You know what kind of divorce is the hardest?
Whatever kind you have to go through.
Because it’s hard on everybody no matter the circumstances.
And my circumstances – child free by choice – left me grateful throughout my own divorce that I didn’t have to help little ones navigate a family transition. That certainly made it easier. But still by no means easy.
There is so much written, and with very good reason, about the difficulties and particulars of divorcing with kids.
But nothing at all (from what I’ve encountered) about those marriages that end without kids. And they have their own unique struggles.
“Just be glad you didn’t have kids,” was the frequent response I received to the news of my divorce.
And I was glad. I didn’t have to face telling children about the upsetting and significant changes to their lives. I never had to navigate the uncertain waters of establishing a co-parenting relationship or deal with the negotiations over child support. And I didn’t have to watch my hypothetical children suffer, something I can’t even imagine.
I have the utmost respect for those who manage divorce with dignity and courage for their children. For those that set aside the animosity for the ex and focus instead on being the best for the children. For those that bravely tackle unbelievably high obstacles so that their children can thrive. That’s a hard divorce.
And so is divorce without kids. These are the particular struggles that those without children face:
Your Pain is Downplayed
Even though I agreed with those that commented about my not having children, I still felt in the moment like it was dismissive of my pain. The lack of children makes divorce easier. Not easy. Because of the complications and additional stressors that children bring to divorce, those without kids often feel unwelcome in support groups and unable to share their pain without a fear of it being shrugged off.
Your Motivation Isn’t Ready-Made
When you have children, being a parent is often a central purpose of your life and their well-being is a significant motivator after divorce to get your life together. When you’re married and child free, you identify primarily as a husband or wife. And then that’s wiped out with a signature on a page. It can be a struggle for many without children to find their purpose and their motivation after a divorce.
It Can Be Isolating
Whenever I visit my neighborhood pool, I’m reminded how much children bring their parents together with other parents. Most of the adults all know each other through swim team, shared classes and play dates. After a certain age, the child free aren’t included in many of these recurring social situations. And when divorce happens, this isolation can be extreme, especially when the split extends into the couple’s friend group.
Loss of Family Memories
When my parents divorced, my mother and I worked to both retain family memories and to cultivate new ones. When I lost my husband, I lost sixteen years of memories that only he and I shared. And there was no one else to create them with. Children provide sort of a continuation of the marriage. Without children, it can sometimes feel as though there is no proof that the relationship ever occurred.
Fear of Time Running Out
Some people are child free at the time of the divorce because they decided not to have children. And others found that their marriage ended before the desired children were born. For those men and women, a childless divorce is especially painful because it brings with it the fear that time will run out for them to create the family they want.
Even with its particular struggles, divorcing without children gives you a unique freedom rarely found in adulthood. You can relocate. Reinvent. Go on dates every night. Fall in love with somebody else and maybe even somebody else’s children. Or stay single forever and commit your life to some other cause. You have no limits. No restrictions.
Acknowledge your struggles while at the same time expressing gratitude that they were your struggles alone and that no children were harmed in the making of this divorce.