I also found this writing that my mother asked me to compose. She was presenting a lay sermon at her church on divorce and was looking for the perspective of a child of divorce. Here is what I came up with. This was written in 2004.
Strangely, as a sit here writing this I can not but think how marvelously odd it is that for the last few years I am have been a stay-at-home-mom of two young children. I am living the life my mother struggled to leave behind for her own good and the good of her children. My parents divorce is possibly the event that most formed my life. It is one of my first memories filled with the trauma and disillusionment that onlythe break up of a family can create. But out of it came a shy mousy girl child who grew into a strong minded, articulate and capable woman.
As a child I longed for my father's return and for my parents to be together. But that is the longing of niavete. As I grew older I began to understand what my life would have been like had it remained on the path it was on before my parents seperated. I would never had gone to college or obtained my Masters. And though I may have been more comfortable relating to boys and men with a father in my life, I would probably have been a young mother married to an alcoholic like my father. It took the courage my mother found within herself to change the direction of all our lives. The long standing debate about whether children are better off if parents stay together for the sake of the children or dissolve a a bad marriage resulting in happier, more well-adjusted children seems to be played out in our lives. Though I can only speak for myself. I had three siblings who may answer the question differently. We have all taken different paths in life. I like to say that we are all reflections of my mother. My older brother is a driven corporate exectutive. My sister is a townie, tied to the place we grew up and the people she has known since childhood, afraid to move beyond the safety of what she knows.. My younger brother is the caretaker. I frequently get phone calls from him updating me on other members in the family. I am that part of my mother who wanted more. A woman who knew she had the talent and intellect to succeed on her own. It was only after the divorce that my mother became an individual for me, someone who was powerful and has an effect on the world around her. It is strange to realize that before my father left us I have only blurred memories of my mother. She became solid in my memory only after he was gone.
From an early age my mother told me that I could be anything that I wanted to be. Little did I know at the time that she was trying to tell me that my gender was not to deter me from my goals. I took her at her word and wanted desperately to be a cat. I figured it would happen at about age 16 when I could wear knee socks and come into my own power. Girls at 16 were powerful, it seemed to me. My mom also influenced me with the music of Helen Reddy and Carol King and Marlo Thomas' "Free to Be You and Me." I want my children to know that its alright if boys cry or play with dolls, marriage does not have to be the main goal of a girls life and that what you do for a living does not have to be defined by your gender.
Before my parents divorce at the age of 7 or so, the blurry memories I have are of a mom that stayed home and a father who came home at the end of the day. I never knew what my dad did. At that age it was all a mystery. I do remember my father having a set of barber tools and maybe he did cut hair for a time. But I don't think he did anything for very long. Really I do not remember... and I didn't care. For me my father was the hero... the prince in the fairy tales. He could do no wrong. I lived to sit on his lap when he was home at night. His attention made me feel special. I knew I was safe when he was around. These memories are more like vague feelings and these glimpses into the past I now have much suspicion of because the reality just did not jive. When my father left.... he was gone.
The job facing me then was trying to understand and make sense of what I did to make him leave. Just as I had the wonderful mythology of how I would change into a cat, I had made up some great story in my mind of how I drove him off. I was so afraid my brothers and sister would find out it was my fault that daddy was gone. The truth was, I had just learned the word divorce at school. Someone's parents were divorced or going through a divorce. It was such a foreign concept to me and I remember feeling happy that both my parents were at home. I was in the third grade. It wasn't long after learning the word that divorce was happening in my world.
What I do know is that my father's absence from my life and my mother's strong presence shaped me. The path of my life, in some respects, was determined by what my mother's was at my age. I was to do the opposite. I went to college after graduating high school. My mother was by then a mother twice over. I attended a women's college and excelled without the pressure of competing with men. They had never been necessary in my life before and in academics this was also true. Needless to say I was not a social butterfly nor an experienced dater. At this point in my life I had never been on a date. I never thought about marriage. My mom raised four kids alone. It never occurred to me that I couldn't do the same if I had to. It wasn't that I had anything against marriage. I just had very little experience with what that looked like in a family. To me a family was led by a strong mother who took care of everything and everyone. My father's absence in my life gave me reason to question whether I was worthy of love and also whether someone who said they loved me would actually stay the course. But in spite of these early lessons which played out in my life for a time with another man, I met and married my husband Edward who amazes me with his generosity and steadfastness. The first few months after marrying him were spent in tears worrying that he would leave... that I would never be prepared for it and he would be gone. He reassured me that this would not happen but it was only with time that I have learned to trust that he will come home.
So here I am at home with a two and a half year old and an eight month old. And like all mothers I struggle with the choice to be at home. I am blessed to be here with them. I never thought that financially I would be able to stay at home with my children. And understanding my mother's experience I didn't think I could be happy and fulfilled staying at home. When I chose to stay home after just receiving my Masters from Vanderbilt Divinity School, I felt for a time that I was betraying my mother. However, I came to understand that the difference between my mother and me is that I got to choose this for myself. I had my first child at 36 and have lived a good part of my life before having children obtaining my education, traveling a bit and working in the field of my choice. So now I take a little hiatus from that part of my life to be with my children. I realize that staying home is as hard as going out to work. I remember as a child people telling me how amazing and strong my mom was. I was always a bit confused by the fact that people saw her that way. I wondered how she was being "amazing" and "strong". I took for granted all that she had to be to take care of us. As I grew I came to realize how much it took to take care of us and how much she accomplished for herself at the same time. But it wasn't until I had children that I understood all that she sacrificed for us and how hard she had to work to give us the lives we all live now. I am in a strong marriage partly because my mother chose to end her own... I can stay home with my children without regret because my mother showed me that I could be not only a mother but anything I wanted to be. I never did change into a cat but I did transform through the years into everything my mother wanted for me and more.