I 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.