When I was separated, I remember someone telling me divorce would be easier if I had kids – it would’ve given me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And I don’t doubt that’s true.
If you’re a parent who’s divorcing and you have your children with you, you don’t have much option but to care for them. They still need you, regardless of circumstance. And probably they actually need you more. Your choice to wallow is taken away, although I can only imagine the added complexities this brings to an already highly stressful and charged situation and time of life. When you’re divorcing without kids, there are some very different pluses and minuses to the equation.
You can please yourself. If you don’t want to get up one day, you don’t have to. No one needs you to make them a snack or give them a lift somewhere. A duvet day is just that, you, your pjs, and an endless stream of Netflix. I found this to be a plus – my energy went on me, that was it. You can emotionally recharge and be, dare I say it, selfish. You are your focus, wisely and correctly, so do take the time for you.
Life changes are easier. One change often seems to beget another, and so divorce can trigger career and location changes too. There’s just one person’s viewpoint, belongings and needs to primarily consider. Obviously there may be other people in your life, but ultimately the choices and moves are down to you. Partly this is what’s terrifying about it, but it’s also liberating. Your whole life can change. You don’t need to worry about schooling, friendships or childcare support. It’s a chance to realise dreams you thought had died. I moved city and career, other friends moved country and career. You don’t have to do this of course, but when did you last have the option to do whatever you wanted to do?
As an added bonus, you can have a clean break. There’s no need to ever speak to your ex again once the process is complete – unless you really want to! Because there’s no longer lasting shared responsibility, you don’t have to engage in any further interaction, meaning you can drift into being strangers once again. It’s a strange experience, but also one that cuts you free from the past relationship. Of course there’s nothing to stop you staying in touch, but you have no need to be polite to one another in 15 years time at your offspring’s wedding.
This said, divorcing without children is also one of the most painful elements of the process, because the what ifs that exist don’t diminish – in fact, there are more.
What if I don’t meet anyone else? What if I never have the chance to have children? What if it’s too late?
Having no children to consider is a relief, but the time pressure, particularly for women, is there. The younger you divorce perhaps the easier that is – but having divorced at 27, I still felt the Friends-esque pressure Rachel feels on her 30th birthday…
“So, if I wanna have my kid when I’m 35, I don’t have to get pregnant until I’m 34. Which gives Prada four years to start making maternity clothes! Oh wait, but I do want to be married for a year before I get pregnant…No, so I don’t have to get married until I’m 33! That’s three years, that’s three whole years—Oh, wait a minute though. I’ll need a year and a half to plan the wedding, and I’d like to know the guy for a year, year and a half before we get engaged… Which means I need to meet the guy by the time I’m thirty.“
I didn’t want to meet someone purely to have children, but that conversation becomes more time-critical the older you get when you meet. As you factor in dating and meeting different people, the pressure to settle down again relatively quickly can feel intense if you want to start a family. People might want to set you up to help you settle down faster. But rebuilding yourself to be able to trust and thrive in a relationship is important, even though that takes time.
As you’ll know if you’ve read any of my other posts, the unknown is not often a preferred place for me. The unknown and the realistic possibility of not fulfilling the dream of having children is painful. Coming to terms with the fact you may never be a parent isn’t easy. It requires grieving, acceptance, and perhaps anger too. The possibilities for what you could do instead, don’t mean you aren’t sad for what isn’t. The two don’t exist together, so much as a parent might mourn their more care-free life pre-children, it’s legitimate to grieve a child you never had the chance to have too. The death of a dream, of ‘our’ potential child that will never exist, is painfully apparent as you divorce.
It’s a pain that can be heightened by watching others around you with children, or have children, when that now seems such a remote possibility for you. It’s not that you’re not delighted for their news and their scan photos and family pictures, but it’s that you don’t know if you’ll ever get that. Embracing the joy of others while dealing with your own reality is hard. But because we love our friends, we rejoice with them. Sometimes we can be brutally honest and tell them how hard it is not to know if we’ll share in the same joy. Being happy for them does bring us joy too, tempered as it might be by regret or sadness for our own situation. Being able to embrace the positives of not having children does make this slightly easier, and I even got to a point where I wasn’t sure whether I did want to have a family as much as I did when I was younger, as my life was just ‘mine’. That’s not to say I didn’t hide some people from my social media, or avoid it altogether, to preserve my mental health around the subject.
None of this is to say divorcing or separating with children is easy. You are now in a life-long relationship with your ex, albeit under different rules. You may never have imagined your children would potentially have different dads. You probably never thought you’d be a single parent, but that is how life is now. I lack full wisdom here as I didn’t have children; I can’t tell you the hardest parts about it because I don’t truly know. But I do know the heartache of ‘what if’, of watching others experience that same joy and wondering if that would ever be me, and if so, how and when?
So my advice? Enjoy it. You can’t change it, so make the most of it. Go out and do the big or little dreams that if you had little ones at home you couldn’t do. Move house, move country, embrace life as it is. It might change. It might not. We can’t know. We can only enjoy the present that we have, so to constantly dwell on the future possibility can rob us of experiencing the reality and positives of our lives as they are.
What have you found hardest about having or not having children in the context of separating and divorcing?