Divorce is horrible. And unfortunately, it's even more terrible for our children. This week, one of my students posted on my online forum asking for help. Her tween daughter is unhappy which means she is unhappy. My student is newly divorced and their entire lives have been upended. Once having lived in the expansive stretch of a McMansion, now living in a tiny two-room apartment. Her daughter complains about the apartment, the clothes, the new life. The mom feels guilty and ashamed and is grasping for anything she can do to help her daughter feel safe. Feel loved. Feel like it's all going to be okay.
I remember what this was like. I remember that first year, living in my little house. I remember the tears, night after night, as I tried to put my inconsolable daughter to bed. I remember her fury and her heartbreak.
"You've stolen my happiness," she told me. I would read to her and brush my fingers through her hair and kiss her forehead and watch her fall asleep. And then go to my bed and cry. She was heartbroken; I was heartbroken. It was a marathon that seemed to have no end.
That painful phase was followed by what she and I call her "teenage phase." She was eight and she hated me. Overnight, she seemed to form some sort of Tourette's syndrome comprised only of cutting remarks aimed at me.
"You're so fat, no one is ever going to love you."
"Your butt is so big, it's so gross. That's why you're single, Mom. No one loves you."
"You know why you're divorced? Because you're so ugly."
"If you weren't so fat, we wouldn't be alone."
"I wish you weren't my mom. I wish I had a pretty mom. Or a skinny mom."
She would say these things and then break into tears. Even though she knew her words were cruel, she couldn't help herself. For nearly a year, she just spewed shit in my direction and then felt guilty and then cried. Only to have all that anger bubble back up like a pressure cooker and then erupt again.
I sucked it up for months. And then I cracked. Hard. I thought I couldn't do it. I thought I couldn't continue hearing this bullshit day after day. I thought I couldn't continue to be loving and patient as my daughter healed. I thought I couldn't be her whipping post.
But I was wrong. I could and I did.
So, mother of the Unhappy Daughter of Divorce, this is the advice I have for you:
Your daughter is unhappy. I hate to say this, but she's supposed to be unhappy. Divorce is a major trauma for children. It's a wound that hasn't even begun to heal. Unfortunately, it's a wound that you will have to continue to clean out and disinfect, day after day. This will be excruciating for her and she will need to bite on something hard to get her through the pain.
You will be that thing that she bites.
You will be the thing that helps her through this. And that means you have to be more strong than you've ever been. That means when she wants to give you the orphan-Annie-woe-is-my-closet story, you tell her to snap out of it. And mean it. That means that you will teach her how to respect you and how to respect herself. That means that when you want to blame this on money, or square footage, or neighboring mansions, you stop yourself and bring yourself back to what this is really about.
You are both fugitives. And you're on the same team.
This means that she will resent you and hate you and blame you. And you will let her. Because you are the only safe thing in her life, the only person who has the fortitude to let her rail and kick and scream and strengthen her muscles until she feels safe enough to calm down.
This means that you will crack. And that sucks. And you will cry every time she leaves for her dad's house. And you will be ashamed of yourself and your life and hers. And this will part will last longer than you think it should. And then you will pick yourself up and gird yourself to get ready for her arrival again. And again.
Because this is what we do. We are mothers of daughters. We have no other choice.
I love you. I've been there. I am there.