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Breaking Up With The Balancing Act


Weddings. Divorced parents. You.

Breaking Up With The Balancing Act | A Practical Wedding

by Rachel

I’m writing this after just having had a big fight with my mother. After spending a wonderful day together shopping and talking about my upcoming wedding, she left my apartment in anger after I mentioned wanting to do a father-daughter and a mother-daughter dance.

As a child of divorce, I never really had dreams for a perfect wedding. I always felt like it was out of my reach, something other people had. I’m one of those people whose parents can’t bear to be in the same room together. In my family the hatred is constant. My parents divorced ten years ago but have been fighting over custody and money ever since. Lawyers and the police were still involved when I announced my engagement. I don’t blame my mother for her anger. My mother feels she was left with the burden of supporting and raising me while my dad got all the good stuff about being a parent but did none of the work and paid none of the bills. Tonight she told me she felt like she “dragged him kicking and screaming through parenthood.” My father feels like he did his best financially but was always active in my life. I love both my parents dearly.

After my mother left, J held me in his arms and stroked my hair as I wept. Navigating the emotional minefield of my parents’ divorce has always made me feel as though I was doing a balancing act between the emotions of two people with a blindfold on. To do anything that made one person happy, was the deepest of betrayals to the other. I could never predict when something was going to upset the balance. In this balancing act there is no room for my own emotions, no room for my own happiness.

While I never envisioned a perfect, happy wedding, I did always envision having a father-daughter dance. I longed to be physically close to my father, to have a moment in time just for us before going off to make my own little baby family. I always knew what song I wanted. When I bought my wedding dress I could see that moment in my mind. The problem is that in my mind, no one else was in the room. When I started to plan my actual wedding I decided I wanted that moment with my mother too. So I picked out a song just for us. I filled it with hopes and dreams of my mother crying when she heard our special song, holding me close and telling me she loves me. Tonight she tossed aside my request to have a mother-daughter dance like it was hush money, buying her silence as I betrayed her.

When my mother told me she couldn’t believe I would hurt her by having a father-daughter dance, I cried. I knew exactly how this would play out. My mother would accuse me of prioritizing my father’s feelings over hers. She would list everything she had ever done for me, everything he had neglected to do for me and then to drive the knife right into my heart she would remind me of the emotional abuse my father put her through during their marriage. I turn into a blubbering mess as this plays out, just as it has so many times before. She leaves and I continue to sob. This is the woman who I know loves me above all else but who in this moment can see nothing but her own pain.

J, the wonderful man that he his, holds me as my nose runs into the glass of wine I am gulping down. He tells me that this is our wedding, that it is our day to do what we want and that she’ll calm down over the next eight months. I nod, trying to reassure him that I’m okay, but deep down I know that she won’t calm down. I know that my mother will feel the hurt of this her entire life. She will add it to the list of painful memories her marriage and divorce has given her. I will add it to the list I quietly repeat to myself every day, the list of reasons why I hope my child will never have to live with divorce.

I go into the bathroom, sit on the hard, cool ceramic floor and cry while I type this. I know that I will have to choose between my happiness and hers yet again. This time I will choose mine. My wedding was never going to be a happy event for my mother. I will never have the mother who excitedly helps me plan my wedding because she has already added the day to her list. Instead I will add the wedding to another list, my list of happy moments I created with my baby family.

This wedding has made me think a lot about my uncle Darrell. A few years ago I lost my only uncle, whom I loved dearly, in a car crash. My cousin who was fifteen at the time is now also planning her wedding. She will never have the opportunity to have a father-daughter dance. We held each other and cried together for that loss at his funeral. I have decided I will not rob myself of such a precious memory, a memory I am lucky enough to have within my grasp because it will cause my mother pain. The pain of their divorce is not my burden. I will dance with my father to revel in a final moment of being a child. I will play the song that is special to us. Then I will leave their divorce behind and I will create for my future child the emotional support I have always craved. I will work toward ridding my life of the emotional scars my parents’ marriage has left me with. I will create new memories. Marrying J sounds like a good place to start.

Photo by Gabriel Harber (APW Sponsor)

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  • http://thevanillabride.blogspot.com/ Sonarisa

    Thanks for writing this. Our situations are different, but your resolution of focusing on the happiness of your baby family and yourself instead of bowing to the demands of others really hits home. I’ll be sending positive thoughts your way, and I know you and J will have a great day, and an even more amazing family life together.

