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Another gift of divorce

December 26, 2009

I was speaking this morning to a friend, who’s been long divorced and now  happily remarried.  She was telling me about the unexpected appearance on Thursday of her daughter who arrived from Oregon wrapped in gift ribbon to surprise  her mother for Christmas Eve.

“It was the best present I could have possibly received,” my friend told me, joy still in her voice as she described the Christmas visit from her re-united grown son and daughter.

“That was another one of the gifts of divorce,” she said.  “Because I had to share them with their father, I learned a long time ago how to let my kids go. Some people never learn that.  So when they come back to see me, I know it is not out of obligation, but purely out of love.”

I was struck to hear her refer to a phrase – “the gifts of divorce” – that some might find odd.  I can see how someone in the early painful years following a divorce might find the idea that divorce bears “gifts” can be difficult to grasp.  Especially during the holidays, when there is the additional unhappiness of having to divvy up the children’s time between ex-spouses.

That’s always hard. And it never goes away completely.  Even now, when my sons – mostly grown – are spending the weekend with their father, I know a small pang of regret that I don’t have my boys (as I will always think of them) with me.

But as a divorced mother myself, I understood exactly what she meant by “gift.”   Letting go of our children when they fly off to their own nests is something all of us must at some time learn to do, married or not.  Regardless of how pleased we are to watch our kids gain independence, there is always something deeply painful about that. 

In a few days my recent college graduate son Rob will be flying to the west coast to spend New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas, celebrating as only a fairly-new-to-legal-drinking-age kid is prone to do.  (Of which the less I know, the better.) Certainly I’m delighted that he’s planned and will pay for the excursion with money earned from his first full-time job where he’s been working round the clock.  But I know I will feel a small pang, at the final ten-second countdown, remembering how the boys and I would celebrate at midnight with ginger ale and chocolate ice cream sundaes watching the Times Square ball drop on TV.

Yes, no matter how many joyful gifts we may hold in our arms for life’s brief moments, there always comes that time when we must let them go. Some of us may learn that earlier than others.  But no one is exempt.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2009 5:57 pm


    This past Monday, before Christmas, my wife of 7 years and I decided to divorce. Papers are pending now and we hope to have a peaceful and amicable divorce. We are trying to be cordial for the sake of our son, who we will share custody. He’s 7 now.

    One of the hardest parts of deciding to divorce was the impact on our son. I did not want to leave my son, nor did I want him without a Dad. However, as we all know, staying in a marriage for a child is not the right choice. It’s not what’s best for the child.

    After reading this post, I have hope though. I have hope, that, if I continue to be a constant, positive presence in his life, that when he reaches the age of decision, he will decide to come to me, not of obligation, but of love.

    I love my son. He is my heart. I want what’s best for him. Your post helped reignite my hope for happier days with him.

    • December 26, 2009 9:27 pm

      Congratulations to you and your wife for taking this courageous and important step toward making a better life. Here is a quote from my book Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey:

      “Divorce is not the problem but the solution, when all else fails, to irreparable marital unhappiness. Facing a divorce, calling a spade a spade, minimizing one’s losses, cashing in the chips when the alternative is to lose it all- whatever one wants to call it- is one of the most adult, responsible actions a person can take in life.” (p. 250)

      I am confident that you can and you will stay intimately connected with your son, as my three sons did with their dad. Today, my sons are thriving. One reason I wrote the book was to share how we made that happen. I wish the same for you.

  2. Linda Gramatky Smith permalink
    December 27, 2009 5:17 am

    Jessica, this was a wonderful piece, not just about divorced parents but about (as you implied) ALL parents, married or single, who have had to learn how to let their children go. Ken and I have just had a wonderful four days with our son and daughter-in-law coming cross-country to a Christmas celebration at our daughter’s house, and I’m so conscious of how it has been exactly as you describe. They came because they wanted to, not out of obligation. Thanks for your consistently interesting blog, and I’m just one of many non-divorcees who absolutely love your book. It has lessons and truths for everyone.

  3. Howard Shaw permalink
    December 27, 2009 5:41 am

    Raising independent children is our most important job, and the better we are at it, the sooner we get fired. There is always a feeling of pride mixed with sadness and loss.

  4. December 29, 2009 8:16 pm


    I so agree with what you said so eloquently in this post. In the shared joint custody of my youngest daughter, I have her every other week. The times in between can feel endless, and the time we spend together, although at times volatile, is cherished. Knowing that my time is limited makes me appreciate it more, and I put more effort into having patience for the teenage struggles we have as she vies for her own voice as an emerging adult.

    When my two older kids choose to spend their free time with me, it is also a gift. My 21 year old often chooses me as her movie or activity partner, and I value our time together. Knowing that she will soon be married to her boyfriend of three years, this time is even more valuable as it will change forever with marriage.

    I have often thought about our ability to appreciate things more when there is a loss or separation. The trick is in cherishing the relationships we have before anything breaks or gets lost.


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