If my daughters, now 10 and six, come to me in the future and say, ‘I’m not happy in my marriage. I’ve tried hard for two years to make it work and I’m still unhappy,’ what would I say? ‘You made a vow of till death do us part, so stick with it’? Or would I tell them that I support them, and in time they’ll find a happier path? The latter of course. Which is exactly what I told myself when I found myself in this situation.
Last month, my husband Matt and I announced on Instagram that we’re getting a divorce after 13 years of marriage, and 17 years together. As I said at the time, I don’t think this is a ‘conscious uncoupling’, but rather a ‘kindly untangling’.
Much has been made of the fact we announced our split on Instagram. I first came to the platform as a journalist, around the time it was becoming a medium to share stories. I wrote about abortion on there when I was 27, I wrote about pregnancy and miscarriage, and marriage. I’ve always wanted to offer up my perspective, to share the highs and lows – and when I write about things like miscarriage I hope I’m helping at least one person out there going through the same thing.
Among the love and support we’ve received, we’ve had a bit of flak from people who think we’re glamorising divorce. But believe me, there’s nothing glamorous about it – it’s hard, costly and painful. We’re not skipping down the road thinking about what a great divorce we’re going to have. But we are proud of how we are both trying to navigate it gracefully and kindly. We feel there’s an opportunity for us to show there’s a space before the point of irretrievable breakdown and contempt. Or, as Matt said, it’s better to leave the building and rebuild, before blowing the whole thing up.
Divorce is rarely straightforward, but in truth the daily grind of parenting our daughters got to us. Hand on heart, the biggest mistake I made was not being able to sit with what we had and be grateful for it. Instagram became the ultimate form of keeping up with the Joneses. I didn’t realise it at first, but I slowly became absorbed with wanting the right house, in the right area, with the right kitchen, even the right rug. We were constantly striving for the Next Thing, constantly thinking what we did have wasn’t enough. I thought that elusive Next Thing would bring me happiness, calmness and joy. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
Take our home. We became so focused on getting the perfect one to be happy in that the striving it took to get it – the full-time working while full-time parenting – became one of the things that broke our marriage. What is it they say about being careful what you wish for?
That’s the thing about the online world – you can use nice things to paper over the cracks, but what’s going on behind that happy photo? During some of my unhappiest times I would put on a front – and my nice red lipstick – and present a perfect picture to the world.
And then of course there was the unrelenting pressure that we – two working parents going full pelt – were under. The pressure so many parents are under. I spoke to my mum about it recently and she said that while she’s proud of my career, and knows how important it is to me, she can also see the pressure my generation of mothers and wives are under. Society hasn’t caught up with equal households, and women are now expected to bring home the bacon and cook it as well.
In short, our marriage is collateral damage for a society that isn’t set up for women to succeed, but rather a quagmire of inequality at work and poor postnatal care.
Matt and I have actually just written a two-book manifesto for the Pound Project called Divide And Conquer about the debilitating childcare pressure so many parents are under. It’s about making childcare infrastructure a part of our economy. A part of our working world. A world that doesn’t simply strap the burden of childcare (and costs) to female shoulders.
Which brings me on to motherhood. Resentment began to build in me when I was home alone breastfeeding in those lonely days of early motherhood. From there it was a downwards spiral, walking around with a burning, bleeding C-section scar, both working to paper over the cracks of our careers, both losing ourselves and each other in the process. It was bloody hard, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that. Nor in struggling to navigate life as a wife.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. For too long divorce has been associated with shame and stigma, abuse or affairs. Divorce needs to be rebranded, so people don’t sit in their unhappiness because of the fear that the D word installs. It’s not about losing something, but gaining something.
I’m not some desperate divorcée sitting at home on a Tuesday night with half a bottle of red. I’m a woman who, along with her partner, has taken ownership of her happiness. We’ve centred everything around our children.
We’re giving bird-nest parenting a go; where our children are staying in their home, close to their school and friends,
and Matt or I will be there on alternate weeks, while each having a small place of our own. It’s a privilege, it doesn’t work for everybody, but it’s working for us – for now. Financially it’s a stretch, and some bird-nest couples I know spend their week away from the kids living with their parents.
Matt and I are helping each other figure things out as we go along, and I’m so grateful for the 17 years we spent together. I’m also glad we’re showing our kids that happiness can come from difficult decisions and big changes. There’s no blame game in this. Just love.
Picture credit: Kate Peters