  • http://heartsvsbrains.tumblr.com/ HeartvsBrain

    This brought tears to my eyes because you’re suffering was so evident in your words. I’m sending you big hugs and invisible support as I’m sure many others here will as well. I hope you feel that support under you, when you need to be on solid ground.

    I have no personal experience with divorced parents, but I have experienced many times over, the pull to put someone else’s feelings above my own. I am so glad you’ve chosen yourself and your new baby family’s needs over your mothers. I wish you good luck on this journey and the journeys to come!

  • C

    I have parents who went through a bitter divorce also. I’m dreading the hoops I’ll have to jump through on my wedding day to keep them separated. Many hugs to you.

  • BreckW

    While our situations are a little different, the feelings about choosing between your mother’s happiness and your own are the same ones I’ve felt for many years. I’m not married or planning a wedding, but I did finally put my foot down and pick my happiness. It hasn’t been a walk in the park or anything, but I feel about a million times more content and relaxed, and I think our relationship is much better for it. I’m so glad you have J by your side because having a loving partner to support you makes being your own advocate a little easier. Wishing you love on your wedding day and for the rest of your lives together!

  • Laura C

    Oh, man. I’m so sorry. Wishing you the best.

  • KEA1

    Another “situation is different, but…” commentator, and all I can really articulate at the moment is THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS. And bravo for choosing your happiness. And SO MUCH support, so many wishes for strength to you as you navigate the minefield, and all manner of wonderful wishes for the life that you and J build together.

  • Laura

    “The pain of their divorce is not my burden.”

    Oof. This. So very much this.

    Although my circumstances are different, I, too, have a mother-daughter relationship that is fraught with tension. With wedding planning (blessedly over at this point) and life in general, I’ve been clinging to that guiding principle. Her issues are not my burden. When she lashes out, it’s a reflection on her and her own unhappiness, not on me. My role is to wrap myself and my family in protective love, removing myself from the situation if necessary.

    Sounds great on paper, but it’s absolutely challenging and heart-wrenching in the moment. I’m wishing you peace, clarity, and healing in the months to come.

    • BreckW

      “When she lashes out, it’s a reflection on her and her own unhappiness, not on me.”

      This, so much. And I would add to that, that you (we, really) are not responsible for her happiness. I always want my mom to be happy, but I can’t make her happy. That’s up to her.

  • themoderngal

    Thank you for your post. I’m sure it was very tough to write, and you did so beautifully. I hope sharing will help you cope with the struggle.

    Please remember this: You are choosing your own happiness. Your mother, despite all of the things she went through with your father, must choose or not choose her own happiness. It is not your choice — it is hers.

  • Jessica

    Rachel, holy shit, I feel your pain 100%. My parental situation is very similar, and it’s mostly my mother who CANNOT let go of the pain of divorce (which happened 10 years ago, too). My father has moved on, but I fear she never will. So I really get it when you say “My wedding was never going to be a happy event for my mother. I will never have the mother who excitedly helps me plan my wedding because she has already added the day to her list.” But here is something I figured out, and maybe you already have also: The fact that you’re planning a wedding does NOT mean that anyone around you changes. Everything is what it is — you just happen to be planning a huge event that is incredibly meaningful to you. I handled it by accepting that and doing what I (and my partner, of course) wanted to do, knowing I/we couldn’t “win” in everyone’s eyes. My mom looked pretty miserable at my wedding and I don’t know that she had any fun, but I’ve come to realize that’s not my fault, just like this is not your fault. You can’t fix your mom, as much as you’d like to… so take care of yourself and enjoy the hell out of your father-daughter dance. xo

    • mackenzie

      “The fact that you’re planning a wedding does NOT mean that anyone around you changes. Everything is what it is — you just happen to be planning a huge event that is incredibly meaningful to you. I handled it by accepting that and doing what I (and my partner, of course) wanted to do, knowing I/we couldn’t “win” in everyone’s eyes.”

      Yes. Yes. Yes.

  • Amanda L

    I stopped reading here: In this balancing act there is no room for my own emotions, no room for my own happiness.
    because I just wanted to say that maybe THAT is what your mother and father need to hear. That while you know they both have emotions tied up with the other person, that they have failed to acknowledge the difficulty that being their daughter comes with.

    • Violet

      Hi Amanda- I feel your longing for Rachel’s parents (mom, specifically) to understand. It would be great if all parents could hear, could understand. But sometimes, people can’t. Especially people who are wrapped up in their own emotional turmoil. Sometimes, after too many painful attempts to get them to “hear,” it becomes necessary to stop trying to get them to understand, and instead focus on one’s needs. It sounds like Rachel has made that determination for herself. Rachel, I wish you all the best!

