I'm sitting at the bar of a local cantina with my mother, moments after she has signed her divorce papers. She's crying as she sips on her blended margarita, no salt, and I'm rubbing her back while promising her that divorce was the right thing to do, while simultaneously and subtly motioning to the bartender for two shots of tequila. Emotional, physical and financial abuse, coupled with an extensive amount of guilt, kept my mom from seeing all the reasons why going through a divorce doesn't make you a bad mom; reasons that would have saved her, and my brother and I, from years of torment; reasons that could have given my mother the freedom to be herself, without the looming threat of a violent spouse. Still, even after she found the courage to leave and even after she signed the necessary paperwork, I can see those reasons slipping through her shaking fingers, as she's contemplating her decision and wondering if divorce is a reflection of herself as an individual, a lover, a partner and, perhaps most importantly to her in this moment, as a mother.
I spent a significant part of my childhood begging my mother to leave my father, only to hear numerous excuses (some very valid, some not-so-much) as to why she couldn't. Truth be told, she didn't have the financial ability to file for divorce; she didn't have a supportive network of friends and family close by, to help her with her children or provide her with a place to live; she couldn't let go of the idea that divorce was "bad," and her children would suffer because she chose to "split up the family." My abusive father fed her many of those ideas, manipulating my mother into thinking that choosing divorce would make her a bad mom. He knew what to say, and how to say it, in order to get my mother to focus on the potential future of her children, and not her own.
I look back now, and now that my mother is happy and healthy and a single woman free to be herself without fear of abuse or violence, and cringe at the thought of how many years my mother lost, all because she was taught that divorce was "bad" or "wrong" or anything other than necessary, because sometimes (hell, most of the time) it is. I cringe remembering how she looked (so sad) and how she acted (so hopeless) and how her overall demeanor was something my brother and I not only noticed, but couldn't ignore. I cringe when she, now, apologizes for not leaving sooner and calls herself a bad mother for not getting a divorce, quick to rub her back the same way I did all those years ago at a cantina bar, and remind her that she is an incredible mother, divorce or not. How great my mother, or any mother, is at parenting doesn't hinge on their romantic relationships "succeeding" or "failing," so when my incredible mom begins to doubt her abilities and points to divorce as a reason why, I remind her of the following: