It began with the typical squabbling of young siblings and quickly escalated. I started to raise my voice, then they started raising their voices, and all of a sudden someone was yelling – and then everyone was yelling – and then there were tears.

It was one of those days.

But just as things were going back to normal again, as the tears were subsiding, the words came out of my son’s mouth:  “You don’t know what it is like to be a boy. I wish Dada was here.”

Ouch.  My heart.

And, in that moment, though the ouch hurts my heart so much, I think about how much it hurts his heart – enough that he has said it aloud. He misses his Dad and it aches me.

Seeing your children in pain is the worst thing you can go through as a parent, but there is something profoundly different about an emotional pain – you can’t put a Band-Aid on it. I can’t do anything except tell him that his Dad and I love him and do my best to make sure his Dad is there for him. That relationship is vitally important to both my children: my daughter needs her dad to love her and make her feel safe, and my son needs his dad to love him and show him how to be a boy.

There’s No Easy Way

Divorce is so hard. Few people will say this to you if you’re in the trenches. Whether you’re fighting all the time, thinking about leaving, wondering if you would be better off on your own, whether you have stepped your foot in the mud or are you are covered in a thick layer of guck – if you can hold onto your marriage, if you are able to work through it, to fight for it, to stay together for the kids, then do your best. But for God’s sake, don’t sacrifice your life and jeopardize your children’s happiness. Children learn about love from their parents – and if the love is gone, you can’t raise your children in that household. As Oprah most profoundly said, “It is better to be from a broken home, than to live in a broken home.”

Nearly 40 percent of marriages end in divorce. We throw that statistic around, and yet don’t want to talk about the emotions. When you meet someone who has either gone through a divorce, or is going through one, you become kindred spirits, and it is one of those things that defines you, like if you have blonde hair or can speak three languages. Two of my closest friends have been through divorce, and both are incredibly strong, authentic versions of themselves – wonderful mothers, friends, sisters and daughters – yet there is still that stamp of pain.

Solo Parenting

There are men and women walking among you who have chosen this path, or had the path chosen for them. Either way, I can tell you this solo-parenting thing is no small task; and it isn’t simply the fatigue of the work involved. From groceries to laundry, to bath and bedtime, the work becomes yours alone in your home. But there’s more: it’s when there are wonderful moments – like when they put together a dance show for you and you don’t turn and share a smile with the father of your children. Or, when things are tough – when they’re yelling and throwing stuffed animals in each other’s faces – and you don’t get to share the agony of parenting.

Dealing With The Loss

Divorce is loss, for everyone. For children who lose their original family, and for couples who lose their partner. Children of divorce have to grow up faster; so do the grown-ups. You fall out of love with the person you once loved so deeply that you had children together. The life you had constructed is dismantled, and you have to grieve that loss.

But you can’t live in the grief. You have to move on – it might take a while, but eventually you realize it is time to create new experiences. The most beautiful thing about children is they teach you how to live in the present moment. On Instagram, I share pictures of my kids’ present moments: piggyback rides at the beach, dangling legs from monkey bars, first days of school. Sometimes I send pictures to their dad, so he can share the moments. Eventually that will end, too.

Today, when my son was crying and saying he missed his dad, I didn’t turn around and snap a picture, adding the hashtag #reallife. Those are the kinds of moments most of us don’t post on social media. It is real, though: beautiful, happy, sad, full of laughter and tears.

I remind myself that you have to live through the sadness to truly appreciate the joy. And I hug them a little tighter, and whisper in their ears:

You are loved. ❤

erin-phelan-headshotErin Phelan is a health and fitness professional, personal trainer and writer. Find her at and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.