My nest was small, what some might even consider tiny, but my only child, my David, occupied it fully and joyously. Like many mothers, I looked forward to the time when my son would reach maturity and embark on his own life, but dreaded the emptiness that I would feel when he left. But I remained unprepared for the pain when my son, at the ripe age of fourteen, became only an occasional visitor, a bird that flew briefly in, and then out, of the proverbial coup every other week-end. This is precisely what happened a year or so after his father and I divorced.

The situation worsened after David's birth In all honesty, I had not gotten along with David's dad even before David was born. But born David was, and Mike and I couldn't have been happier. David was never intended to be an anchor for our marriage. In fact, as often happens in a euphemistically "not-so-good marriage" the situation worsened after David's birth. But the prospect of raising my son in a broken home felt intolerable and wrong, so like many, I stayed on the "not-so-good-ship marriage" which had begun to sink deeper each day. Until my son was ten years old, I hung on for dear life, telling myself that no sacrifice was too great; that the family must, for the sake of our son, and perhaps a bit for that of my own, remain intact. But by the time I decided to untie the knot, I was less concerned about the effect of divorce than the effect on David of our staying together. An abusive marriage was not the type of marriage role model I wanted to provide for my son. And then there was the picture in my mind: waking up some time in old age, thinking: how could I have thrown it all away? Where was my own sense of integrity?

Even with that level of clarity about my son, and the marriage, personal fear kept me chained to my marriage, and David was an integral part of the fear. Would I be able to provide an adequate home for my son? How would his father and I divide the time with him between us? And, of course, how could we minimize David's pain in this life-altering situation?

I needed information, so I put on my journalist hat and investigated and published two stories for the New York Times, for which I was freelancing at the time. One article was on ways to soften the brunt on children during the divorce process. Part of the way, I discovered, to minimize acrimony was to mediate a divorce, rather than hire separate lawyers. David had seen enough dissention in the marriage; I strongly sensed that the divorce process would make the "marital relationship" far worse. Divorce mediators looked at the entire picture, and aimed to lead the two parties to a more peaceable solution. If mediation meant getting fewer "things" in the marriage, the loss would be offset by a far more peaceable divorce.

The other article focused on the larger role that fathers were playing in child custody. I already knew, first hand, of the great importance of fathers to sons, especially sons in their pre-adolescent and adolescent years. Although Mike had failed me as a husband, he had turned out to be a fine, loving, supportive father. For better and for worse, he was also my son's chief male role model. While David had always been very close to both of us, my hugging, sensitive, compassionate, rapport-oriented son was quickly becoming more of a "guy's guy," a dad's boy, than a mom's boy. His particular initiation into the male fold in our family had been accompanied by a more-than-occasional," I don't have to listen to Moms who can't do anything right" type attitude. Not surprising given what he saw modeled in our home, and more fodder to move along with the divorce.

I also discovered, in my research, an interesting, and also frightening, trend: fathers were increasingly likely to become sole custodian parents. This proposition seemed unbearable—although we often end up bearing what we can't. The other trend was that fathers were sharing custody with their wives. That translated into my son having two homes: alternating each week between his father's home and my home. Not all children did well in this arrangement, but some found it the best way, according to my research. I thought about this, and prayed for the wisdom, when it came time to move along with the divorce, that both my husband and I would, first and foremost, do the right thing for David. We owed him at least that.

With this information, and in the safety of a marital therapy session, I told my husband that the marriage was unequivocally over. I didn't look forward to making a similar pronouncement to my son. As it turned out, I didn't have to. His father secluded David, told him that he had not wanted the divorce, and, to his credit, asked whom David wanted to live with. David came into the kitchen, only slightly deflated looking; he had sensed that this was on its way. He said that he wanted to split his time with both of us. I sighed with relief.

I sighed with relief We did indeed mediate the divorce, and a few weeks later, I rented a two-bedroom apartment in a complex that had a playground and an outdoor pool, about a mile-or-so from what had now become my ex-husband's home. I swooped up the Casio keyboard that David enjoyed playing, his favorite hockey game, and several stuffed animals that he still liked draping along the side of his bed, hoping, somehow, to bridge the distance between the two homes. I also purchased new furniture for David's bedroom, and the tropical fish tank that David always wanted to have. I wanted the house to be whimsical and fun, so I bought dishes with a fish pattern, and a bath curtain with an ocean theme. I brought with me the cockatiel that David had named "Eddie." And I hoped against hope that this house would also become home: for both of us.

