The other day, an acquaintance said to me “I didn’t know Mormons could get divorced.” It stopped me short, but I recovered quickly. Yes, Mormons can get divorced. The general impression is that we do it with less frequency than the broad population, but if you look at the numbers, we are nearly equal. Part of me likes that we are perceived as having more stable marriages, and part of me pays the price for that perception within my own community.
I have three separate sets of LDS friends who are navigating the choppy waters of divorce. No one ever wants this to happen— I don’t care who is involved or who initiates the process, it sucks. Anyone who tosses platitudes about how divorce is “too easy” is a fool. While every divorce is different, I guaran-damn-tee you, it wasn’t a decision entered into lightly, or on the fly. There is always— always always always— years of pain and hidden struggle, despite how things may look from the outside.
What my children and I experienced in our divorce was not just the loss of a husband and a father, but the literal loss of home, safety, financial support, family and any shred of security. Most children, mercifully, will never have to go through that, even in a divorce— but the ones who might (mine) can and do turn into fine, well-adjusted, happy and healthy young people.
It just takes time.
Jeffrey will be eleven in two weeks. He has the most memories of the last few years, and the vocabulary and maturity to express himself- and he does. In the car the other day, we were talking, and Jeffrey wondered aloud at how his friends are feeling. I asked him who he was thinking of, and he rattled off the names of the kids who’s parent’s are divorcing, and added “I remember then, when it was new, and it was scary and hard.”
I was quiet, hoping he would add something further. I find if I give him room, sometimes he is able to find more he needs to say. “How about now?” I gently ask.
He leans his head back on the seat and looks for a bit out the window before turning to me. “Now it’s so much better, mom. I’m happy. I wish I could show my friends that. I don’t want them to be scared. Things are SO much better.”
I teared up, and put my arm around my giant kid. With the devastation we went through, the upheaval, the constant struggle, the mom being in school year-round, the extra responsibility placed on his too-young shoulders— this is the truth. He is happy. He knows he is loved, and he has the compassion and ability to empathize with those he cares about and try and share it.
It’s not that I recommend divorce as a way of forcing growth. If there is a way to happily and healthily hold a family together, it’s preferred. In my case, that wasn’t possible. But know that if you’re facing divorce, or someone you love is, it’s truly not the end of the world. It may be the opening of a whole new world, one you didn’t know or plan for, but one that might hold happiness you never expected to find.
I know that my children are better off and happier than if I had sacrificed us on the altar of “staying together no matter what”. I know this. Two miserable people cannot raise happy children who know how to build healthy lives. Ironically (or perhaps not) my relationship with my ex-husband is better and healthier now than it would have been if we had stayed married. Getting divorced freed us from the expectations of the other, and allowed us to be who we wanted and to remember what we liked about each other, and not be swallowed in disappointment and pain. He’s my friend again.
This enables both of us to be productive and healthy parents, in ways that were likely blocked to us had we bypassed our own spirits and happiness in order to present the world an ideal. Had we stayed together, I would have been a miserably unhappy woman, and he would have continued to turn to unhealthy means to cope with the weight of that unhappiness- his, and mine. Nothing will ever convince me that raising children in that environment would have been healthier— emotionally, spiritually or temporally— than what we have now.
It gets better. I promise. It takes time, patience, and love. But it gets better.