Nothing drive me as crazy as those women who act like some horrible tragedy has befallen my children and me when they hear I am divorced ... yes, twice. I can never believe people like that still exist in this day and age, and I'm always shocked when I find that a few of them still do. It usually happens at a cocktail party or some other social function, and it's always the woman whose husband is the most boring man in the room, the guy with the creases ironed into his jeans, the one who reminds you of Rick Santorum.
It will happen after we've bragged about our kids long enough to move on to the second favorite cocktail party subject -- marriage. And that usually starts with her making some sort of "nudge nudge, isn't marriage hard" comment. When I say I'm not married, the look of dismay and pity that comes over her face makes me want to say, "Seriously, lady?! What decade are we living in here? I bet you're one of those freaks who still uses a word like broken home, aren't you?"
But instead we'll glance across the room in awkward silence and see her husband flirting shamelessly with one of the other single women, totally oblivious to how unattractive he looks in those jeans or to his wife scowling at him from across the room.
And I will leave the party ever more thankful that I have my life and not hers.
Sure, going through a divorce can be a trying experience, and for children, well, there are aspects of it that are truly painful. I wish I had known before I got married what I know now, so I could have saved my children from that. But divorce happens, and after the divorce dust has settled (and I should be clear that I am assuming a certain level of financial independence when I say this), unmarried living and parenting ... well that's a different matter.
In many ways, I've found single parenting to be much simpler and more enjoyable than raising children within marriage, even when it was good. And I think there have even been some benefits for my kids, too.
I often see married couples walking around with unashamed resentment for one another. Comments like "It's your turn to deal with bath time" or "I had to follow him around the restaurant without eating my dinner last time we went out" take the parents' focus away from the reality -- those mundane tasks might get tiring at times, but they all piece together to make up a large part of their son's or daughter's childhood. If those couples weren't so busy keeping score in their tit-for-tat battle over who is doing more of the parenting chores, they might actually want to be the one giving their child a bath.
Single parenting means no bickering over parenting decisions, no confusion when you say "no" to a whiny, tired child who wants a cookie before dinner, and no second conflict when the other parent lets her eat the cookie. Because the relationship with your child is number one, it creates a different type of bond between parent and child. Kids learn to be a little more responsible than they might otherwise have been, and children are often more comfortable interacting with adults, a result of more inclusion in social activities since single people seem to socialize in ways that include the children, rather than leaving them behind during a "date night" with a spouse. And, of course, there are no resentments about whose turn it is to feed a child or put him or her to bed. In my household, it's always my turn. While it might get exhausting at times, I embrace and savor that role, and my children benefit as a result.
Divorce is hard, but it's incorrect to assume it's a tragedy. In fact, for many families, it's the road to a better life for parent and child alike. Maybe the Cocktail Party Lady will be in a position to find that out for herself one day; the odds give her a good, solid chance that she will.
Kate Schermerhorn is the director of "After Happily Ever After," a documentary film about modern marriage. It is out now on DVD and On Demand, including Itunes, Vudu and Amazon Instant Video. Visit afterhappilyeverafter.net for more information and to receive a free list of ten secrets to marital bliss.