Today, Mother’s Day, my two teen daughters and I will do nothing. I hope. With luck, there will be no surprise brunch full of carbs they like (Belgian waffles), nor gift baskets of mystery bath stuff (with which my bathroom cabinet already overflows).

While I can wryly say I’ve had enough Mother’s Days, in truth, I don’t know what tribute I deserve. I feel like the 40-year-old bride who isn’t sure she can wear white.

You see, this year marks the 10th anniversary of my divorce from my girls’ father. Not abusive, he traveled for work 20 weeks a year. A lonely parent, I fell in love with my best (also married parent) friend.

So, what Mother’s Day gifts for me? Hallmark card with pentagram? Hairshirt snuggie? Gas station tequila? No gifts, please. That said, with a decade of hindsight (and daughters now taller than me), here’s the curious thing: Divorce worked out for me, and us.

I don’t in any way recommend blowing up a family. Divorce is a cataclysm. There was so much misery, grief, dislocation, Ambien (when my lover dumped me and moved home). If you think I deserved hell for breaking up my family, no need to Fed Ex the coal; I got it.

Then again, while my behavior seemed insane at the time, since the divorce, ironically, I’ve probably been a saner mother.

Flash back to the early 2000s. Since the 1960s, the number of parenting books had exploded five-fold. Having given birth late-ish, I was a worried older mom.

For educated mothers, the devil was in the details. There were the “½ cup green vegs. plus ¼ cup yellow vegs” my pediatrician prescribed I puree for baby’s lunch.

The 45-minute Gymboree “music” classes I took my kids to when they could barely clutch a rattle. This was attachment parenting, where good mothers “wore” their babies all day in Dreft-washed Baby Bjorns.

The catch? Modern mothers also have to be five other people. As of today, the tally includes She Who: 1) “leans in” at work while 2) keeping her marriage fresh with Oprah-esque “date nights” (how does that work with family co-sleeping?) while 3) home-cooking dinners with farmer’s market produce because otherwise McDonald’s wins.

Meanwhile, today’s full-time working moms spend more time with their kids than stay-at-home moms did in the 1950s — a time when 90% of babies were fed formula, Tang was a fruit drink, and tennis-playing moms (like my own, to relieve stress) smoked.

When I was married but my husband was absent, my “solution” was to write full-time at home with no child care (that would be outsourcing motherhood) to the 24/7 crunch of Trader Joe’s Pirate Booty and blare of “Dora the Explorer” (they’re learning Spanish, I told myself!).

Instead of quality time, it was poor-quality time. Six weeks later, my girls’ father would return to our wreck of a house. In the end, I failed as a wife, mother, homemaker and cook.

Paradoxically, what I could do an okay job at was divorced dad. When our marriage ended, I moved to a small “bachelor cottage” (its actual description). I took the girls on odd weeknights and weekends. I learned some humbling things.

On a “half-time” schedule, free of the pressure of doing it all, I could keep a house relatively clean. I could plan actual activities my daughters had always desired.

At home, I never let them make lemonade to avoid the sticky mess. Later, the first time we sparked up my new Target juicer and let it rip, it was like finding Narnia. On “off” nights, I went out with girlfriends. These were other divorcees, the only mothers who allowed themselves that occasional freedom (adult time being apparently something they only do in France).

I started to feel oddly calm and competent.

True, I’m unsentimental about marriage being the foundation for children’s happiness. My own mother’s marriage to my dad was so unhappy, rarely a day went by when I did not wish my eternally raging father would spontaneously burst into flames. (He did not, living until 97.)

Of course, my daughters’ father is nothing like that. He’s a kind, thoughtful man with a now pleasantly ordered home. I hope our daughters have gotten the best of both worlds, without watching two very different people struggle through a marriage.

And if it doesn’t always work? Mom has plenty of bath products.

Author: Sandra Tsing Loh

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