During the process of divorce, especially at the beginning, life becomes almost exclusively about your children. Obviously for people who don't have kids or who have adult children, it's a different story, but I don't know what that's like. Living through both my parents' divorce when I was 11, as well as the last couple of years, I only have intimate knowledge of what it's like from my perspective.
Like so many couples, DH and I had brutal, nasty arguments before the separation. We tried our best to keep them away from the boys, though I know we weren't always successful. While we did our best to keep the energy off of them, there's no way they didn't feel the tension. Sometimes it boiled over and disrupted their lives, occasionally waking them or turning into a heated exchange in the middle of dinner.
The night we told them that we were separating was the worst of my life. In that moment, I remembered very clearly being the child huddled on the couch between my parents. They were both sadly stoic, trying to explain clearly and concisely that they were divorcing, that our lives would change, but that we were still a family who would get through this together. Watching the boys cry the night we told them, I knew exactly how their hearts were breaking and all of the questions they'd both ask me and keep quietly and painfully to themselves.
At first, all of my energy went into keeping them calm and safe. With very good reason, I was even more attentive and patient with them. I tried to make every waking moment as quality as I could muster, while also giving them space to be able to breathe and think on their own or together, away from Mom.
Eventually I had to start living my own, private life. I had to begin to see what being a single mom and woman was like. A big part of that, of course, has been dating.
My parents were very good at this. I was about the same age as Max, so four years older than Tricky, when my parents separated. When they each started dating, they were careful to keep those new people away from me. I can only remember meeting two men my mom went out with, one of whom is my stepdad of more than twenty-five years. I met a few more women with my dad, though he has always said some were nothing more than friends. He dated one woman for several years, and she actually lived with us for a good portion of their relationship. Both he and I are still friends with her, even though they've been broken up far, far longer than they were together.
When I started dating Bounder and saw the potential of something more important, having him meet the boys eventually became necessary. It wasn't that I needed them to welcome their new daddy into their life; no one will ever replace their father, whom they love very, very much. But if he and I were going to have a relationship, we would need to spend quality, physical time together. And, no, I don't just mean sex. (He never, ever spent the night at my house while the boys were home.)
Dating and being in love would have to consist of more than constant texts and emails. Regular phone calls couldn't replace regular hugs and kisses. While quality time and conversation are of tantamount importance to me, I am bi-lingual (in The 5 Love Languages sense) for physical touch. The small intimacies of handholding and kisses on the cheek are just as important to me as the loving whispers and soft laughs in my ear. I need boisterous laughter, both in and out of the bedroom.
Of all the men I've met and gone out with since I separated from DH, the boys have only met Bounder. Initially, it was a ten-minute, "nice to meet you" moment one afternoon. Eventually they were okay with his coming to visit me after they went to bed, then they were comfortable with dinners together and a movie after. We would occasionally take them out and do something with them, together. When he and I broke up, they were sad for me but also a little sad that they wouldn't get to see him. I handled it well (at least in front of them). They know that I still have occasional contact with him and ask me about him from time to time.
It's hard enough to bring someone new into my life, but my life includes two boys. They have to be a part of anything substantial. Not only are they the most important people in my life, I am their primary caregiver. They spend the majority of their time in my care. With some potential changes on the horizon, I am likely to be responsible for them even more of the time. If I try to wait to see someone I'm dating until a night when I don't have them, it could be weeks that we have to wait.
Relationships can't function healthily like that.
While it was best to make the boys the main focus initially, it does no one any good for them to be the only priority. We live in such a child-centric time, but they have to learn that they really aren't the epicenter of anyone's world but their own. They are of an age to begin to realize there's more to life than just them.
Stephanie is more than Mommy.
Going back to school, working small jobs while I'm doing it, makes our life very busy. I can no longer devote all of my time and energy to their schedules. Our family calendar is sometimes a color-coded nightmare of homework and school events and appointments.
But taking the time to be me, content and comfortable in who I am and my abilities, makes me a better woman. Being a complete woman, who is able to both express and receive love from more than just my children, makes me a better mother.
And it's good for them to see that Mom can go on and have a happy, healthy, productive life. They won't always been in the house with me, no matter how often they declare that they'll always live with me. They will eventually move on to college and relationships and the lives that they build for themselves. I will be here (figuratively or literally, I don't know yet), living and building my own future.
When I am happy and healthy, living my life while incorporating them into it, I show them by example. My goal is to raise healthy young men who can handle their own shit. My hope is that they find partners who can do the same, in part because that is what their mother modeled for them.