12/09/2014 12:25 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

The Dungeons and Dragons of Divorce: Did We Fail Our Children or Empower Them?

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A wise man named Andrew Solomon once iterated, "If we banish the dragons we banish the heroes too." He intimated that if we shelter our children from adversity, then somehow we have failed as parents. Personally, I have always found the idea of dragons enrapturing. It's not that I ever enjoyed introducing my children to divorce, heartache, sadness and a broken family at a young age. But what if divorce and its aftermath could be re-spun as an incredible gift to a parent and their child after the initial pain has subsided? What if divorce was a blindfold to joy?

I am three years removed from separation and divorce. And to those yet in the early process of losing your family unit, I understand if you are nauseated by this statement. I challenge you most of all to read on, to embrace the joy that could be by embracing the dragons that are. In short, we must remind ourselves that without dragons there are no heroes in life. And the heroes lie within us, dormant, ready for battle.

John Milton, one of my favorite writers, wrote in Paradise Lost, "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven," For the early 17th century, he was ahead of his time. He had his own dragons to fight, internal and external. He married three times and wrote the first ever divorce pamphlets in favor of divorce for ill-fitted or mismatched couples.

Dragons exist -- and they come to us in all their fiery glory in multiple shapes and sizes. I have known many since childhood. In truth, divorce isn't the first time I've had to battle dragons in my life. But it was the first time I had to drag two small children with me through my battles and the repercussions of such. Dragons big or small, awkward or calm, colorful or benign, angry or timid are terrifying since we are never sure that we will make it out alive, that we can ever survive such a powerful enemy. Dragon fighting is not for sissies.

Three years ago when my husband walked out overnight almost, abandoning two small children and I for an exotic dancer, a dragon unfurled itself before me without warning. Since then I have come to appreciate the part I equally played. But at that time, all I could focus on -- fully consumed with single parenthood in the aftermath of divorce -- was, sadly, contemplating what had been lost, taken, destroyed, broken, damaged with my family unit. "Time to press the reset button," my husband told me cheerily that morning in the bathroom, the morning he also casually mentioned he wanted a divorce. He was humming in the bathroom, as I recall. A formidable dragon with no empathy, this was the same man who I had laid with night-after-night and told my deepest secrets to, the man I thought would love and protect us, forever, from dragons.

Divorce, collaboration, single-parenthood, litigation, a 16-month-old autistic child, a co-parenting facilitator, a three-year-old child with nightmares, sadness -- the dragons roared in battle. My emergency response: I joined a single-parent group, attended divorce seminars, saw a therapist to help me reform an identity. Who was I as a divorced single parent? I did not know. All I did know was that it helped to be around other folks who had fought similar dragons, who had similar scars and similar struggles, whose children hurt to understand their surroundings as mine seemingly did.

My epiphany, three years later? My children suffered, as did I. It was the first grief of their lives, the worst ever of mine. Divorce is like having a life-threatening disease for which there is no cure; yet, the children and I also survived terrible odds and stressors, mental and emotional. I often felt guilty that what I knew my children needed most from me: extra understanding and patience and love, I had the least emotional energy to provide. BUT, I provided something else.

"Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness," Dostoyevsky, the famous Russian writer once wrote. What he meant is that you haven't begun to live until you've had to cry. The hardest path will never be the easiest. I have since realized that without the suffering and the journey, there should be no joy after, no blindfold to remove. The children witnessed us getting through, overcoming, surviving, rebuilding and being happy again. If avoiding pain is how we humans are built and if we always choose the course of action that maximizes ease, the same avoidance of pain and suffering turns us into default mode. When in life have we ever gained a memorable lesson where pain did not first occur? The easiest path is always the dead path, the wrong trail. And suffering some form of pain -- be it a physical, spiritual, or emotional -- is a fact of life. We can never be happy without failure and pain, of which life is comprised of, soaked in. If we avoid pain, we numb ourselves to artificial and superficial lives.

Had my ex-husband and I never gotten divorced, perhaps my children and I could have avoided extreme suffering, and the painful dragons of doubt and negation. But we would also have avoided consciousness!

Descartes argued, "I think therefore I am." In response, I believe we suffer therefore we live and prosper. Divorce is a worthy dragon, oftentimes needed.

If we banish the dragons do we banish the heroes too?