I got divorced in my 30s with a toddler by my side. I unraveled on the floor of my closet on the first night in my first home I ever lived in as a single woman — a single mother — wondering what was next. Divorce, even when amicable, is riddled with complications — especially when children are involved. The family dynamic changes and everything is different, physically, mentally, and logistically. There’s custody sharing, learning to coparent with someone you are no longer emotionally or intimately attached to, and a whole slew of external factors. I knew the tough stuff was coming and had watched a few friends go through divorces almost a decade before mine. The frame of reference did not make any of it easier on my heart, but divorce is not inherently easy. I acquired a laundry list of divorce-related anxieties. Over the years, they have ebbed and flowed and evolved, becoming less of a nuisance and more of a norm.
It took me a few years to come to terms with a failed marriage and to find my voice and identity apart from being someone’s partner for almost two decades. Fear, guilt, and vulnerability all worked like a well-trained team to overwhelm me and try to prevent me from opening my heart again. But I eventually did and found the love of my life in the bowels of the online dating scene, married him, crowned him a stepfather, and added another baby to our crew, officially blending our family. I remarried at a small, intimate wedding with just close family and my 6-year-old giving me away, and everything about it was right. My husband embraced my child and my role as a mother with the spirit of a cheerleading squad supporting their team all the way to the playoffs. We worked together to find our way and figure out what made sense for us as a family. He never even flinched at anything I needed to do to continue to coparent with another man.
As a team, we’ve navigated all the things — making a home as a family, me quitting a cushy corporate job to follow my dream with his unwavering support, a devastating miscarriage leaving me hopeless and broken, a rainbow baby two weeks before I turned 40, coparenting, and managing two different families bound by my DNA.
As I get deeper into my 40s and watch loss happen all around me, I am sometimes paralyzed by the fear of anything happening to me and my family subsequently “unblending” because I am not around to hold it together. My ex and I have coparenting down, he is great to our daughter’s sister, and my husband is the best at making sure there is no division between our girls. But there’s also nothing protecting my blended family dynamic, legally. Without me, there is no more 50/50 custody. It guts me to even think about my kids not sharing a home. We went through so much emotionally and physically to have the family we have today, and all of that would change drastically without my physical presence, since legally my ex would get full custody of my older daughter. The thought of it takes my breath away.
We were fortunate to welcome a healthy little spitfire of a baby girl into the world and give my firstborn a sister (which is good, I suppose, because she made it clear she did not want a brother no matter how many times I tried to explain that we had no say). In theory, I was elated. In reality, I was overwhelmed. Because again, our dynamic shifted and it was a lot to handle. I had two kids over 8 years apart and one who does not live with us 100 percent of the time. Right along with the postpregnancy hormones came the tsunami of mom guilt. I was paralyzed by the idea that one of my kids would be here all the time and the other would go back and forth. I was nervous about resentment and jealousy. I was scared and worried and felt the weight of blending a family resting on my shoulders.
Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes it was messy. But a day did not go by that I didn’t take stock in everything I had and feel grateful. It may not have been the family I thought I would have when I was young and naive and thought everything follows a picket-fence trajectory. But to me, it was all I ever wanted.
This little finale to our family (which we ensured with a vasectomy as soon as we could both sleep through the night) is unapologetically feisty, just like her big sister. And just like my mother did with my brother and me, who are five years apart, I tell my girls all the time how lucky they are to have each other. I explain to them the importance of having each other’s backs no matter how much they annoy one another. I do everything I can from my end to foster a meaningful and loving relationship between them. And witnessing it blossom before my eyes in real time gives me all the feels. My heart could jump right out of my chest when I watch them together. This. This is what life is about for me.
In addition to the anxieties of everyday life and living with the undertones of divorce, I’ve been able to let go of a lot. I just can’t shake this new one. While there is so much talk about blending a family after a divorce, nobody ever talks about the fear of it unblending. I didn’t even think about it until recently. But the truth is, I am the glue in this family. I am the mother of two girls from two different marriages. The biological bond that unites them. I’m the common factor in their DNA. I’m the link between two different fathers.
Maybe it’s the scariness of COVID-19 and living through a pandemic in our lifetime that is bringing up these fears now. Maybe it’s the proverbial circle of life that appears to speed up as I get older. But I keep thinking about what would happen to my girls and their relationship if anything ever happened to me, and it keeps me up at night. All I can do is continue to nurture the hell out of their bond while I’m able to. I will fight fiercely for them to honor their sisterly bond so that down the road, they can fight fiercely themselves to protect and love each other no matter what life throws their way. That has to be enough.