My Marriage Ended During the Pandemic. Mom Friends and Self-Care Are Giving Me Strength

My husband of 12 years asked for a divorce during the pandemic. On top of everything I was already dealing with, I now needed to make sure my kids were OK with new life changes. But I found strength through my mom friends and finally focusing on self-care. 

The author and her kids.
The author and her kids. Photo: Courtesy of Laura Wheatman Hill

My kids had a particularly hard time during the pandemic. They are neurodiverse and have a handful of diagnoses, including anxiety. My son, coming up on his fourth birthday, could only fall asleep on the bare skin of my stomach the first two weeks. My daughter, who turned 6 right at the start of shelter-in-place, usually came to me at night, worried she'd get the virus, she'd never see her grandparents again, our Black next door neighbor would get shot, and a long list of other concerns, some of which she couldn't name, only feel.

Weeks and then months of cancelations did nothing to assuage their anxiety. We messed with medication, talked to their therapists more often, and attempted, with great failure, to get them some help via teletherapy. They adjusted some, but it wasn't easy parenting through lockdown. We were healthy. We were OK, financially. We were lucky. Still, it was so, so hard.

And then on a Friday night in June, my husband of 12 years sat me down like an employee, told me he didn't love me, had a lawyer, and was filing for divorce.

"Why now?" I asked, clutching a couch pillow to my chest.

"I couldn't wait one more day to be happy," he said.

I fell apart the way many people do: internally. I stopped sleeping. I had no appetite. But I got up with my son at dawn every day. I helped my daughter with her reading. I made them meals and did their laundry. Summer with no camp began. I'd never felt so panicked.

My friend, Sara, a mom to a daughter and son my kids' ages, and I had been going on walks once or twice a week since March. We found paths that were wide enough to walk about six feet apart and went single file when we passed others.

During the school year, we'd bemoaned distance learning. Our very social, very active kindergartners had no love for virtual school. Motivating them to participate was a futile exercise wrought with tantrums. Other hot topics on our walks included recipe planning, our pandemic shopping lists ("Safeway had hand sanitizer but not toilet paper"), and how we were failing at our jobs while the kids were home all the time.

Of course, another common discussion was the occasional husband complaint. Hers got to work upstairs while she was on a video call with a screaming kid in the background downstairs. Mine slept downstairs in the guest room because the kids had taken over the bedroom and didn't have to wake up at dawn with them. All my friends and I vented about our significant others during this time.

I thought divorce was this evil thing that happily married people thought could be contagious. I thought I'd be rejected, ostracized, left out of social events.

So, that's why, on a walk with Sara a few days after my husband's announcement, after she finished telling me about her child's current defiant streak and asked me about my day, I said, "I'm getting a divorce," and she laughed. She laughed in a dismissive way like when someone makes a bad joke. She thought I was exaggerating the "normal" frustrations of pandemic cabin fever, like we'd all been doing for months.

I stopped on the trail. "No. Really," I said.

"What?!" She yelled into the idyllic woods.

She was the first person I'd told. I had my husband text my childhood best friend who very conveniently grew up to be a psychiatrist and started sending me encouraging messages which I had not returned. I hadn't even told my family yet. I'd been pretending to be normal. My voice shook as I detailed the events of my last few days.

I don't know why, but when she was nothing but supportive and loving, I was surprised. I thought divorce was this evil thing that happily married people thought could be contagious. I thought I'd be rejected, ostracized, left out of social events. But instead, something bad happened to me and she was supportive. Of course, I should have imagined that would be the case.

It took me a few extra days to text my other main mom friend, Sarah. She immediately asked me to meet her for a social distanced walk in our neighborhood.

I talked to "the Sara(h)s" about my plan for interviewing lawyers. I talked to them about my options for custody, moving, and finances. I'd never talked to them about the details of my marriage before. These walks, though, began to help me formulate my way out of my crumbling marriage. I reached out to other friends for socially distanced walks and found that everyone was struggling and needed support, whether in their marriages, with their kids or jobs, grieving, or with their overall mental health during this unprecedented time.

These friends who had already helped me parent my kids through the pandemic, helped me again through the divorce. They talked through the scripts for telling the kids about the divorce. They helped me look at rental houses. They helped me feel OK about asking for help, taking anxiety medication for the first time, and finding coping mechanisms for my sensitive, young kids.

They helped me move. We spread out, took shifts so there weren't many people at once, and always wore masks. Friends who couldn't help me move brought me food, sent us letters, came and sat on my porch at a distance with me on my first nights with the kids at their dad's, and, yes, invited me on more walks.

The walks weren't for fitness, but getting exercise helped my mood. The walks were the first steps of real self-care I'd had in a long, long time and highlighted that I have truly exceptional people in my life.

My kids love their new house. After starting the strangest school year ever, they are going through struggles, as all our kids are, but they have a fantastic network of grown-ups who take care of them and their mom. My kids have witnessed healthy friendships in adults and have been using their hard-earned communication skills to tell me when they feel sad or mad. We talk about it, read books about divorced families, still see therapists, talk to friends, and check in with their dad whenever they want.

They've even gone on a few walks with me.

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