Jennifer felt as if her life was ending. Her husband Michael had told her he was leaving, that he was in love with someone else. She couldn’t believe it. She had dedicated the last sixteen years of her life to taking care of him, their home and their children.
Once upon a time, many years ago she had been a successful journalist. When they decided to have children she had given up her career to raise their family. Jennifer had supported him in every way she could in appreciation of the fact that he was providing financially for all of them. And whilst he was unaware of it, she worked hard to handle every aspect of the house and her children’s lives to ensure none of the daily stresses she faced trickled over into his life.
She believed she had done everything she could to be the perfect wife and mother. What more could she have done? Why was her best not good enough? And what was she supposed to do now? How would she support herself and their three children? She had been out of the workforce for so long that now, at 43 years of age, what were her chances of getting a job that would provide for them all?
How dare he do this to her. After all she had done for him!
Jennifer believed she and Michael had a deal. She would take care of their home and children, and he would provide for them all financially. She had held up her end of the bargain but from her point of view, he had reneged on his responsibilities and left her to handle everything on her own. Their life was meant to be a partnership. But somewhere along the way he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore.
When had that happened?
She thought they were on the same page, heading in the same direction. Suddenly everything had changed. She had lost not only her husband but her view of the future as well. Hadn’t they talked about the travel they would do together when the kids were grown? About having a holiday home where they could have the family visit in the summer? What about the life they had planned? They went into this together. She wouldn’t have chosen it by herself, but now as a result of Michael’s decision she had no choice. Someone had to take care of the kids, earn the money to pay the bills
Jennifer was so angry she could scream. In fact she did. She took herself for a walk to the lake and screamed as loudly as she could. She ranted and raved and sobbed at the unfairness of her life. How dare he do this to her? Who does he think he is anyway?
As she calmed down a little, the thought came that his affair wouldn’t last. He was just going through some sort of midlife crisis.
It’s not like he’s that great a catch.
I’m sure she will tire of him and he’ll come back with his tail between his legs. He will soon realize how good he had it with me, then everything can go back to the way it was. She would be strong and wait for him to come to his senses, she decided.
As Jennifer started to come to terms with the truth about her relationship with Michael, she also recognized that perhaps she had treated him like one of the kids. In some ways, by providing so fully on the domestic front, maybe she had reminded him of his mother. In amongst the day-to-day roles they each played they had lost the fun, the chemistry and the intimacy they had once shared. Her role as mother and homemaker had left little room for ‘wife and lover’. She recognized, too, that Michael had tried to keep the romance alive by suggesting things they could do together without the children, but it had always seemed too difficult to get someone to watch the kids. She could see that she could have done more to ensure Michael felt like a man in their relationship rather than just a family member.
Jennifer was sad as realized it wouldn’t have taken a lot of effort for each of them to keep their romance alive, that things could have been so different for their family if she had remembered to be a woman first and a mother second.
Somewhere in amongst all the domesticity she had lost herself and as a result, her husband. She had however, gained a new, more balanced perspective about the death of her marriage and she was able to let Michael go without guilt or anger. By taking responsibility for her part in the breakdown of their relationship she was able to free herself from the anger and resentment she had been feeling when Michael betrayed her. She understood he was making a choice for himself and her reaction or response to that was up to her. She chose to accept the changes and started on the road to building a new life for herself.
Jennifer recognized that her own actions had contributed to Michael’s affair and the breakdown of their marriage. Whilst he was the one to betray her with another woman, had she not also betrayed him when she treated him as if he was of no importance – when she hardly even noticed he existed except as an additional burden in her life? When was the last time they had sat down together and been truly in each other’s company, completely focused without the distractions of life crowding their minds? She couldn’t remember. No wonder he had enjoyed the attentions of another woman. He must have been lonely too.
As Jennifer started to take responsibility for her own part in the breakdown of her marriage, she began to feel guilty. Suddenly what Michael had done didn’t seem so incredibly painful. She chose to forgive and by doing so she was able to forgive herself. With a balanced view of the past it no longer had any power to cause her pain. She took responsibility for her own life, wished her husband well in her mind and let the past float away. She squared her shoulders, looked at herself in the mirror and promised to be true to herself from now on.
As Jennifer came to forgive both Michael and herself, she felt lighter than ever before. Her heart was singing and as she gazed at herself in the mirror, the reflection that looked back at her was calm and serene. She had never seen herself like this before. There had always been a sense of urgency in her eyes and posture, as if she was always on edge waiting for the next event or occurrence that would require her immediate attention.
She realised it have been many years since she had made any time for herself. She had been so busy running her family and their lives, including her husband’s, she had lost herself in the confusion of trying to be all things to all people. She realised now that this new woman she was becoming was more real, more truthful, more honest and capable every day. She saw a confidence that hadn’t been there before.
As her now steady eyes looked back at her she felt, and saw, a smile start to curve at the corners of her mouth. It was a bit of a wry smile as she finally understood just how absorbed she had been in the motions of living a life in which she had ceased to exist. She also realised that in fact she had needed to be needed. It was this need she had identified in herself that had created her behaviour of putting her family first at the exclusion of herself. As a result she had become a shadow version of the woman Michael had met, a shadow version of the woman she knew she could be, would be, was. It was up to her now. She was determined to grab this opportunity and revel in her newfound identity. She was becoming a new woman, one who vowed never again to lose herself, who would take this precious gift she had been given in both hands and create anew, a new life, a new experience, a new future.
Jennifer learned through her journey from pain to love that she was completely responsible for her own life, that she could create whatever experience she chose, and she chose to continue to be a good mother but one who was real, who showed her children who she was as a person, to build a relationship with each of her boys based upon a meaningful interaction with them.
She was determined too, to take her new independence of spirit and explore new paths for herself, to show her children by example that she was someone worthy of respect, to put boundaries in place which would ensure that never again did she become so absorbed in the raising of her boys that she lost herself.
She finally understood that she was her first priority, not in a way which was selfish or excluded her kids, but one where she took care of her own needs first, and in doing so she was a much better mother, more balanced, loving and real. As she took care of herself, she had so much more to offer the people around her, including her children. Instead of feeling depleted by their needs, she felt proud to be their mother, and in time, after a few adjustments, she found the love she had for her children returned as they, in turn, learned to respect and love her not only as their mother but as a woman in her own right.