Moving on after divorce is difficult, especially when you have children. I’ve pretended to be open to a relationship and blamed my lack of a new relationship on a lack of suitable men. However, I had to admit to myself that the real reason that I’m alone is because I’m too scared not to be. Here’s my story about how my seven-year-old son gave me permission – and a gentle push.
What I Learned About Moving on After Divorce When You Have Children
“Mom, I think you need to marry again.” James told me this with an innocent nonchalance as I sat down on the couch for the first time all day.
“What do you mean, bud?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Well, I think you’re tired a lot because you’re alone and you need to marry so you can have help with us,” he explained so sweetly.
“Oh, honey, that is really sweet of you to notice that mom is tired. If I ever get married again, it really won’t be so I can have help with you, though. If I got married again, then it would be so that another adult could spend energy giving me love. Right now, I spend all my energy loving you and no adult spends energy loving me.” I tried to choose words my old-souled seven-year-old could consume.
“Well, okay, mom. Let’s do that then,” he said, completely matter of fact. He was ready. In his mind, this task seemed easy enough: find someone to love mom, check. Easy as pie.
I chuckled. “Well babe, if I found someone to love me, they would want to sleep with me at night and wouldn’t you and your brothers be bummed out if you couldn’t take turns sleeping with me anymore?”
I thought this point would be a sure way to make him repulsed by the idea of mom being loved. After all, this is my son who gets embarrassed when he sees me naked and who hides his eyes from kissing scenes and the like.
He looked at me deep in thought for a few breaths, then replied, “Welp, I guess that’s just something we’d have to get used to, then.” He shrugged and wandered off. Conversation over.
My Boys Only Know Me As Single
I have been single basically for as long as any of my sons can remember. Phil and I separated when David was only two. I recently mentioned in conversation something about ‘when dad lived here’ and David stopped me mid-sentence.
“Wait, my Dad lived here?” David was entirely serious. He has no recollection whatsoever of a time where mom and dad shared their home.
James was five when Phil moved out. He was three when our marriage hit the wall. Gabriel was seven, five when it hit the wall. These kids really have no memories of a time where they were witnessing their mother in a loving, happy relationship. Phil and I had a respectful partnership. One that revolved entirely around our kids. We didn’t share much tenderness, at least it was so rare that our children didn’t witness it. We didn’t share much intimacy, at least not in the way that our kids could notice.
As I contemplated my son’s observations about what I might need, I found myself realizing that my sons have never witnessed their mother in a loving relationship. They’ve never seen me being cherished or adored or delighted in. They’ve never seen a man express his passion for or attraction to me.
They only know what their mother is like alone.
When Moving on After Divorce, Timing is Everything
James sharing his thoughts would have caught my attention anytime; the moment that he said this, however, was particularly unique timing. Perhaps a week before this conversation, I had unexpectedly reconnected with a man I had dated a few times. I didn’t (and don’t) know where that relationship is going but I did know that I was feeling things I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
A Warning and a Permission
I decided to recognize James’s comment as both a warning sign and a permission slip.
The warning was that my son is going to assume that anyone who comes around is here to stay. I mention love and he says “marry”. James and presumably his brothers, will likely take anyone who shows up in their world as a fixture. I need to tread carefully and be sure to pace how much of my dating life is shared with my kids.
The permission slip was that my son, completely on his own, had recognized a loneliness in his mother that he felt should be solved. He innately understands there is an open space in our life that could be filled with another man. This was my sign that my kids are okay and that I have permission to open myself up to love. They have space for me to be loved by another – which means I have the space, too.
Accepting that I Have Needs, Too
This moment was quite meaningful to me. I have been very aware for the past few years that I have ignored my need for companionship and affection. It has been easy for me to do this. It has been safe. Like anyone who has found themselves on the outside of a failed marriage, my fear of being hurt again is palpable. The easiest way to avoid being hurt is to avoid feeling anything at all. I have been glad to keep my life simple (and safe) since my marriage ended. I’ve pretended to be open to a relationship and complained that no suitable men had come around. The real reason is that I’m alone because I’m too scared not to be.
In that moment, aware that my heart was already beginning to melt whether I wanted it to or not, I decided it was time to embrace the fact that I have needs of my own. Moving on after divorce isn’t easy, but it can be done. I realized it was time for me to step forward into the unknown, trust myself, trust my kids, and trust the process.