There is one thing in my life that I cherish immensely, but also take for granted: My relationship with my mother.
When I was 12, on the night before my sixth grade science project was due (it had something to do with prisms and rainbows), I somehow ended up sitting on the white wicker loveseat in our home office. I don't remember my parents being in the room, nor them saying, "We're getting divorced." I only remember snapping off small bits of wood that jutted out from the underside of the loveseat. And that no one told me to stop.
About five months later, my mom moved out and my parents decided to split my time evenly between them so that my life would be as uninterrupted as possible. Mondays and Wednesdays I went to Dad's; Tuesdays and Thursdays I went to Mom's. I alternated weekends. Technically, I saw both of my parents every day during the week: I would wake up in one house, then go to bed in the other.
While I often felt like I was constantly pinging between two parental poles -- physically and emotionally -- there was one aspect of my life that never changed, even when my family's structure did: My relationship with my mom. In fact, in many ways, my parents' divorce only made our bond stronger.
This is not to downplay my father's role in my life, because he and I are also very close. However, as an only child (and a female one at that), my mom quickly became my closest friend when I was growing up. She was the person I hung out with on the weekends, "helping" her run errands or arranging what we used to called "tea parties" using the delicate antique cups from her collection. When I was around eight or nine we took the train up to Santa Barbara to see the American Girl fashion show (you better believe I brought my dolls!) Every year we played hooky from work and school on a rainy day and went to Disneyland.
After the divorce, a Tuesday or Thursday night was sometimes spent partaking in retail therapy at Ross after a particular rough day at school -- shopping away our problems is a family ritual in which my mom and I continue to partake. She and I took two trips to Hawaii together and discovered that you should never try to put the top back up in your rental convertible while driving in the rain. As for those impromptu annual Disneyland trips, well, we just took one in March when I was in between jobs.
However, what makes my relationship with my mom that much more special is that fact that, even though she married my stepdad when I was 15, our bond did not change. He was very much part of my and my mother's lives, but he wasn't present on our Hawaii vacations, Disneyland trips and discount store shopping sprees.
When I look back, I think that my parents' divorce gave my mom and I more mother-daughter time than we had when she and my dad were married (which laid the groundwork for us to continue this pattern of spending meaningful one-on-one time together). Of course, my teenage years were a clichéd living hell for both of us, during which we traded those girlhood tea parties for screaming matches every other day (probably because I only saw her every other day). We visited Ross an awful lot during those years together, seeking post-argument comfort.
But our conflicts were nothing compared to the horror stories I've heard about mothers who become so wrapped up in their new husbands and their relationships' honeymoon phase that they almost seem to forget their former lives, including their children. Or they meet a new guy and simply, yet scarily, change.
Until recently, I took for granted that my mom did nothing of the sort. My whole life she's repeated the following two mantras: The first, "the truth always comes out," is something I learned the hard way many times during those angry, angst-y teen years, and the second, "Kids come first," applies to how she handled her divorce.
She believes that children (or, in her case, child) matter more than anything else -- more than her health, her marriage, her job, herself.
I don't necessarily I think she should have prioritized me this way, she just did. And, luckily, she found a found a partner who not only loves her and respects her in a way that's going to give my future husband a lot to live up to, but also shares this belief about his own child.
My stepdad has a son from his previous marriage, and they are as close as my mom and I are. When my mom and stepdad got together, they instinctively put us kids, and how we might have felt about them dating, first.
Some of their "rules" might sound extreme to other parents in their situation. My stepdad never slept over until he and my mom were married. Not engaged. Married. In fact, soon after my stepdad proposed to my mom, they both took me to dinner to celebrate. My stepdad didn't so much ask for my permission -- since he'd already popped the question -- but he expressed to me that night how much he loved my mom and me, and wanted to make sure that I was okay with him being the man of the house. I was.
On their wedding day, I was my mom's maid of honor and my stepbrother was his dad's best man. We each got matching white gold wedding bands to symbolically commemorate the occasion (nearly 13 years later, mine still sits in its special laquer box).
I think the fact that my mom and my stepdad both put their kids first is a critical reason why their relationship -- and our family -- works. By making the transition as easy as possible for my stepbrother and me, all four of us were spared the adjustment issues that often come with blending families. My mom showed me that it's possible to prioritize your kids without sacrificing your marriage.
Most of all, my mom taught me that divorce isn't the worst thing that can happen to a family. After all, it allowed me to gain a second father and a brother, while also maintaining what I believe is the most important relationship I will ever have: My relationship with her.
As I've grown up and gone through my own life changes -- moving to New York, moving back home seven months later, breaking up with the college boyfriend I thought I would marry, changing jobs -- I've known that there is one person who I can rely on for support, advice and patience as I half-cry-half-hiccup on the other end of the telephone. My mom.
Our relationship is as strong as it is today because of the way she navigated her post-divorce life. My mom gave me what I consider to be the most precious gift a divorcing parent can give a child: The assurance that I mattered, no matter what.
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