“So does your son go the bathroom sitting down?” This question will forever top my list of “Things Not to Ask a Single Mother.”

I’ve been shocked by how many people still seem to believe that a boy growing up in a female-run household will automatically behave in an overtly feminine way—apparently even in his most basic actions.

If anything, I think the situation has brought out a more stereotypically boyish side in me.

I’ve learned to play soccer, basketball, and a variety of other sports far better than I ever did growing up. I memorized the Friday night kiddush years ago. I've also picked up some rudimentary skills in carpentry, plumbing, and various other household repairs. The first time I changed a bicycle tire or fixed a leaking toilet, I felt a real sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing that I could really handle things.

Though I’m stretching to fill two roles at once, it is not the same as having a man in the house

Every year I threaten to dress up for Purim in a costume which on one side is a pink dress suit and pumps, and on the other side is one of those long black coats Chabad men wear on Shabbat—and when people ask me what I’m dressed up as, I’ll answer, “A single mother.”

Still, though I feel I’m stretching to fill two roles at once (I’m trying, at least), I know, and my six-year-old son knows, that it is not the same as having a man in the house. There is a certain type of energy that’s missing. Yet there are also moments when I sit down and cry, without knowing why or for whom.

I think the response of most people, after the divorce, has been non-judgmental and very supportive. Friends generally start calling around Rosh Hashanah to book a chance to dance with my son in shul on Simchas Torah—something that began when he was so young, and we were so new to the community, that the idea of asking anyone to take him to the men’s side for the traditional dance with the Torahs didn’t even occur to me.

And when I called someone once to cancel plans to eat at her house on Friday night because I had a fever, she sent over a delicious Shabbos meal—out of sensitivity to the fact that I didn’t have a husband to pitch in and defrost anything. The hardest thing, actually, about being divorced in an Orthodox community has been convincing people that sometimes we really do prefer to eat at home and it’s okay.

The first time I tried it was for the second Passover Seder after the divorce. All of a sudden, I felt this urge to create our own traditions and not tag along with anyone else. So we dodged one invitation after another, finally just telling people, “Oh, we’re already planning on having Seder with a family” (“our family,” I would think with a grin). We made it as far as the hard-boiled egg—singing songs from my son's kindergarten, reading the Sometimes we really do prefer to eat at home and it’s okay Haggadah in funny voices, dancing around the living room, and gradually getting through the Seder like any other family out there—with giggles, hunger pangs, eyes blurry from weeks of cleaning, and countless questions to add to the traditional four.

After my son fell asleep in my lap, I hurried through the rest and went to bed early. He woke up in the morning, delighted, and raced straight to the dining room table demanding “more Seder, more Seder.” So at seven AM we started all over again, without certain prayers, but full of joy.

Since then, I’ve tried to go out for Shabbat less and less and have guests more often, and balance that with Shabbat at home with just the two of us. I want him to have as normal a childhood as possible, and memories of his own to draw on when he makes his home someday—G‑d willing, with a partner who will always be his.

But it is not easy. For his part, my son has pointed out that other Abbas (fathers) come home at night. And there’s no way that hearing something like that from your own child won’t cut into you. He went through a stage where he wanted to know why his father and I were divorced. Instead, I explained why we were married. I explained how he needed to be born, we are the parents he needed, but that we weren’t meant to stay married, and it isn’t something that makes complete sense or that can be understood. But there are advantages to how things are, as well as some difficult aspects which are part of every life, and the collection you get is as unique as your soul.

As young as he is, I sometimes get the feeling that he understands what I say better than I do. And the truth is, more often than not, we both feel as if we have the most incredible life.

I will not toe a party line and say that my divorce was simply due to a lack of maturity on my part

The verbal feedback I do get, and it’s never in short supply, coupled with his overall personality and attitude towards life, shows that he gets it at least enough to handle “the situation” and to not feel held down by it. And that, in turn, is an enormous source of strength for me—as is his obvious appreciation for the things I do for him.

