Guest blogger Justine: When I got divorced two years ago, I was forced into a world I haven't known since I was a teenager. Always the girl with a boyfriend, I had gone from one guy to the next, with no "me time" in between. Now I'm a single mother of three boys, all under the age of 10 -- which doesn't exactly make me a hot commodity on the "meet" market.
The divorce was ugly. My husband came home one night and told me he was moving out. And then he left the kids and me -- just like that, with no explanation other than that he wasn't in love with me anymore. That was a bitter pill, especially when the real reason for his leaving emerged a short while later: a big-boobed blonde half his age, named Tammy Sue. (Yeah, that's what I said.) My boys kept me strong during a dark time when I wanted to die. Looking at their confused faces reminded me I needed to be a better mother -- a present mother -- for them to survive their father's leaving. In time, some of my wounds started to heal, and my depression lessened. In hindsight, I was able to see that I was better off without my husband, and so I began to embrace my new life alone with my boys.
Then came the phone call that stopped my heart: My husband wanted joint custody. After he'd left and didn't talk to his boys for six months, he thought he could come back in their lives as if he'd done nothing wrong?! According to my lawyer, he absolutely could. He wasn't abusive; he made a good living ... if the man wanted to see his kids, he was within his rights. Rather than spend money I didn't have on pursuing a custody battle, I gave in. My children's father was an ass, but he was still their father. Part of me wanted them not to love him, but since they did, I couldn't rob them of being in his life.
So, for the first time in my adult life, I was without a man, and two days a week and every other weekend, I was without my little men: my kids, Sean, Henry and Jack. Those days, at first, were weird. Every footstep in the house echoed. I felt like I was in a tomb. I wasn't a wife anymore, and on certain days, I felt my role of "Mother" was taken from me as well. However, once I knew that my kids' father was taking his responsibility as a parent seriously (hard to believe, but it's true), and that they were in a safe, clean and permanent environment while with him, I was able to see the benefits in it for me -- mainly, that I was able to do things I hadn't been able to do in years.
Suddenly, I could go see a movie that wasn't rated G! I could go to a yoga class without calling a sitter! I could sit outside and read a novel without breaking up fights or listening to who did what to whom! I could do anything. I could have that unencumbered "me time" that I hadn't had since I was in pigtails. I found myself so recharged and refreshed that when I was reunited with my kids each week, their homecoming was that much sweeter. And the surprising thing was, I was more patient and loving and less stressed when we were together. Divorce and (who knew?!) joint custody was making me a better mother.
In an ideal world, my family would still be together. I'd be married (happily, this time) and the past two years would be a bad dream. But you know, I'll take what I've got. My kids are happy and thriving again, and now I am, too.