Want to know how to strengthen your marriage while also juggling parenthood? Ask a mom who is divorced! As conversations here reveal, many divorced moms have done a lot of reflection on what went wrong in their marriages and on what they would change the second time around.
Here, these women share the mistakes and challenges that undermined their marriages and the hard-won lessons they've learned — wisdom that's useful for every couple raising children.
1. Create more "us" time.
When a couple decides to have children, parenting those kids should be a top priority. But some divorced members feel, in hindsight, that they were so busy with their children that they didn't spend enough time on their relationships with their husbands. As Brandi K. explains, "I feel that it is okay to have someone babysit your child for you once or twice a week so that the two of you can have time for yourselves to just be you, not Mom or Dad. People sometimes lose that individuality after they have children. That is bad because that is who you were before you had children, who the other person fell in love with."
The advice to carve out some alone time as a couple also surfaces in a conversation among members who wonder if breastfeeding might be the cause of their divorces. But other moms, including Amanda F., point out that this it is rarely so simple: "I don't think breastfeeding causes divorce, but I do believe it can have a straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back effect on a couple that has other issues in their relationship. If a woman is using breastfeeding as an excuse to neglect her husband, then chances are there are underlying issues."
2. Pay attention to the small things.
In addition to carving out more "us time," couples need to put real effort into showing appreciation and caring for their partners on a day-to-day basis, says Jessica A., who has been divorced more than once. "Today I'm 35 and married to a wonderful man, but we've both been through failed marriages and been disappointed," she says. "We both understand that a relationship is something you constantly work at and have to be completely committed and invested in. Life isn't perfect and we have issues and fight — the difference is that we are mature enough to know we have to work through them. While I wish I had waited to have kids until I was older so my kids only saw me here, I'm glad what they see today is a healthy relationship and are seeing that we are consciously working on it. I truly believe doing what it took to get here (including the divorces) was the best thing for my boys."
3. Don't play the blame game.
Some moms say they stayed way too long in marriages that were clearly unhealthy because of abuse, depression or other mental health issues, or because of pressure from friends, relatives, or members of their religious communities. Erica B., who finally fled a marriage that ws abusive for both herself and her son, describes her struggle with guilt: "I was raised not to believe in divorce. It was not an option for me. I do not believe that God likes divorce, but he also does not want us to live in fear. If we are living in fear it hinders us from doing His will."
Alison's postdivorce revelation is that it's important not to let others guilt you. "I've had plenty of people tell me I am wrong for leaving; that I ruined my daughter's life; that I'm going to hell, and that I should have worked harder to make our marriage work," she confides. "But working on a marriage will only help if both partners are willing to do so. I'm at peace with myself and with God with my choice to leave, and I know that I am giving my daughter a better life. There is always damage and fallout from a divorce. That is inevitable. What matters more than the divorce is how your life and parenting [are] handled afterward."
4. Work on your communication skills.
If JuLeah W. has one regret and piece of advice for other moms, it's that couples hone their communication skills. "We don't teach people how to listen, how to talk so they are heard," she says. "We don't teach people how to honestly ask for what they want, how to say yes, how to say no. We don't teach people how to argue, how to agree to disagree, how to 'let it go.' We don't teach the skills people need to make a relationship healthy."
5. Don't rush into marriage
Finally — and this one's a biggie — many moms confide that married life with children is almost impossibly challenging when you rush into it prematurely. For unmarried moms considering a first or subsequent try at nuptial bliss, they suggest these three guidelines.
First, know and love yourself.
Rebekah T. is one of many divorced moms who feel, in retrospect, that instead of racing down the aisle, they should have spent more time on their own, getting ready to be whole and healthy people in committed relationship. When she says, "I personally believe a big part of the problem is a lack of love," she doesn't mean love for your partner; she means love for yourself:
"When we can love ourselves enough to be really honest with who we are, and embrace ourselves, then we have a better chance of truly loving someone else and committing to them," she explains, adding that we all need to take the time to "embrace the good things about ourselves and also the things that we may need help with" before getting married.
Yalana T. agrees, sharing a personal account that reveals just how critical self love is when you have children. "My ex ... didn't love, honor, or cherish me. Instead he used me as his punching bag." Now divorced, she feels lucky to have gotten out alive: "My kids are more important to me than to allow them to see how this so-called 'man' treats their mother. If I hadn't divorced him, I might be dead right now, and my sons would be the ones bearing the brunt of his anger."
Second, don't marry until you really know one another.
In addition to understanding themselves move clearly, many divorced moms wish they'd taken more time to explore who their spouses really were rather than learning "the hard way," as Bobi M. describes the experience of being in a long struggle that ends in divorce. "You can't save a marriage when the person causing the problems refuses to change."
Third, always trust your gut.
Many divorced moms confide that they knew, deep in their guts, that something was wrong even before they married, and that they should have never even walked down the aisle. "I didn't pay attention to all the signs and needless to say, my ex and I were fighting on the day of our wedding, and continued to fight for seven years," rues Leaha R.
What's the most important lesson you learned from the end of your marriage?
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