am a nineteen-year-old girl with a big, happy family.
Not one big happy family. Make that two.
My three younger brothers and I have wonderful parents. My father is a thoughtful ultra-Orthodox man who gives 110% to us every day. He loves to learn with us and play sports- any sports- with as many of us as will participate. Usually, my 18-year-old brother and I do the learning, and I leave the outdoors to the boys. My mother is a strong Modern Orthodox woman who knows everything about everything. I like to drag her shopping and to vent to her daily, mostly from the car Bluetooth as she runs around being super soccer mom and taking care of all the kids at home. I talk to both my parents about everything. They are happily married–to other people.
Looking back on my relationships with each of my parents, I really believe that without their divorce, I would not be as close with either of them. When they were married, my parents weren’t fully able to be their best selves, and therefore they could not give me or my brothers the best of what they had to offer. They were always supportive, but not unified, and the contradictions made our family lacking. Together, they couldn’t give us their individual strengths–like they can now.
To some people, the concept of divorce is disgraceful. To others, it is merely sad. Either way, divorce is always seen from a negative perspective, an unmentionable evil sign that, “YOU MADE A MISTAKE. Your marriage was a FAILURE.”
Basically, you, as a human, were wrong, and life didn’t exactly go according to plan. Things didn’t work out. It’s doubly awful if you have kids. Feel bad because now you have the horrible label of shame that neither you nor your children can ever escape from: divorced parents. The dark cloud that looms over a family. The red flag, ghost in someone’s past. Any way you put it, no matter which cliché you use, it’s bad. Especially in the Orthodox community, these stigmas persist, harassing me in the form of pity eyes and well-meaning awful comments.
Listen up, Orthodox bubble: My parents got divorced, and it was a good idea for everyone.
Granted, when my parents first told me that they were separating, I did not have this exact attitude. Tears were involved. Anger that I hid because I didn’t know how to express it or deal with it at twelve years old.
I thought that my parents were selfish.
How could they ruin our lives? Split our possessions into two houses, split our time between them, have lawyers ask us to choose between them? Deal with tighter budgets in the rest of our lives because divorce is incredibly expensive? Let us become objects of pity in the Orthodox Jewish community?
They were selfish.
It was the only answer that made sense.
They didn’t want to live with each other, so they wouldn’t, and it was just too bad if they screwed us over in the process.
What about the screaming and fighting that had been a nightly occurrence before the separation? Wasn’t I glad that was finally over? I didn’t care. The real reason the yelling had bothered me so much was because I feared exactly this outcome: a divorce. The worst thing that could happen to any child.
After the initial shock was over, it wasn’t so terrible. We knew what was coming, but my parents were still living together and pretending that everything was normal, for our sakes, until details were finalized.
My father moved out.
My life was turned upside down.
We started switching off weekends. I was always packing. And I never had what I wanted where I needed it. You would think that I would have it down to a science: toothbrush, toothpaste, contacts, glasses, pajamas, underwear, three shirts, three skirts. Tights, coat, and a hat if it was cold.
But no. No matter how responsible, organized, and prepared I was, it was never the right outfit. And there was a run in the tights. And there wasn’t enough solution in my contacts set. I walked back and forth, every weekend, picking up what I forgot from the other parent.
Twice a week, I had no life after school, since we were shipped off to have dinner with my dad smack in middle of every Tuesday and Thursday night. If I had a school commitment–play practice, committee meeting, yearbook work–well, I just wouldn’t see my dad until his weekend. Then I would feel like a terrible daughter, but what could I do? Drop everything to work around my visitation (I HATED that word) schedule? The world didn’t work like that, and neither could I.
My life was miserable. And it was all my parents’ fault.
And I knew that my parents were miserable, too. One of them was always alone. I would cry to think of my father, all by himself in his new house, every night of the week. Or my mother, who would spend every other Shabbat completely alone because she hated going out to friends or family without us.
What could be good about a divorce? All it caused my family was pain.
Despite my parents being lonely, though, I started to see a new kind of happiness blossom in the aftermath of the great tragedy of my life. My dad was able to focus his attention on us when we were with him, without worrying that my mother was judging over his shoulder. My mother was able to emerge from the ultra-Orthodox community, which, while perfect for some, was suffocating for her after a Modern Orthodox upbringing. My parents were able to break into their own social groups, not try to fit into a circle one or the other was unhappy in.
My parents finally were free to lead independent lives. With that emancipation, my parents developed into new people, who show me every day the different paths that can be taken, two different ways to serve G-d the right way- their own ways.
Then my father found a new wife. She was kind, attentive to us, and exactly the right match for my incredible dad. At his wedding, people didn’t know what to say to me; society demands that divorce and remarriage be uncomfortable topics. But I was happy because my father was happy.
I was even happier when my mom found her perfect husband and remarried.
When I saw my parents’ happiness complete, and my siblings and I adjusted to our new families, I realized that divorce wasn’t, in this case, about escaping from a less-than-ideal situation, despite the consequences of two people ending up alone; it was creating the opportunity for an ideal situation all around. My parents hadn’t ruined our happiness to preserve a glimmer of their own, but they knew that if they were happy, we would be too. It just took some time to get there.
There are claims that people who get divorced just give up on their marriages. My parents tried to make theirs work for years, in couple’s therapy and other ways. Some things, however, are not meant to be. Divorce is scary. After divorce comes a hard time for everyone involved. But for many people, it also creates the opportunity for something better than what maybe could have been salvaged from the marriage.
Divorce is a solution, not a problem.
So let’s stop stigmatizing a process that could not only unburden couples, but create new individuals.