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The Mommy Track: How divorce redefines motherhood

The great thing about marriage, or at least one of the great things about it, is the physical presence of two bodies, two voices, four hands, four feet – especially in the context of raising kids. Everybody knows that raising kids is very laborious work – especially young kids who are not yet fully trained to care for their basic needs such as eating, bathing, doing homework, arranging play dates, etc. Even when one parent works outside the home, having both parents being physically present in the home is reported by most to be a facilitating factor in terms of parenting. Most people would probably agree that parenting is a job for two. And children need both parents.

It is probably true that most children are placed with their mothers after a divorce. As much as things are changing, and as much as more fathers are taking a hands on approach with rearing and caring for the physical welbeing of their children, still, to this day, women are overwhelmingly the custodial parents after a divorce ensues. Women are still, by and large the main caregivers. Women are more likely than men to be the stay-at-home parents. Women are more likely than men to make decision that affect the every day welfare of the child – schooling, meals, ablutions, health, religious and social issues included.

After a divorce, there is now only one body physically present with the children at any given time. True, parties pick up new relationships and often times these new reltionships end up being new marriages and so new parent/child scenarios abound. But at the end of the day, the children really still have only two biological parents. And after a divorce, they are still more likely than not to be in their mother’s custodial care. And that often means that many mothers are, and continue to be for the rest of the child’s formative years, “single mothers.”

This can be a tough role. Because single mothers end up playing the role of both parents. They can’t say to the child, “wait till your father comes home.” That is because the child’s father may only see the child on the weekend, or every other week, or sometimes even less. In some cases, after a divorce the father disappears completely, moves to another state, gets a new family, simply tunes out from his former self.

So many mothers have to act as mother and father, sole bread winner, teacher, soccer mom, counselor, friend, nurturer, and many other roles. Divorce compounds the average woman’s role in her children’s life. Divorce re-defines what “motherhood” is.

But for all its challenges, in my experience, most mothers wouldn’t change anything for the world. They love their kids. They rise to the challenge. They survive and the children thrive in spite of the end of their marriage. So do not fear. If you are going through a divorce or thinking about how you will manage as a “single mother,” know that many have done it before you and many will do it after you. It will not be a cakewalk. But it is doable. And it is rewarding and you will be fine.

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