To my daughter, during this divorce

To my daughter, in this divorce - SweetMadeleine.ca

Photo by Brent Calis Photography

I’m sorry.

I wish I could say it more, deeper, differently. I say it almost every day for a million tiny reasons –  when you fall down the stairs at the playground and when I forget to bring you something, when you can’t have what you’re asking for. I apologize for a dozen different reasons every day but underneath each casual apology lies something larger. I’m sorry there are just two arms here to hug you. I’m sorry that it’s just me right now. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I wanted more for you. You deserve more. You deserve to be like the other families we see during our adventures around this city – Dad, Mom, Child. All of these little families perfectly balanced on three legs, while we wobble around on two. It feels like we could simply topple over at any time.

It has been hard for me, but the worst is quickly fading like a scar glinting silver instead of angry red. The losses feel less like losses, now, and more like doors opening. Weights being thrown from my shoulders. A slowly blooming sense of happiness.

For you, however, there are some losses you will feel for your whole life. No matter which one of your parents you are with, you will find yourself missing the other and knowing they ache too, missing you.

You will go through your life living with half of your family at a time.

No matter how I look back, how much I rationalize, how hard I tried – this fact never changes. You come out the worst in this. You lose the most. I can’t think about that without crying, and I can never apologize enough for being a part in that loss.

We were walking to the park a few weeks ago, holding hands in the bright heat, and you asked me where your brothers and sisters were. Tears immediately sprang to my eyes and I could feel that tight, choking feeling take hold in the back of my throat.

I don’t know how to explain to you that you’ll never have full siblings. I don’t know how to explain that you may not have siblings at all.

I’ll never have another baby that looks just like you.

I’ve had to practice letting go of all of this; every day I wake up and practice letting these unrealized futures sift through my clenched fists like sand. I am trying to create something strong enough to replace them. I will have to help you do the same, to accept these losses you don’t even know you’re losing. And as you become more and more aware of the world around you I will have to become better at answering these questions. About siblings. And why you have two houses. And why your parents live in different cities.

I will have to get better at answering your questions without feeling like I’m choking on a loss I can’t explain.

You are so happy, Olive. You are bright and soft and your smile is my favourite thing in the world. You are sharply intelligent and deeply considerate.  You loyally proclaim someone your “best friend!” after knowing them for mere minutes.

I know you will be fine – you will be more than fine. That never worries me. You are strong and fierce and surrounded by love. I know that you know that. There are worse things in this world than your situation, I know. You won’t – unfortunately – be the only one of your friends whose parents aren’t together.

So, it’s not that this story is terribly unique, it’s just that I never thought it would be my story, and I certainly never thought, when I held you in my arms that first October day, that it would be yours.

When you curl up into me at night or when I pack your suitcase, when you cry when it’s time to leave or time to come back – when you ask if I’m coming with you, and I see that you do not understand why I can’t,  and I don’t know how to explain it to you – I can’t apologize enough.

I can’t say sorry deep enough to reach what I imagine you must be feeling, even if you don’t understand why. Especially because you don’t understand why.

I say the words and I know that you hear them, but I just can’t say it enough.

I’m so sorry.


I hope that we can grow strong, even separate. I hope that our family can still stand solidly on three legs, even if they are spread a little further apart than most. I hope that this never feels like less, to you. I hope that we can become more than the sum of our parts.

I hope that we can become enough that one day I won’t feel like I need to fill this hole with apologies. I hope that one day I can let go of this deep aching sense of guilt. I hope the goodbyes will become easier. I hope that one day this will begin to feel okay, and good, and normal, and not like a shabby, hastily taped together version of a family.

I hope that you will have brothers and sisters. I hope that you will feel that crush of annoyance and love and closeness and shared history. And if you don’t, I hope you can create them from your friends and cousins and your passel of crazy aunts and uncles.



You’re okay, sweet pea.

I rub your back when you have nightmares, repeating this like a mantra. I feel your breath slow and I look at the soft night light filtering onto your cheeks and your crazy mop of hair, sweaty with sleep.

I’m sorry….
I hope….
You’re okay…

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  • Reply Elizabeth August 5, 2015 at 4:30 PM

    Quickly commenting to just say how lovely, sad and empowering this is to read – I’m so impressed by how you are thinking about this, addressing it, trying to move past it, etc. How lucky Olive is to have a mother who is working so hard to handle this in the right way – you are giving her an invaluable gift and an unbelievable example of how to handle disappointment, sadness and adversity.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine August 5, 2015 at 5:10 PM

      Thank you so much, Elizabeth. That means a lot to me.

  • Reply Ariel August 5, 2015 at 4:37 PM

    My heart is breaking 🙁 As a child from a broken home, I totally understand this. All I know is that one of the best gifts you can give any child in that situation, and that I wish my parents had given me, is to take the high road and at least in front of them is to treat him as the father of your child and not as the ex husband. I can only wish you the best of luck, but I know that you’ve got this 🙂 You’re a strong woman, a strong mother and your daughter is sure to take after you in that regard.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine August 5, 2015 at 5:11 PM

      I completely agree. Thank you, Ariel.

