Above all else, I need my kids to know that I am a happy woman—most of the time—and that life is not always rainbows and unicorns, and that’s OK.

By Katie Bingham-Smith
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My oldest son often asks me what I'm doing on the evenings he is with his dad. I know his questioning goes beyond curiosity: he wants to make sure his mother is okay; that I'm happy; that I'm not sitting at home alone crying into a container of ice cream. I can know the sight and thought of it all makes him uncomfortable and he's reaching the age where he wants to help if he can, yet he feels helpless.

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Usually I'm not doing what he fears, and I tell him so. Some nights I have a date, or a dinner out with girlfriends. I love getting massages or pedicures and binge-watching shows about middle-aged couples and friends. And honestly, I adore the freedom and independence I have on my nights alone, even if they aren't exciting. I’m using this time in my life as a single woman to work on me, and it’s been glorious.

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But there are nights when I'm sad and lonely missing my kids like crazy and crying into a bowl of something sweet (usually followed by something salty). And that's pretty healing, too, although I know my teenagers don't see it that way.

There were many nights I'd cry and feel lonely when I was married. There were many nights I felt sad in my 20s when I wasn't partnered and was having the time of my life with a great job and almost zero responsibilities compared to what I have now.

This happens because it's a normal part of life no matter where we are. It will happen to them, too, and as their mother, it's my job to teach them it's normal and okay. And you need to get through it by not ignoring those emotions, or not trying to stuff them by acting as if everything is okay for other people's benefit. I need to teach them through leading by example.

There are moments we seek comfort in bad television, cheap carbs, and a good cry. And it's a beautiful part of life because it makes the times when we are feeling peaceful or joyful that much more meaningful.

Above all else, I need my kids to know that I am a happy woman—most of the time. I love my career, I love where we live, and most of all, I am so proud that I have three amazing children. All that is more than enough for me.

I know it must be strange for them to see me go from a stay-at-home mother to a divorced mom who works full-time. The change hasn't been easy for any of us. But of all the things they need to worry about, of all the changes they are going through, of all the things their future is going to throw at them, I don't want them to worry about their mother.

I want them to see a strong, independent woman who isn't afraid to feel things, have a bad day, or the occasional meltdown, because I need them to know when the same happens to them in their adult years, they are going to come out the other side.

I want them to know just because I forget something important, or decline invitations, or would rather stay in my pajamas all weekend then get outside, it doesn't mean anything is wrong—it just means I am being my full self in the moment and sometimes it doesn't look pretty.

I never want them to carry the burden of worrying about me, and I'm realizing as they get older and more aware of others, that is exactly what's happening.

While I never want it to be their responsibility to worry about my happiness or make me feel fulfilled on their own, I believe it's my job to show them something else: that taking care of myself and my mental health, whether I'm partnered when they all leave the nest or not, is work that I have to do on my own.

It's an inside job and I am up for the challenge—for them yes, but mostly I know I need to do this for myself.