I kept checking the “divorced” box on standardized forms for a full decade after my marriage ended. This felt like I was somehow wearing a scarlet “D” stitched to my chest forever because I’d been married, and divorced. Today, I finally check “single.” But that feels off, too; I’ve been in a stable domestic partnership for years. I’m not single. Society creates these boxes to contain us, but we’re bigger, brighter and more multi-faceted than that.
My oldest daughter just got divorced, and from the moment she announced her decision, a few friends judged her and tried to put her in a box. Normally, she’s highly resilient, letting criticism slide right off her. But some days, these divorce-related barbs sting like hell.
“You’ll end up like your mother,” was one of the harshest-meant critiques. That’s why I’m writing this letter. Because I want to remind her of all that she—and I—have done right.
As you sign the papers that will officially end your legal bond with your husband, let me tell you: I know you gave that marriage everything you had. I never saw you hold back from trying to make it work, or cut bait and run when things got rough. That’s not in your nature.
Yes, you’re a 30-something woman with your own two kids. (My g-kids. Yikes!) But a part of me will always see you as my little baby girl.
From the moment you decided to divorce him, there were different reactions and way more advice than you needed. Luckily, you’d built a fierce, loving tribe of family and friends. Many of them stood by your side through the drama and pain.
Others, however well-meaning, didn’t. They fought against you and your decision. I recall some of the things they said . . .
Just remember, the grass isn’t always greener.
You’ll screw up the kids; they’ll suffer the most.
We almost got divorced and turned it around—why can’t you?
A couple of them even blamed me, twisting the knife into us both, saying, You’ll end up like your mom.
I was only 19 when I had you, without a mom of my own to guide me. That first night in the hospital after 22 hours of labor, my hands shook as I clumsily tried to hold up your fragile, wobbly head. You had one whacky wisp of hair that sprouted at the top, a wide, almost-smiling mouth, and ears that reminded me of Yoda, the most badass Jedi in the Universe.
What if I do something wrong? I thought. Why did this baby come into my life? I remember kissing your soft, tiny cheek and whispering what felt like a promise-prayer, “I love you, little one, and only want you to be happy.”
Fast forward 37 years. Wow, baby girl. How did that happen? How did you grow up so darn fast?
For me, those crummy comments have been festering, especially the one about “ending up like your mom.” I guess back when I was only 21 and struggling to keep the lights on, working two jobs and slogging my way through night school, that was one of my greatest fears, too.
But today, I see that comment differently. Sure, I’ve made mistakes, and who hasn’t? But I’m proud of who I’ve become. I took some big risks that panned out. I finished college, worked as a newspaper reporter, moved to Los Angeles, and eventually became an author and book editor. Today, at 50-something, I’ve never been more in love with my partner, Ted, or our three crazy, adorable cats!
And, I raised you—a beautiful, brave, independent woman.
Which made me start to think about all the ways you and I are alike:
Like me, you’re the oldest. You're responsible. One day when you were only three, I was snapping photos of you and your baby sis, age two. When she veered for the street, you grabbed the ribbon on her dress and yanked her back to safety, and then locked on with your tiny arms and deadlifted her straight off the ground—even though you were the same size!
Like me, you were never afraid to challenge authority. At 10, when you first met the guy who’d later become your “real dad,” you were a pint-sized Erin Brockovich, dogging him with tough questions like, “so what makes you think you can date my mom?”
And, like me, you started working at age 16 and never stopped, even putting yourself through college.
How are you like your mother? You’re responsible, brave, and hard-working.
We’re different in ways, too, and those ways matter. You don’t let your emotions override practicalities, nor do you take on other people’s problems as your own. And you can see when others do this. When you decided to end your marriage, you said, “Mom, this isn’t your fault.”
I think you’re right. Friends may point to some legacy of divorce, but the truth is, there are just as many reasons why people divorce as why they marry.
Divorce is a chance, a risk, a leap to live a happier life, one that lets you finally be who you are. And for that, I’m ALSO proud of you. I’m not pro-divorce, but I am in favor of living your own life without regrets.
I often think about the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware, who was a caregiver for patients in their final days. And as she grew closer to these people, she began to notice over and over that they’d expressed similar themes of regret.
Ware writes about one woman named Grace who had stayed in an abusive marriage. When her husband was dying, she thought this might be her chance at last to live her own life. But it was too late—Grace had a terminal illness herself.
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” Grace told author Bronnie Ware. “I mean it, promise this dying woman that you will always be true to yourself, that you will be brave enough to live the way you want to live regardless of what other people say.”
So on the eve of your divorce, that’s the wish I have for you: Please learn from my mistakes, those of others, and always from your own. But remember that divorce is not your legacy. It’s a choice, and a hard one.
My legacy to you is love, staying fiercely committed to relationships that lift you up, and having the courage to believe in your purpose and your dreams.
But ultimately, honey, this isn’t about my life, but yours—and the life you dare to create.
Just remember: I love you, little one, and only want you to be happy.
Pure (Imperfect) Heart,
CJ Schepers is an award-winning religion reporter, editor and ghostwriter. She recently self-published the inspirational book, The Life Raft: Rise Above the Tides & Rescue Your Dreams, and is currently working on a sci-fi fantasy series about time-traveling cats. See cjschepers.com