There are lots of negatives to divorce but silver linings are there to those who look outside the “what my life should look like” box. Lately I’ve been giving pause to appreciate one silver lining in particular. My relationship with my son. Our relationship is better because I’m divorced.

For his first three years I was numero uno, Ben’s main mom, his one and only. Tears were shed when his much loved dad took him upstairs to bed, screams were screamed if I left him with a loving babysitter or grandparent. Going to the bathroom solo while he played during playgroup was not an option. Feeding, changing, napping, reading, bathing, music class, gym class, mornings at the playground and afternoons in the library were all me. He loved his dad and they had “their things,” but he was a momma’s baby and that meant I was on 24/7.

Three years and four months into Ben’s bliss my daughter showed up and I slowed down. Unable to climb stairs he had no choice but to accept dad at bedtime. Being my extra appendage was not so fun when his sister was being burped or fussy. As the days went on, his screams turned to cries, his cries to silence and silence gave way to giggles when he was taken from me and hoisted up the stairs by my ex. My fall to #2 was swift. We fell into a new normal as a family of 4. While Emily napped Ben went to the park with his father. The hour of chatting and hanging out before his bedtime… I was bathing Emily and putting her to bed. Attending a baseball or basketball game that was too late for his sister? My ex was the hero taking him while I stayed home with my girl.

I still did most of his daily caretaking. Oh so joyous meal times, packing lunches, reading books (ok, that I liked) giving baths, dentist appointments, trips to the museum, movies, school recitals, teacher meetings and play dates. I was the parent 99% of the time. But, if he was given a choice, I was decidedly his back-up quarterback.

I do not blame my ex. I was aware of the disparity between mom and son, father and daughter. When we had to make a logistical Saturday split I was with my daughter, my ex was with my son and it wasn’t a secret. It was something I fought but not too hard. If our marriage stayed intact I would not have let this pattern continue on into perpetuity. But our marriage wasn’t staying intact. I was fighting too many battles and this chasm, this that was reflective of many issues within our marriage; this was one battle I knew I wasn’t going to win as things wound down.

And then we divorced. Now, 50% of the time my son has no choice. I’m all he’s got. 50% of the time I have no choice. I need to step up and do what needs to be done. I can’t pass anything off, I can’t stick to a preconceived comfort zone and staying within his or my wheelhouse is not an option in our single parent home.

Thanks to our new schedule and our forced time together, thanks to the times he is stuck with only me in the house, the times I am encouraged to participate in activities I would have feigned off and the times I am confronted with a discussion that I would have imagined his father having, all of this has made our relationship better. My 12-year-old boy and me are in it together. When I have to hold back my laughter and shock, when serious, sad or awkward discussions can’t be avoided, when there is no place for shirking, latitude for embarrassment or waiting for the other parent; these are the times I am grateful that while I didn’t picture it this way, I now have the privilege of walking with Ben through tweendom and adolescence. My place can’t be overstepped; I can’t be asked to sit on the sideline or switch places. My place is solid.

I am not implying that mothers enjoying intact marriages can’t be close with their sons. I am only speaking for my reality. And I do know that as kids grow, parenting shifts and making grand judgments based on the wearying first few years is narrow.

But, my marriage was narrow and in that marriage, my role as the mother to my son had little wiggle room. I know what was going on and roughly, what our parenting dynamic would have looked like down the line had my ex and I stayed together. Thanks to my divorce the mother that I am to my son is more expansive than what was possible in my marital union.

This is one silver lining that’s better than gold.