I have many memories of the initial adjustment period, and most of them were less than happy ones. I was trying to stay afloat economically, and still find time to eat, sleep and circumnavigate around my son in this new orbit of single motherhood. There were far more distractions and new anxieties to replace the old. My son, especially in the beginning of our new living situation, was more withdrawn. While I shared my recognition of David's loss and provided an ear, and a warm hug when he cried, I also saw the importance, especially as a single mom, of providing loving discipline. David was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah at the time, and getting my son to practice his Torah portion was difficult, at best. Meanwhile David's grades had begun to drop, and, determined to reverse the trend, and to provide an atmosphere in which David would become a more serious student, I set aside specific times for him to do his Torah study and homework. It soon became clear that discipline was easier during the times when my ex-husband was there to reinforce it.

Meanwhile, David grew increasingly dissatisfied with our new arrangement, and took on a tougher, more jaded persona. "Another boring week," he often mumbled as he mounted the stairs of my apartment. He remained embarrassed to have his friends over, and was too far away from his friends to walk to their homes. Besides, the streets in this new neighborhood were not that great for bike riding, and the front lawn just didn't cut it as a baseball field. David's dissatisfaction was becoming increasingly clear, but I couldn't at the time let myself fully see it. Besides, it could, it would, change, in time, I told myself. It was just a matter of making the adjustment.

His Bar Mitzvah came and went, and proved a beautiful event. But it was his dad's house where he chose to stay that Shabbat, and to stay after Shabbat as well.

Although I had some inkling from the signs, our time of reckoning came several months later while David sat forlornly on his bed. The combination of the word "homework" and "now", repeated far too often for my son's liking, proved the catalyst— but not, in retrospect, the reason for David's decision. "Take me home," he insisted. "I don't want to be here. You don't know how to talk to me." I felt the pounding in my heart, as I told my son that we need to work this through. That getting up and leaving wouldn't solve anything. That the only way to get through anything was to look it straight in the face. For these reasons, you need to stay, I told him. Instead, he called his dad to pick him up. I remember being sprawled on the floor, crying, as he left.

The next time I saw David was several weeks later, back at my home, in the company of his father and future stepmother, who acted as liaison in negotiating a new arrangement that would be more to my son's liking. The decision certainly wasn't in my interest. Nor was I sure that it was in the interest of my son. Still, given my son's current preference, I came as close to a King Solomon decision as I could at the time. If thriving for David meant living with his father, and seeing me every other weekend, and for dinner once or twice a week, it was a done deal. He need no longer be cut in half.

Meanwhile, I vowed to make my time count with David. Because my ex-husband and I were unable to communicate well enough to come up with joint decisions, the day-to-day-parenting, and even the larger issues, fell on Mike's shoulders. Keeping in touch with his mother and sister, with whom I remained close, was helpful in learning more about David. Still, I had been shut out of many areas of his life. What I was left with was working on having a joyous and loving relationship. I wore my happiest face, and waited until I dropped him off after a weekend, or dinner, to cry.

I also made my time count when David was away. While I had often written for Jewish publications, and even worked for Jewish organizations, I had not formally become observant. Down the block from me was a Chabad house, and I began to attend services there each Shabbat. Simultaneously, I began dating men who were more religious. In time, David was forced to adjust to something new: a kosher, Shabbat-observant "get-away." While Shabbats were no longer spent going to parks and on nature hikes, there was always a beautiful Shabbat table set, prayers and often company. Although David didn't share my beliefs, I knew he respected them. In time, seven years after my divorce, I had the good fortune to meet and marry my soul mate, Nathan, the year before David left for college.

Although David didn't share my beliefs, I knew he respected them Nathan reminds me to ask David for what I want, and the importance of teaching David to be respectful. It has been, at times, a struggle to make it clear to David that when he's downstate, he has two parents whom he needs to see, because it's a mitzvah, the right thing to do, and that in time it will feed his soul. David understands this; in high school he told me that the secret to living a good life is often to put others first. Sometimes, he needs a reminder. I've learned that when a parent expects the duty, love follows.

Last time that David came to visit, he was distraught about what he wanted to do, and was having difficulty with his dad as well. His eyes, which had always been expressive, sparkling with life, and capable of deep communication, were now removed.

"What do you need from me?" I asked, holding his hand. "How can I be there for you in the way you want me to?"

"I need you to trust me more," he answered. "I feel like you've never really trusted me." I not only listened to his reality, I heard it. This time I held his hand, and openly cried. And in the hearing, in that recognition, love also grew.

I know there will be bumps along the road. I also know that my own explanations and feelings and experiences are just a slice of the bigger picture. It's a picture that I know, like all pictures, is not fixed in time. The picture will change, and I will do my best to change with it. That's a reality that I'm able to fully live with.