My ex-husband, his wife, my husband, and I all co-parent together. We get along so well that Molly, my daughters’ step-mom and I talk daily. We have actually become friends. In the beginning I had all of those normal unpleasant feelings that a woman going through a divorce experiences.
When I was first separated from my ex, I was very careful not to badmouth him around my girls. I was still in love with him, but I had also reached the conclusion that he and I were no longer good for one another. Even knowing that we were not right for each other, it was painful to imagine him with another woman. Before I met Molly, I heard from my daughters that she was fun, sweet, generous, and funny. I was glad my girls liked her. I really wanted whoever who would end up my girls’ step-mom to be a good person, and my daughters thought she was great. They were quickly attached to her.
The detail that I couldn’t stop thinking about was her age. She was twenty-two, and I was thirty-six.
I have never talked about this with anyone.
The first time I saw her, the girls had brought home framed pictures of their dad and Molly to put in their rooms. I remember a couple of nights in particular, my daughters were with their dad, and I was home alone. I hadn’t quite gotten used to the days without the kids, and I had a hard time at first. I don’t think you ever get completely used to not being with your children every day.
I would go into their rooms and stare at the picture of Jeff and Molly. Sometimes I would cry, wondering what my girls were doing, hoping they were having fun. Other times, I thought of my ex. I had all of those insecure thoughts. What had I done to deserve to lose my family? Was my age the problem? There was no way I could compete with her. I knew he and I were no longer emotionally healthy together, but it was hard to see him moving on.
Aging for a woman is not easy. I would look at that picture and marvel at her perfect skin, bright blue eyes, and radiant ebony hair. She had not yet had children of her own, and there I was, a single, aging mother of two with stretch marks and cellulite. The lines beneath my eyes deepen every year, and my skin had begun to lose its elasticity. There are so many unpleasant things that happen to our bodies as we age, not to mention all of the social pressure. My ex was with a younger woman. I felt inadequate and unattractive, and could have allowed my own insecurities rule my life. I could have used those feelings to feed my anger. I could have been rude and uncooperative to Molly and my ex.
I could have made life more difficult for the both of them, but what would I have gained from that? More misery and resentment. No thanks.
Once I met Molly, she seemed to be a nice person, and the more I got to know her, the more I liked her. One day I looked at myself in the mirror with kind eyes. I noticed the lines next to my mouth and beneath my eyes, but I thought about how those lines had been etched into my face. The tiny creases beneath my eyes and next to my mouth were laugh lines. Every wrinkle I noticed had been earned from smiling, and each one of them were connected to a wonderful memory. I thought of all of the moments I shared with my children, and even my ex-husband. I looked down at my hands, noticing the skin on the tops of my hands. It was looser than it once was, and as I flexed my fingers the skin was no longer tight and smooth, it crinkled like tissue paper. I thought of everything my two hands had accomplished. Those hands touched two ripe, pregnant bellies, feeling kicks from my babies inside. They soothed crying, and reassured them when they were scared. My hands held my father’s hand as he writhed in pain in a hospital bed, after his stroke, and held it after it grew cold in death. They held the small hands of nervous children on their first days of school, sewed holes in clothes, wrote four novels, wiped tears, and countless other memories. Next I looked at my stomach. It was no longer the tight, flat stomach it once was, but at one time it had been each of my daughter’s first home.
I looked at myself and I thought about all of the wonderful things that my body had done. I suddenly realized that it was silly to compare myself to anyone. It did not matter that my ex-husband was with a younger woman. I was proud of my appearance. Sure, I no longer looked twenty-two. I had wrinkles, and loose skin, and grey hairs. All of me, even my flaws are beautiful, because I have had a full life. Molly’s age no longer bothered me, and more importantly, my ex was happy. Even if we were no longer healthy for one another I still cared, and ultimately I wanted him to be happy, even if it meant being with someone else.
I am beautiful, and I would not change a thing, not even my laugh lines and stretch marks.
Note: I first wrote this piece in 2013, and now that I’m in my 40’s going through menopause, I felt it was time to revive and share again. Since first writing the piece, Molly and my ex-husband have had children of their own, and she shared she often reads this article when feeling bad about herself.
Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of thirteen and sixteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish is the owner and creator of Family Fusion Community, an online community for blended families of all types. Trish is featured on Huffington Post Divorce. Trish is also the creator of Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed, a photographic adventure in the abandoned and forgotten. Her abandoned photography has been featured on Only in Your State. She is a regular feature writer on Her View From Home, a lifestyle magazine that connects your view to the rest of the world. Trish Eklund has an essay, Happy Endings, in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz. The first book telling the story of blended family life solely from the perspective of the step-kids. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Pinterest, and Instagram.