Apparently, parenting kids through divorce is so rife with missteps and trauma, the process has acquired its very own brand of guilt: divorce guilt.
And I just ran head first into it.
Divorce guilt had been sneaking up on me for months without my realizing it. Since my husband and I told our three teenaged kids last December about the impending split, I have been laser focused on their emotional well-being. (And on safeguarding my own mental health, which is a fulltime job itself.)
I have done this by taking life slowly, by asking lots of wise questions, by looking the kids dead in the eye 25 to 30 times a day, by reading divorce self-help books and consulting therapists about how to ease the transition.
My husband’s solution has been simpler. His all-too-natural response to the upheaval in our family life has been to shower the kids with as many costly goods and services as possible. He bought the children (and several of their friends) tickets to concerts featuring Katy Perry, Sheryl Crow, Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, Avicii and David Nail. In the space of three months.
New bedroom furniture?
$400 signed, framed sports memorabilia?
A shopping spree to J. Crew?
Coming right up.
Not me. I was all Mother Superior about offering pricey bribes in exchange for guilt assuagement.
But forget about my husband’s sins. Because in one swift move I outdid him. In the space of 30 minutes I broke every parenting rule: I promised the kids a new puppy.
Days after our 10-year-old German Shepherd Black Lab mix (the only dog the kids had ever known) had to be put to sleep.
I know you are smacking your forehead right now, shouting at me over the Internet to come to my senses. But truly, having had no experience with this particular brand of guilt, I had no idea how naive I was being. I bought all the puppy supplies and posted his adorable mug on Facebook. Over 100 likes!
And then today, the day I was supposed to pick up the most adorable eight-week-old puppy on the planet, I realized with dread what I was doing.
I don’t want a puppy. I actually do not want anything new in my life right now or anytime in the foreseeable future. It is too soon after our old dog’s death. It is too soon after the death of my marriage. I am in no position to make a longterm commitment to anyone or anything. Often I have trouble deciding what to eat for breakfast or which bra to wear. I am too crushed by the transitions of our divorce to tend to a needy newborn. Trust me, it is enough to get out of bed each day, brush my teeth, and take care of the children and the pets we already have (for the record we have four cats).
My puppy motivation was pure divorce guilt.
So, feeling sick to my stomach, I called the puppy’s owner. I burst into tears when I told the children. Not my finest parenting moment.
Then I learned what is even worse than divorce guilt: the guilt you feel when you don’t give in to the divorce guilt.
Right now, instead of feeling like I made a mature, rational (albeit terribly 11th hour) decision to spare myself an unwanted 15-year burden and make sure an innocent puppy found a home that could actually welcome him properly, I feel like I confessed on television to murdering my mother and burying her in the yard back in 1963.
I didn’t know guilt had a color, a flavor, and a texture: sticky black licorice tar.
The good news is that my kids (so far) understand. I guess they didn’t have much choice when confronted with a hysterical sobbing mother; that visage doesn’t leave much room for one’s own emotions. But all three were kind and pitying, which was just what I needed. I felt like they kind of wanted to lick the tears off my cheeks.
Much better than a new puppy are the ones I already have.