      • Jess

        “Sometimes, after too many painful attempts to get them to “hear,” it becomes necessary to stop trying to get them to understand, and instead focus on one’s needs.”

        Oh. Yes. How hard it is to stop trying and how hard it is to focus on oneself.

      • Meg Keene

        Yes, this.

      • Guest

        When people aren’t in a great position to listen, it’s unfortunately very unlikely that they’ll be able to hear very much. =(

    • KEA1

      Apologies if this becomes a multi-post (originally replied to the wrong place):

      When people aren’t in a great position to listen, it’s unfortunately very unlikely that they’ll be able to hear very much. =(

  • Guest

    My parents announced they were divorcing shortly after I got engaged. Wedding planning was tough, in large part because my mother was just so sad and angry (and also just, you know, HERSELF – but that’s separate from the divorce!). It was so clear that she was carrying a lot of emotional baggage and really struggled to be happy for me. While I obviously tried to be sensitive to her problems, this really weighed on me during planning – I too was sad and angry. Sad that she was so hurt and feeling lost, and angry that she couldn’t set her issues aside and just be happy and supportive for the short periods of time we discussed anything wedding related. It definitely affected our relationship, and made me pull away from her during planning. It was yet another lesson from my parents that I need to rely on myself, rather than them. The greatest gift and worst hurt my parents have ever given me is teaching me to be independent.

  • clairekfromtheuk

    Huge great big hugs from across the pond.

    You’ve made a sensible, self-preserving, fantastic decision. Well done!

    Stay strong and remind yourself every day/every wedding task why you made it.

  • Gina

    You are so strong. Thank you for this beautiful, heart-wrenching piece. Wishing you the most beautiful wedding day and start to your baby family ever!

  • Kayjayoh

    My goodness it’s dusty in here. There’s something in my eye.

  • mackenzie

    “I will add it to the list I quietly repeat to myself every day, the list of reasons why I hope my child will never have to live with divorce.” This.

    I’m an only child and my parents divorced when I was 16. It was awful. And 14 years later I’m still constantly accused of taking sides and having the time I spend with one parent weighed against the time I spend with the other parent so that they can determine who “wins” (spoiler alert: it’s not me).

    I remember just sobbing and sobbing when they got divorced, thinking to 16-year-old self, “oh no, my wedding! it will never be a happy day!” We got married four months ago. It was definitely a happy day, but, if you looked closely enough, you could see how my parents’ divorce was visible, even on my wedding day. For starters, I walked myself down the aisle. There are so many reasons for this (feminist and non), but I said it was because the aisle was too narrow for anyone but me. That was totally true (though my hubby and I made it work), but I also didn’t want to have to pick between my mother (who raised me) and my father (who thought it was his “right” to walk me down the aisle). Our wedding was only 30 guests, and it gave people little room to hide. My parents sat at different tables, gave speeches that were separated by different courses, competed with each other for time with me, with my husband, with our friends, with his parents.

    Since long before the divorce, I have been a team of one, constantly pulled in two opposing directions by my parents–two people who claim to love me unconditionally and I them. Finally, I am a team of two. Marriage has made this feel like a much more even match-up. Where my parents’ harsh words and manipulation used to leave me crumpled on the floor, homie don’t play dat in my husband’s book. He is my team. He is my family. And his love, wisdom, and encouragement give me the strength and support to approach these challenges from a place of strength. Now, it’s not just me, but our baby family that gets to decide what it wants its relationship with my parents to look like. And this baby family is one hell of a team.

    • Anon today

      “Finally, I am a team of two.”

      My fiance and I too, in different
      ways (me only child, he asserting himself with his family) — thanks for
      articulating the importance, relief, and security of this feeling.

    • Anon

      “spoiler alert: it’s not me” – totally hit home here, too.

      Having to navigate the waters of both parents present at one event has always been a major fear of mine about getting married. Even though I know it’s going to suck and I will probably end up in several situations like the poster, I have to say that it’s been really helpful to read about the experiences of others.

      • MC

        Solidarity here – ever since before I got engaged I have been nervous about having a wedding because it will be the most time my parents have spent in the same place in almost 15 years. Same reason I keep trying to get out of having a rehearsal dinner… Definitely helpful to know that others have survived it.

    • Rachel

      Author here!

      “Finally, I am a team of two.” “And this baby family is one hell of a team.”

