It is summer and we are visiting New Haven, the city where I grew up. After lunch, we take a walk along the edge of the Yale campus. My youngest boy, 5, jumps up to walk on top of a gray stone wall that lines the old campus, and I hold his hand intermittently. And then I remember.
I was younger than he is now–maybe 4 years old. It was nighttime, but the street was lit by the street lamps and storefronts, and I was walking on top of that very same gray stone wall while my dad held my hand and told me that he and my mom would be getting a divorce. He said it gently and simply so that there wasn’t much for me to say in response. He explained that it had nothing to do with my younger brother, Daniel and me, that we didn’t do anything wrong. He promised that he would always love us and be our daddy, but that we would have two homes to live in now.
I think about divorce a lot as an adult and mother to three young boys. Not because my husband and I are unhappily married–but because I am a child of divorce and it’s all I know. I know that marriages fail. And in my parents’ case, I can see how it happened. It was complicated. Most relationships are. They had a lot of stress–they moved around a lot because of my father’s career. They had little money when I was born, and my dad decided to go back to school to become a doctor. My mom had to go back to work. It must have been very hard for them. I have tried for years to analyze my parents’ marriage and how it failed, so that I can learn from their mistakes. The truth is, I can never fully understand it. But what I think happened in large part is that they stopped taking care of themselves and each other.
Which now, as a mom, I can totally appreciate. It’s hard to take care of yourself and your spouse when you are taking care of little ones. It’s exhausting. Some days feel like they will never end. There’s hardly any time. And at the end of the day when I see my husband, I am usually at my most tired and cranky. (And so are the kids.) So it’s pretty damn hard.
And yet. It’s important. Our marriage. It needs attention even when it’s the last thing I want to do. I have always hoped to give my children what I longed for as a child–the stability and comfort of having happily married parents. Two parents living together, in the same home. My mom and dad were each incredible, loving, engaged parents. They gave us everything they had to give, and taught us all of the important things. And I was happy as a child. But I always wished they could have been together. I worried about one when I was with the other. I pictured my mom coming home to her house from an evening meeting, alone. My dad cried as he lit the Shabbat candles with us for the first time in his new apartment. I could feel his sadness. At times, it was too much worry for me to bear.
My husband and I parent differently–actually, we do most things differently. But when it comes to our marriage, I give my husband a lot of credit. He has a lot of patience, and a lot more faith in marriage as an institution than I do. I think it’s because he comes from a married 2-parent family–in their 50-plus years together, his parents left their native country, endured countless hardships together, and never considered leaving each other. He has that confidence in marriage that I lack–the belief that, no matter what challenges we face, we can get through, together.
My husband and I are 14 years into our marriage. And I don’t profess to have the marriage thing figured out by any means. It is one of the hardest things.
It requires so much attention. Lots of care. I have known since I was a child that it doesn’t always work out. But now, I have some of my husband’s faith. And so I remind myself: It just might.