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The Flip Side of Freedom
By Jeannie O'Conor

Does freedom have a downside? When I was married to my husband, I didn't think so. I didn't mind giving up the nanny, the gardener, the maid, thecountry club, or the fancy vacations to the South of France. Anything to rid myself of that canker sore of a man, I told myself, was worth the sacrifice. I didn't mind having to go out and get a (shitty, low-paying) job, or selling my beautifully decorated house. I didn't mind having to scrimp and save for things I took for granted before. Though it was scary and painful, I felt a thrill of excitement that I was embarking on a new adventure, free of the misery that had crippled me for the best years of my life.

And for a while, it was a great, empowering adventure. For a while, I felt strong, plucky, capable, like I could do anything. But then life as a single parent beat me down. Crisis after crisis rolled my way, and I started to go under. Grey hairs started winning the battle with the non-greys, and I ceased to give even one fuck about the way I looked. I neglected friendships, and did the bare minimum at my job. I stopped being such a nice, charming person, and started watching too much tv and drinking too much wine after my children (finally) went to sleep. I hated making all the decisions alone, and overseeing two sets of homework and science fair projects by myself. The stress was just too much for me: I wondered, late at night- how will I afford school…and college! How will I deal with my child's health crisis? How will I afford daycare during the summer while I work? I don't have family in town, and New York isn't the kind of place where you can drop your kids with your best friend and go do yoga. I started to question whether getting a divorce had been worth it: should I have just sucked it up and suffered through a few more measly decades shackled to a man who called me a fucking cunt every day? Isn't that what marriage is all about?

Well, no. Like the old joke goes, Q. Why is divorce so expensive? A. Because it's fucking WORTH it. And it was worth it, at least in my case. But, when you are one tired, beat-down woman trying to do the job of both parents, how can you fill in the gaps and build yourself a safety net for those times when you just can't do it alone? The answer for me was to shed my pride and ask for help. I wanted to provide my children with a great private school education, but my ex only pays me $928 a month in child support. So I applied for financial aid, and volunteered at the kids' school to show my gratitude when they gave me generous awards. I marshaled my resources and completed the War-and-Peace like application that requires you to air your dirty laundry and account for every dime you spend, justifying the vacations, camps, tennis lessons etc you may fear will make you look like a freeloader. I even worked for a couple of years at my kids' school as a kindergarten assistant (something I found demeaning at the time, with my Master's degree) in order to qualify for 90% tuition remission. I got high school kids to be my kids' free homework helper to earn community service hours. My daughter had an eating disorder and I couldn't afford the best therapist or treatment plan, so I found grants and got her accepted into a research study at one of the leading clinics in the country after my ex refused to help when I called him sobbing, because, as he claimed, "it was all my fault". My son wanted to go to soccer camp, so I enrolled him in the free, all- volunteer rec league and took advantage of the summer scholarships they sponsor at area camps. I had to wear a ref's uniform and make an utter idiot of myself several times at 7 am in the freezing cold, but hey, I met some cute divorced dads and I showed up for my kid. That kid ended up going free to an Ivy League soccer camp, perhaps the only time he will visit those hallowed halls. Speaking of hallowed halls, most colleges have a jobs center where you can find pre-vetted babysitter résumés online, and pay a hell of lot less than you'd pay a service to babysit while you go do yoga or stay with your sick kid while you take the other one to school.

My point is that you can do it alone, because you are NOT alone. There is help out there aplenty, if you just ask for it, and give a little back. Liberating yourself from a bad marriage doesn't mean you have to give up your dreams for your kids and yourself. You will learn to make better, more helpful friends who will be there for you and for whom you will be there when you need each other. People are better and kinder than you think they are and those grey hairs, which will keep multiplying, can have silver linings. Sometimes that which does not kill you, will actually make you stronger, an idea that used to piss me off in my cynical post-divorce rut.

There IS no downside to freedom.

Other articles by: Jeannie O'Conor...
 
On the highway of life, there's nothing like a little relationship road kill to get you to slow down and pay attention. What can we learn from others? Sometimes the best break-up authority isn't an authority at all. Let's check out these lessons from people who've been in your shoes, and who have lived to tell.