  • Reply Kassey August 6, 2015 at 2:44 AM

    Good luck. I wish you well on this your journey.

  • Reply Alison T. August 6, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    This is heartbreakingly beautiful, M. You’re doing it right. Olive will be loved and content in the knowledge that she has a mother who puts her first. Strength, friend! Xx

  • Reply staerling23 August 6, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    This post made me cry a little because I have many of those same thoughts with my 2yo. It’s easier at times & harder at others. The tears on exchange days are the hardest to handle! It’s reassuring in some ways to know there are others walking this same road.

    Like others have noted, you are clearly a strong woman & it’s obvious to me that your legs are more than capable of carrying you & Olive through this time.

  • Reply Kara August 6, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  • Reply Rachel Kathryn August 6, 2015 at 12:39 PM

    I can promise you that she does not lose from this. Divorce isn’t easy on the child, but its so, so much easier than being in the house of a broken marriage that won’t part ways. You’re doing a wonderful job.

  • Reply Heather August 6, 2015 at 6:38 PM

    This was powerful to me. Doing it alone with my 4 year old daughter, I feel such a weight at times, I came from such a close family with siblings and as I chart our waters I don’t know what lies ahead. I wanted a different story but try and sometimes it’s pretty tough but to embrace our little unit and as my sweet one says our team.

  • Reply Megan August 7, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    This post is beautiful, heartbreaking, and so real. Thank you.

    Growing up I had a situation very similar to Olive’s… my parents divorced when I was too young to really remember them together at all. They tried their very best to co-parent me when I know now there were a lot of feelings hiding underneath. And you know what… I never ever felt like I missed out of anything or I was robbed of a “normal” upbringing. I do not think Olive will ever feel like she has “less” because in truth she doesn’t. She has more than a lot of kids, a mama that is trying SO hard and feels so deeply about making sure her baby is okay. Sounds to me like your doing an amazing job. Wishing your sweet little family the very best.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine August 7, 2015 at 10:15 AM

      Thank you so much for sharing that, Megan. I really, really appreciate hearing from people who grew up with Olive’s same situation.

  • Reply yakkydeb August 10, 2015 at 9:37 AM

    Hey Mads
    You are so doing the right thing. Parents that don’t get along is a nightmare for kids. Parents who are civil and decent to each other even at a distance is a whole lot better.

  • Reply Kim August 14, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    You are simply incredible Maddie. Another amazing post that has brought tears to my eyes both times I’ve read it. I was a child of divorce (although older than Olive when it happened) and I remember feeling sad but always knowing I was loved no matter where I went. I wish you so much luck in the years to come and truly hope you find that happily ever after that you deserve and that you (and Olive) end up with many many more babies in your family! 🙂

  • Reply Jade August 21, 2015 at 7:08 PM

    Thank you for this post Madeleine. I am an only child and my parents separated when I was nine. I have lived between their two homes, 8 hours apart here in Australia. I am now in my 30s with two young ones of my own and we still make this journey often. I often think about how my mum felt during the years following the separation. Olive will read this one day and she will shed a tear for sure but she will know with every bit of her being how much she is loved. Having two families has not always been easy but I think love and forgiveness have kept us all together even though we are physically apart. You are a wonderful person and mum. You have an incredible gift to translate feelings to words and the courage and kindness to then share those words. Keep going and being xox

  • Reply becklist September 7, 2015 at 10:11 PM

    I’m a single parent of a toddler so I’ve had some of these same thoughts. I just think though about the intensely close and meaningful relationships I’ve had with people who are not even remotely related to me – and it makes me feel like my child will grow up building his own awesome family. That makes me happy.

    No, he won’t ever have a full sibling. But I’ve seen incredible relationships between half-siblings. I’ve seen incredible relationships between adopted siblings. I grew up in foster care and I’ve still been able to have incredibly amazing relationships. So I think we are all going to be ok. You have my vote anyway!


  • Reply Kate September 20, 2015 at 5:14 AM

    This. Oh this.
    I have felt myself drawn closer and closer to your blog and Facebook page in recent months as the imminent separation of my partner and myself has now become reality. We share a sweet little 1 year old boy who adores both his ‘Mamma” & “Dadda” but unfortunately we do not share those same bonds as a couple that we do as parents.
    My aim is to navigate this shit show with grace, friendship and respect seeing as we have a little set of eyes watching and a little set of ears listening. I hope my (now) ex-partner travels that same path with me.
    Please know, as bittersweet as I’m sure it is to hear, that your experiences and subsequent posts have helped me keep my thoughts in check in moments when I forget who is watching. I want my sweet little boy to always feel the love he is surrounded by to help him through the times of hurt, loss and confusion that will inevitably come.

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