in my life as a child. Those kisses on the forehead at night just were not enough. I knew it then and I never forgot it. And soon, I will have a little grandson to hold and kiss and love! So excited for that.


  5. Wow. Amazing post. Marriage is hard, motherhood is equally hard. When times are tough, staying happy all the time seems impossible. I’m sure you made the right decisions with both husbands, and you must have done something right if you have two amazing men for sons!


  6. RoseAnn, thank you. I’m grateful for those 5 years I was a SAHM. I loved every minute with my baby boys. What nobody prepares you for is letting go…it’s a million times harder than I thought it would be.


  7. Give yourself credit, Cindy. Through all the ups and downs your sons knew you loved them and that you were doing the best you could. Kids know these things. They sense authenticity and they know love when they feel it. You laid the groundwork for them to become the men they are because they watched you grow and change.


    1. Thank you, Sharon. I have been trying to lay down this load of guilt I carry for a very long time. I hope you’re right and most of the time I think you are:)


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