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Me and My Boys

Me and My Boys

The question no one asks: "What was it like to get divorced with two children still in diapers?"

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My two boys are very close in age -- 16 months apart, to be exact. When people see them for the first time, they sometimes ask me if they’re twins, even though they look nothing alike. And I say no, but close enough, and we discuss the blessings and trials of having two children so close in age.

The thing that no one ever asks, though, is what was it like to get divorced with two children still in diapers. How did I explain to two children who were both under three and a half that their father wasn’t coming back, and our life had just been turned completely upside down? How did I manage to stay level-headed enough to feed them every morning and put them to sleep every night when my whole life had crumbled to bits around me and there was no one else to step in and do it?

No one asks, because it’s too hard to explain. No one asks, because either you’ve done it yourself and you know how hard it is, or you’ve never even contemplated such a reality and so you don’t even know how or what to ask. No one asks, because it’s just a given that a mother will always be there for her children, even when the father is not.

And when they do ask, I don’t even know how to answer. All I know is that when I got my divorce — a miracle of its own — I felt like my whole world had ended, and so had my kids’. I remember thinking, How am I ever going to do this on my own? How can I possibly do this alone? And what’s going to become of my boys without their father?

Because however difficult my married life was, at least I knew that my boys had a father. There was someone besides me who loved them as much as I did and looked forward to their progress each day. There was someone to coach them through the first-bottle stages and the learning-to-sleep-through-the-night stages, and someone to give my older son his first haircut. There was someone to assemble their cribs, and later their tricycles, and someone to teach them about cars and trucks and building blocks. There was someone to take them to their babysitter every morning and to read them stories at night. When people asked me how I’d managed to hold on to a dysfunctional marriage for so long, I said, “I did it for the kids.” And it was true – because as long as we were together, at least the kids had a father. And I knew that as soon as I said “No more,” my kids would no longer have that father around.

But there was no choice. One day I had to say it, and then suddenly he was gone. Not only from my life, but from theirs, too. He could no longer fill that role that I’d taken for granted that he would fill. Everything had suddenly been left to me. Diapering. Toilet training. Shopping for yarmulkes and tzitzis. Deciding when to start teaching blessings. Practicing alef-beis. Reading sheets on the weekly Torah portion. Buying the first bike, and going to my son’s siddur party. All on me. There was no one else around to help out, to coach and to teach, to make decisions with me. It was all, and I mean all, on me.

How am I supposed to do this all by myself, and do it right, too?

Yes, there are loving grandparents nearby, thank God. But grandparents aren’t parents, and only I can make the decisions about when it’s too much dessert and when it’s time to start going to shul. And there are so many decisions to make, so many things to figure out. I sometimes feel like saying, I’ve never been a mother before. These are my first two little boys. How am I supposed to do this all by myself, and do it right, too?

There are so many days when I’m just putting on an act, pretending that my heart is not crying out in pain and that we’re a normal family like any other. There are so many days when I don’t know how I’m going to make it through till bedtime, when I feel like I’ve reached my saturation point and I can’t possibly last another moment. Yet I keep going. I make it through the day, and I make it through the night, and then I make it through the next day and the next night.

I do it for my kids, because I know that they have no one else. Without a father, they need a mommy. They need the sense of stability I provide, and they need the sense of normalcy. Day in, day out, I teach them to follow rules and to behave nicely, to treat each other respect and to treat Mommy properly. Day in, day out, I make supper and read them bedtime stories, I do the laundry and I pick up the toys. I do it because it needs to be done, and if I don’t do it no one else will. And I do it for them, because if I don’t it won’t get done.

I can’t provide the other half of the parenting equation. I know I can’t, because I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. But I can be a mommy, and I am a mommy. And I do the best I can, every day, to provide these boys with what they need.

Yes, it’s all on me. It’s a job that requires superhuman effort, this job of single-parenthood, especially when you have two lively little boys competing for your attention and trying to see how much they can get away with. But they need me – and I need them, too. And that’s why I work so hard to achieve normalcy, for all of us. Because as long as our home life carries with it a sense of normalcy, of stability, I know they’ll be okay. And so will I.

Published: April 6, 2010


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Visitor Comments: 34

(34) Deborah, July 12, 2010 9:14 AM

Beri, # 32

With all due respect Beri, but the Torah clearly says you are not to judge your fellow before you have been in his place! i grew up in a 1-parent home & believe me, the burden & pressure to do the work and fill the shoes of 2 parents when u are only 1 person, it is daunting! I have lived it, i have seen it and nobody is to tell me that being a single parent is a rose garden.

(33) Tonya R, May 3, 2010 3:55 AM

I really needed to read your article

You hit the nail on the head. I have 3 boys from pre-teen to pre-school. I am two feet away from Divorce and am doubting myself everyday. My husband though has done less and less throughout the years. I lean on my friends' husbands to have the talk with my oldest or to show up a father son functions and this is before the divorce! Your words gave me power-I know I can do it I know my boys will be ok because I know I will give them my all. Today was hard it was Sunday me n my boys went bowling, to the park, and planned a birthday-hubby was out with his girlfriend. Anyway, your words gave me power-It will be hard I will doubt myself but am not alone in this. Good Luck to you and yours!

(32) Beri, April 26, 2010 3:09 PM

Am I the only one who sees it differently?

Certainly, I feel empathy for anyone struggling, suffering. It's hard, life's tough, etc. etc. You know, some people have it really hard - illnesses and tragedies that we can't fathom. We are such a weak, kvetchy generation. Our grandmothers didn't have refrigerators or washing machines. Read Nora Ephron's Heartburn - lots of women are left alone with babies. It's not the end of the world. I remember seeing a tape of R. Noach, ztz'l, when he had lost half his size due to his cancer. He said he thanks G-d every day that he can breathe, he can eat, he has teeth. I've never forgotten it. Let's put some of this "hard stuff" in perspective. Being alone to raise 2 healthy little boys is not so horrible. I know plenty of childless women who'd trade places with you in a minute. Count your blessings, my dear. And enjoy your life.

(31) Pleasant, April 11, 2010 10:13 PM

I don't need to ask you, I know.

I too ended up divorced, but with three small children. One in pull-ups and two in diapers. There are some really mean people out there, too. They pass judgement of all kinds with no information about you. And then I passed through a sort of "trial by fire" where I ended up with fourth child and no justice. This person is still free to come and go at his own will when he should be serving 5 to life. Believe me, I know what you're going through and more. Just remember this scripture; Leviticus 22: 22-24. Not every 'widow' back then was an actual widow. People were more gracious in those days.

(30) Anonymous, April 11, 2010 3:24 AM

No one has any idea of what you go through.

Unless someone else is going through the same thing, they cannot relate. Even someone who is married and does everything on her own, it is different. No matter how involved the father was before, many many abandon their children in different forms once the divorce is final. Having or developing some friends in the same situation makes a big difference, just because they do understand, on a visceral level, what you are going through. And that understanding, is a calming blessing. May Hashem give you the strength to meet all of your challenges and the serenity to feel Hashem's love throughout.

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