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        black and white photo of Bee Shapiro with her daughters Ellis and Skyblack and white photo of Bee Shapiro with her daughters Ellis and Sky

        It's Personal

        How I Became A Better Mom After Having A Divorce

        Bee Shapiro, New York Times columnist and founder of the cult-favorite fragrance brand Ellis Brooklyn, reflects on finalizing her divorce and the realization she’s become a better—and more joyful—parent in the process.
        Photography
        Alexi Lubomirski
        Written By
        Bee Shapiro

        Divorce.

        This word doesn’t exist in the Land of Little Girl Make-Believe. It’s the kind of adult vocabulary loaded with stigma, accompanied by pitying glances and comments like, “I’m so sorry.”

        This past year, I turned 40 and I also finalized my divorce that had been ongoing for 15 months or so. It included such messy requirements as “nesting” (which means moving in and out of our house to parent throughout the week), divorce mediation, splitting 401ks, custody schedules, and a raw personal accounting of my accomplishments and failures to date. Because that’s what divorce is: a failure of a union. And my type-A personality mentally beat myself up over it again and again.

        At first, I was resentful that I couldn’t wallow in my misery. (Self-pity is a funny thing—it’s somehow a safe space to bemoan and blame nearly everything and everyone else, yet it’s also delusional as the failure of my marriage required two parties.) I have two little girls I had to co-parent, I had to run my company Ellis Brooklyn, I had to stand on my two feet because no one was going to come to rescue me. I had to get on with it.

        It was through all this—the pain, the strife, the scary realization of true independence—that came the dawning that caught me by pleasant surprise: I am a better parent since my divorce.

        I have always been a working mom. I wrote for the New York Times and started Ellis Brooklyn when pregnant with Ellis, my first daughter. And then I began to scale Ellis Brooklyn and authored a book through the pregnancy and birth of Sky, my second daughter. This didn’t leave a lot of time for myself. In fact, looking back, I would say I had no concept of time management. I would use my work trips as my excuse—thinking that because I got a chance to stay in a nice hotel room and sleep in sweet silence that it was enough. But the truth was I was always working, always on, and always multi-tasking. I would multi-task and cover nearly all duties that related to the kids–from keeping the house running to school applications to tuition to nanny schedules. My ex also worked but when the kids came along it was far from equal when it came to household management. When his workday was over, it was well, over. He could horse around with them and then head off to drinks with a buddy with zero guilt. Meanwhile, my mind would go over a hundred different things that I had to get organized for the kids for the week. I felt like I had to keep it all together in a ramshackle breakdance that might spin apart at any moment. If it sounds insane, I knew I was hardly alone. As many new working mothers soon realize, the onus of children falls overwhelmingly on them, a situation that was only exacerbated by the pandemic. As this New York Times article, “How Society Has Turned Its Back on Mothers,” laid out so barely, “[t]he crushing toll on working mothers’ mental health reflects a level of societal betrayal.”

        Now that I am divorced and split custody with my ex, I’ve been forced to step back on the days I’m not actually with my kids. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine—it’s brutal when I miss them. There are balls dropped that should not have been. There are so many childhood memories made without me. But it’s been a revelation to see how much I had to take on before and how much more time I have to myself now. The divorce has made it so that I have true alone time. I’ve reinvested time in friendships and rekindled interests of mine that I had long forgotten about. Another New York Times story had a headline that resonated with me during this time: “Neglecting Yourself Doesn’t Make You a Better Mother,” and it’s not just about self-care as the wellness industry has marketed to us. It’s about a different view of time.

        Speaking of, this time has taught me how to prioritize. Because I only have my kids half the time now, I reorganized my schedule so that I am fully present on the days that I do have them. I’ve stopped commuting to the city as much because I’ve realized the cost of that time lost isn’t always worth it. I’ve become more creative about our vacations and play dates and just general plans. On weekends, particularly, it can be exhausting to run the parent show solo, but it’s also become a truly immersive, beautiful and soul-healing couple of days to connect with my kids in a way that, if I was being honest with myself, I wasn’t always into before.

        And it’s also made me ponder the things I could have done differently before my divorce. I should have been more selfish and more aware of my needs. By that, I mean that I should have recognized that an exhausted, personally lost version of myself is no good to anyone. I should have paced myself in the sense that I should have delegated more and directly confronted my partner to do more. I’ve realized that in actuality, good parenting need not be perfect. I had lost sight that the important part is being present, and forgetting Ellis or Sky’s leaves and twigs that they needed to bring to school is not the end of the world.

        And it’s also made me question women’s role within society’s expectations of parenting. As working women, our hearts and minds are torn in a million ways. But rather than show the weight we carry, we are applauded when we handle everything with effortless grace. It’s an additional anvil, this need for façade, that we carry. And that leads me to another divorce discovery: there’s something freeing about the big D in that I am no longer concerned with image. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have a hair out of place because at the end of the day, I am not the paradigm to admire or aspire to. Divorce, I have discovered, can be stigmatizing for women on a societal-level. How will she fare as a single mom? (Great!) How will she date when men are dating 20-year-olds? (I’ve fallen in love, which is a story for another essay.) How will she support herself completely on her own? (By owning and knowing her worth in work as well.) Those were all questions I’ve been asked directly and indirectly. While I would never wish the heartbreak and pain of divorce on anybody, perhaps the secret that is lesser told, and why I thought to share my story, is that while going through something as traumatic as divorce is that there is also indescribable beauty to be found.

        Divorce has freed me up to parent in a way that doesn’t conform to any specific vision except my own. The rules have been rewritten in what I am expected to take on. It’s now about sharing and learning about myself with my kids and sharing their experiences in the precious time I have with them each week, month, and year. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a new, wild kind of joy and happiness.

        Bee Shapiro is a mom of two, the founder of ELLIS BROOKLYN, a clean and eco fragrance brand, and writes the Skin Deep beauty column for the New York Times. She started the line when she was pregnant with her daughter Ellis and living in Brooklyn and was looking for clean, safe options for fine fragrance. The award-winning perfumes are clean, innovative and luxurious.