During a coffee conversation with three companions after the afternoon siesta while on holiday in Greece, two of whom were divorced, while one was “estranged,” the topic turned to whether a Greek woman should remarry after death or divorce when she has children.
Amanda was of the opinion that she should not. Remarrying a bringing a “strange man” into the house for a child was devastating. Speaking from her own childhood experience, she grew up with a widowed mother of three, who had at 22 devoted her entire life to raising her children by washing “marble staircases.” Amanda sided with my angry vindictive teenage daughter who was brining me hell by refusing to have a relationship with me as a result of my marrying a man 8 years ago. “I totally understand the girl,” she says. “If I was 10 and my mother remarried I would go crazy. I am glad she never did and we never had to go through a second loss, once for losing our father, and twice for losing our mother to another man.” In the typical very upfront, raw way Greeks have of expressing their opinions, she said, “It’s all a matter of choice. You might have found the man of your dreams, but you have lost your child. It all goes down to choice. Choices. It’s all about the choices you make.” In her opinion, the needs of the child trump the needs of the mother.
Amanda stands on one side of the debate: that a woman should dedicate her life, sacrifice her talents and her own personal fulfillment at the altar of motherhood. “How happy can a woman be, even within a fulfilling marriage,” she claims, “if she has lost her child?”
Now, wait a minute, is it that cut and dry? Can a woman really be healthy and emotionally balanced if she concentrates her energy to her children at the expense of anyone else? This is the question: whose happiness takes precedence—the woman’s or the child’s?
My life serves as an example of the other side of the debate. My decision was informed by my need to provide a good role model for my child who is also a woman. I can argue the reverse, “How happy can a child be if his or her mother is miserably depressed because she is lonely and unfulfilled?” I too dedicated my life and talents, putting aside my vocational and sexual pursuits so that I could raise my daughter exclusively. After ten years of this, it became readily apparent that I was miserable. Something was seriously missing. I had neglected my own needs to cater to a child which while I adored I spoiled because I overcompensated for her lack of a father and because frankly she was the center of my world. At a certain point, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, I lost my job, I even came close to losing my life. So, in an effort to give my one daughter another sibling and a taste of a “normal” family, I remarried. Had my daughter not been in the picture, I probably would. She did not react in the way I had expected. Had I known how devastating the effects of my remarrying would be on her, I would not have made that decision. But you can’t choose in hind sight.
Although I can say I am relatively happy with my remarriage, my daughter is not. Does it really have to be a choice between one person being miserable so that another can be happy?
My daughter put it very succinctly: “I wish it didn’t have to trade my happiness so that you could have yours. But now I feel my life has fallen apart and I am miserable.”
My other reason has to do with emotional health. How healthy can it possibly be for a woman to focus her emotional energy on one person? It seemed a bit skewed. In the final analysis, although I tried very hard to appear whole as a single parent, I was not. A single-parent family is broken and one-sided
Amanda, although technically married, lives independently with her two-year-old son. She has sent her husband to his mother’s house. In her words she gets the best of both worlds, she enjoys the benefits, financial and societial of marriage, including the joys of conjugal rights on the weekends, but can remain independent and free to live her life as essentially a single mom.
Yet, I couldn’t help but notice how her excessive fussing over her only son can lead to an unbalanced energy. “Don’t talk,” she hushes us, “Christo is sleeping. You will wake him up.” She makes him a new dish of cream for lunch when he has a tantrum over not wanting to eat the couscous she served and which he asked for and then a toast sandwich. She is on her way to raising one of those typical Greek males who operate with the expectation that they are the center of the universe and that women should cater to them from head to foot.
Our other friend, Tsimbouka, stood for the golden mean for the debate. After suffering from 22 years of abuse from a macho Greek husband who did not let her leave the house without permission and kept her from going to school to learn English, she got a divorce. But as she is a Scorpio with an intense sex drive, she would date men without her two children, 15 and 11 knowing. “I’m going to Georgia’s house for coffee,” she would bluff and then have a tryst. She says, “You can satisfy your own needs, but play it democratically and do not let the children know about your private life. This way they will never have cause to hate you for bringing a strange man into the family.” Tsimbouka eventually remarried but not until her children were adults.
This too seems like a secret; as if a woman does not have the right to have a relationship after the first relationship with a man ended.
Frankly, I wish it were easier for new families to form from the shambles of the old ones. As I tried to explain to my daughter, love is not like a dish of apple pie. There is only so much to go around, with one person getting a bigger piece of the pie than another. Love is more like a fire. No matter where you are if you come close to it, you will feel the warmth. It can’t be divided and parceled out. It just spreads around freely. It all depends on how close you choose to sit next to it.
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