      I’m an only child too. I feel like you just beautifully encapsulated how I feel about J in these situations. It is an incredible source of support to finally have someone who is always on MY side. I didn’t even feel like I had a side before, I was just pulled between two different sides. It really shifts the weight of the balances to become more equal and this is where a lot of my ability to say “I’m so done with this” comes from. Through all of this J sees how I get hurt and it feels incredible just to have a witness. Someone who can corroborate my end of things. I feel so lucky to have that. I just wish my 14 year old self could have had him when it was the same crap but I had the emotional maturity of a middle schooler (spoiler alert: 14 year old girls don’t handle emotional stress well)

      Thank you to everyone for all the support. I wrote this article all in one go right in the aftermath and it is just a whole bag o’emotions. APW is such an incredible community, I feel so thankful to be a part of it.

      Lots of love, Rachel

  • ItsyBit

    Ugh, I am so sorry. To join the chorus of “very similar” situations, I feel you. The balancing act is so, so awful and you’re right- it doesn’t leave room for you to just be happy. This is something that I’m having to deal with now as well. Sending you strength and fist-bumps of solidarity through the internet. This is going to be hard, but between making choices for yourself and having an amazing partner, I think it’ll be great in the end.

  • Christen Moynihan

    This is amazing. I know it hurts, but you’re strong and I’m in awe of this. Your priorities seem right and your marriage sounds like it’s beginning on the right path. And in the meantime, hugs and glasses of wine from me to you for the moments of pain you have to endure.

  • http://thinkweirdthoughts.blogspot.com Phira

    SO many virtual hugs, if wanted.

    I am so angry on your behalf that your mother is putting you through this. You’re 100% correct: their divorce is NOT your problem.

    I’m really at a loss for words after reading your post. I’m just so angry that you have to deal with this.

  • SLW

    Thank you so much. I am book-marking this for later. This is the first APW piece that made me cry (probably because it hits too close to home.) :)

  • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

    My heart goes out to you. Giving you a big hug..I am glad you have cultivated the strength to put your happiness first. This is your day, as your fiance said. Thank God for new starts, new memories, fresh starts…and a wedding is just that, even though it simultaneously calls up old and unresolved baggage. Take care of yourself, you deserve it. I’m so sorry you are going through this, I know it’s heartbreaking.

  • js

    I want the author of this post to know this got to me, but not in the way you might expect. I imagined this post, from my daughter as she prepared for her future wedding day and it broke my heart. My daughter’s father and I have big issues and they are a source of pain for her. I have been inspired by what Rachel said to try and get my shit together. It will be a huge undertaking and I’m not even sure where to start, but I want to be able to have a healthy relationship of her own some day. I also want to be able to say I did everything possible to make sure she never felt like she had to choose between her father and I.

    • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

      you’re wonderful.

    • Violet

      From an adult child of divorce, thank you.

  • Kat Robertson

    “J, the wonderful man that he his, holds me as my nose runs into the glass of wine I am gulping down.”

    This was me and my fiance every night when we went to bed when we visited my people at Thanksgiving, and it reminded me of all of the reasons I am so excited to marry him and start our own family. Congratulations on your baby family, and on choosing your happiness.

  • YetAntherMegan

    As someone who can’t have that father-daughter moment, I say you should have your moment. Explain how much it means to your mother. She may listen and understand, she may not. My dad took something that started as an issue between him and my mom and escalated it to the point where he cut me out of his life. My stepdad will step in for my wedding, but if you want your dad there and he can be there, don’t let your parents’ divorce stand in the way.

  • River

    Thank you for this. I’m a long-time reader, and this is my very first comment. After about a year of pre-engagement, my love and I are finally engaged (!) …and it took my father less than 24 hours to announce that he would not be attending the wedding. Just reading someone else’s account of how painful wedding planning can be with long-divorced parents who still cannot get it together makes me feel better about this awful pit I have in my stomach regarding wedding planning.

    And, to end on a positive note, this: “I will leave their divorce behind and I will create for my future child
    the emotional support I have always craved. I will work toward ridding
    my life of the emotional scars my parents’ marriage has left me with. I
    will create new memories.” – perfectly encapsulates my hope for marriage.

  • Julia27

    I too am an only child with long divorced parents. While I was reading this piece I ended up reading some parts aloud to partner saying “I know this all to well” especially “This is the woman who I know loves me above all else but who in this moment can see nothing but her own pain”. I have made similar statements about my own mother many times. It’s painful to deal with, but becomes easier when you realize that the root of the problem is not with you, but with her. Thank you for writing this article and putting words to the pain and confusion that many of us have faced (and continue to face) throughout the years.