I remember one night when he woke up at two in the morning with a horrible stomachache. He doesn’t complain often, so I took it very seriously. Getting him to the health clinic meant bundling him up in blankets, putting him in his stroller, and jogging fifteen minutes straight up a dark mountain (we live in Israel with no car, and taxis are impossible to find in the middle of the night). In the end it turned out to be just the stomach flu, and the doctor prescribed plenty of rest and fluids for my son.

As I pushed the stroller down the mountain, listening to my son’s breathing as he fell asleep, I wished there was another adult in the house waiting up for us, to ask me how it went, to tell me I hadn’t panicked, maybe to offer me a cup of tea. My neighbors and friends have been enormously helpful and supportive, but you can’t knock on your neighbors’ door at three AM and ask for tea, even when they are as sweet as mine. Especially when they are as sweet as mine.

As I was carrying him into the apartment, my son woke up and smiled at me and said “thank you” in such a real way that all of my strength, and more, came back to me. Tea or no tea, I knew I’d get through this bout with the flu just fine.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I always feel that strong or that sure of how I’ll handle things. Sometimes I’m not even sure how I’m going to pay the phone bill. Even so, I have no regrets. Nor am I willing to toe a party line and say that my divorce was simply due to a lack of maturity on my part (though it could be said about the fact that I went through with the wedding at all).

Part of the work of being divorced, which you don’t hear as much about, is the striving to be conscious of the good in your ex-spouse. When there’s a child involved, it becomes very important, because every child is a hybrid of both parents, and you see that as you watch your child develop. The strengths and weaknesses are both there, and you have to emphasize the child’s strengths and work with, but not against, the weaknesses. That won’t happen if you are covering your eyes emotionally to the humanness of the person you were once married to.

The One who gave us the Jewish laws of divorce is the same One who gave us the laws of marriage

You have to develop respect for him or her, and learn to bless him for the good he’s invested in your child, and see how the differences between you can now work together in harmony, encased in this one beautiful, little human being. I see that they do, and I marvel at it every time—how my son has character traits that are clearly mine and clearly his father’s, but in him, rather than creating a mini-war, it creates light.

Which is not to say there aren’t times when I'm still repulsed by his father’s behavior. But I try to look at the good in him, and when I can’t see it, I see it in his son. Because I’ve come to the conclusion that not only am I a part of my son and not only is his father a part of him, but how we relate to one another is also a part of him and how he looks at himself—and it can’t be with anger, hatred, or disdain.

Judaism is very much centered on marriages—the marriage between us and our Creator, the marriage of ideas, and the most sanctified of all, the marriage between a man and a woman. The perfection of these unions is the perfection of Creation itself, the whole purpose for which G‑d willed the world into being. So obviously, the decision to divorce is not one I entered into lightly.

Yet there are situations where divorce is not only allowed, but according to some, mandated. And the One who gave us the Jewish laws of divorce (gittin) is the same One who gave us the laws of marriage (kiddushin).

Ultimately, I sought a divorce precisely because I believe in the sanctity of marriage, and as much as the idea may threaten some, my home with my son is not broken and neither are we. But if I had stayed married, we would be. I was.

All divorces, like all marriages, are ordained in Heaven. When necessary, they effect, as described in the commentary Ramatayim Tzofim on Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, a redemption—comparable to our collective going out of Egypt, and a rectification of body, mind, and soul.

Whether I remarry or whether we continue as a family of two, I know that our lives—mine and my son’s—are unfolding, now, exactly as they were meant to, and that everything that has happened, including the divorce, is exactly what our souls need.

And while it isn’t an ideal situation, and things have been far from easy, I am so grateful for the love and friendship from so many around me. But most importantly, my struggles and difficulties have made me appreciate the good and hidden blessings in all aspects of my life. And I have a strength, faith and relationship with my Creator that I didn’t even know was possible. And when I know I have His support, then I know that I’m not a single parent after all.