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Loving Michael

Loving Michael

After the divorce my son broke my heart. But to my surprise, it didn’t shatter. It broke open.


My nest was small but I tended it with great care and my only child – my son – occupied it joyously. But I was unprepared for the challenge when my son, at the ripe age of 14, became only an occasional visitor, a bird that flew briefly in and then quickly out of the proverbial coup.

His dad and I had experienced marital problems before Michael was born. And Michael’s arrival did nothing to ease the strife. After seeing six different marriage counselors, it became clear to me that the marriage was untenable. I became less concerned about the effect of divorce on my son than the effect of his parents’ palpable discontent. I knew it was time to leave.

By the time we legally separated, Michael was about to enter junior high school and become a Bar Mitzvah. Both his father and I wanted sole custody. We also both wanted Michael to have a strong voice in the decision about with whom he was going to live. After several discussions, Michael said that he wanted to live with both parents and was willing to alternate weeks at each home.

My new “digs” was a two-bedroom apartment in a complex that had a playground and an outdoor pool, a mile from what had now become my ex-husband's house.

I have vivid memories of the initial adjustment period, most of which were less than happy. My son, especially in the beginning of our new living situation, was more withdrawn. I could no longer interest him in playing softball together or going swimming. He remained embarrassed to have his friends over to my modest apartment, and hated having to be driven every time he went to their homes. His grades had also markedly dropped.

"Take me home," he insisted. "I don't want to be here."

Michael had audibly keyed me in to his disappointment almost from the get-go. “Another boring week," he often mumbled – although loud enough for me to hear – as he mounted the stairs. I was willing to admit that this transition wasn’t easy – for either of us. But the worst-case scenario – not having my boy with me – was unthinkable. Michael’s attitude could and would change, I told myself in my best self-delusional voice.

But the only thing that time produced was a reckoning. Several months later during one of the weeks at my home, I fearfully paired the words "homework" and "now," a little too often for my son's liking. "Take me home," he insisted. "I don't want to be here."

I felt the pounding in my heart, as I mouthed the first hackneyed and ironic statement that came to mind: “Leaving won’t solve anything. We need to work this through.” Michael responded by putting his packed duffle bag down and calling his father to pick him up.

The next time I saw Michael was several weeks later, back at my home, in the company of his father and future stepmother, to negotiate a new arrangement that would be more to my son's liking. This time – as I encouraged my son to talk – I not only listened, but also fully heard him. My son was unhappy with the current living arrangement. He didn’t like “mom’s place.” He no longer wanted to switch between my house and my ex’s. He wanted to live “at home.”

Michael’s words cut deeply. My mind wandered to the biblical story of King Solomon’s decision. Two women, both claiming the same baby was theirs, asked wise Solomon to act as arbiter. King Solomon knew that the real mother’s first objective was her child’s well-being. In an attempt to discover the real mother, he offered to cut the boy in half. At that point, the real mother was willing to give her son to the other woman, rather than have him die. Through her intent, she had revealed her true identity.

My situation was far less dramatic. When confronted with that ultimate test, seeing – without blinders – my son’s needs and then putting them before my own desire to have him with me, my heart broke. But to my surprise, it didn’t shatter. Instead, it broke open. In that opening I was able to see without self-recrimination, the mixed brew of maternal feelings and personal need and unwanted events and even best intentions. Loving Michael came down to two things: opening the window and fully allowing my son to fly from my nest, and doing everything in my power to create a joyous and loving relationship during the time we had together. Although I couldn’t change the situation, I could change the way I behaved. (I learned from my Jewish studies that feelings often followed behavior.)

If thriving for Michael meant living with his father and seeing me every other weekend and for dinner once or twice a week, it was a done deal. Michael need no longer be cut in half.

Each time I picked up my son, I chose to convey a warm, happy, attitude throughout our time together. It was only after I dropped him off at his home that I allowed the tears to fall.

In time, our relationship grew more open, more honest, and his living situation, less painful for me. While having dinner together, Michael shared parts of his daily life that I had missed out on. We also often spoke philosophically about relationships in general.

At one dinner’s conclusion, Michael nodded circumspectly. “Mom, I think I know the secret to success. It often involves putting another’s needs before your own.”

Yes, my darling, I thought to myself, as I hugged my son close. And that’s the secret of love, too.

November 3, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 33

(20) Anonymous, November 10, 2013 12:36 AM

very moving

i, like your son, moved in with my father and step mother at around the same age as your son did. it was very painful for my mother and she apologized to me many times since then [decades ago] for her behavior. over the years i came to realize that divorce and being a single mother ripped my mother apart and crushed her, so much so, that she was really not able to mother me. i have not had any hard feelings for my mother at all. but looking back it was clearly the right move for me. i can relate very much to your sons choice. may you and he be blessed with happiness, growth and long productive lives.

(19) Rivka, November 8, 2013 3:50 PM


Shared parenting creates unfair economic balance in favor of the father. The father usually has more economic means- frequently gets the marital home and the children prefer to live where there is more affluence!

We are creating a prejudice toward the father in divorce where it used to be the mothers who got custody-however it is stil primarily mothers who care for the emotional and physical needs of children, A travesty of the legal system! We must change the divorce court custody process to acknowledge the role of mothers and their disadvantaged economic position as a result!

(18) Anonymous, November 8, 2013 3:02 AM

Unconditional Love

Thank you for sharing.It helps to know others are going through similar situations. It is true that as parent ' s we must @ times ,overlook our own feeling' s, desires , & be totally & completely selfless ( as long as our children do not want to hurt themselves ). I now believe all the love songs are created for parent' s to their children. I did everything humanly possible to prevent divorce . Now , even I see a positive side to divorce & am grateful for my son ,& myself we are allowed to be divorced. Our children learn how to problem solve , be more compassionate , kind , tolerant , giving ,& unselfish than other children. They learn a work ethic , how to budget, & unconditional love ( it is a miracle that they still love us !). Divorce also prevents abuse , violence , & other unhealthy negative situations . It allows everyone to live more healthy , productive , satisfying lives. And , as adults our children always know there is a alternative , a way out. Divorce actually enhances self esteem &allows people to continue following the Ten Commandments . It is also a very honest way to deal with problems; rather than just " pushing problems under the rug ". Divorce may actually save lives..

(17) Anonymous, November 7, 2013 8:03 PM

Wow, so strong

Kol hakavod to your strength and fortitude to putting your son's needs/wants first. You are a true role model for parents out there.

(16) Anonymous, November 6, 2013 10:47 AM

We cannot divorce everybody.

We cannot divorce everybody. My divorce hurt my son. We battled over his identity for full custody for 5 years and itscarred us all. IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT WHOM ONE DECIDES TO MARRY. When you are young, you cannot foresee the consequences. YOUNG PEOPLE NEED MENTORS, whether they are grandparents, rabbis, parent(s), to help them with this MOST IMPORTANT DECISION OF THEIR LIVES. We are not only here for ourselves but for future generations as well. WE MUST NOT DATE outside our mission, which is to ensure the future of the Jewish people. In this way we will not be led astray. Two Jews marrying is no guarantee of marital harmony. It takes work and putting the marriage and one another, first.

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