Divorced with Children - Five Steps to a New Life
I was walking around the duck pond behind my apartment complex this morning and I ran into a young lady named Rushi with a cute little dog. Of course, cute little dogs always precipitate a pat and a conversation. Unexpectedly, the meeting set loose one of those soliloquies that come from anxiety, even a mild form of panic. Rushi is in the middle of a divorce. Her husband is taking the extreme legal path – slapping her with divorce papers before they have had a chance to sort their lives out for themselves and their two year old son. She is an attorney but currently a stay at home mom, wanting to continue being home with her son during this crisis.
“I don’t understand why he is so hostile. And using his son as a bargaining tool. How can I as a lawyer fall into this kind of legal mess? I’m lost.”
I sat on the bench by the pond, looking at her, and said, “You have everything going for you. An outgoing personality. And a giving heart.” ( Rushi had taken in 18 foster children and rescue dogs in her years before the marriage.) “You will survive this,” I said.
As we talked, I realized a trend in my life. I often meet women going through a divorce crisis. I think the years of unnecessary drama I went through with my divorce prepares me for these encounters. You see, I know these women can make it through. I have faith grown from experience. These women don’t see the grace that comes upon women with young. My friend, Penelope used to tell me, “God takes care of the widows and the orphans.” I didn’t think that applied to me until I realized my marriage was dead, and I was in fact a widow of sorts. And my children were orphans in a sense. I needed to believe there was care out there for me. And there was.
The Girlfriend Network
First proof of that care came with a network of my women friends. Penelope rushed in with food when my ex cut my income to $100 a week to maintain a three bedroom home and care for my three year old while he moved on to a new city. My friend, Mary, insisted I come to her place for dinner as often as possible. In fact, we sometimes hung out for days. When my baby was due (yes, he left before the second one was born), Alline rushed me to the hospital on a false alarm. Marci, my young babysitter, took over my daughter and my household when I did go to the hospital for the real thing. Then Mary and Loni hovered over me throughout the whole birth and recovery. Lisa Arends on her Huffington Post blog, says, “Hopefully you have some stalwart friends who stick by your side. These are the ones who don't run from your tears or hide from your rants. Treasure these friends. They are true.”
I say, “Amen.”
Step number 1: Get yourself a girlfriend network. Tell them what you need and don’t be a martyr. You need them.
As the divorce went forward, my ex, as most exes do, wanted to save as much of his income as possible. He encouraged me to not ask for alimony but he was willing to pay child support. Over the years, as my kids grew, I needed that alimony for medical insurance and other expenses pertaining to me alone. The truth was, I was not marketable after being out of the workforce for several years. Childcare cost more than I could make anyway. I should have sat myself down and figured out what I needed to live before I negotiated. Pride and fear ruled me then. I took his advice on the alimony but I would never do it again. Lina Guillin, attorney, says, “Divorcing spouses usually underestimate living expenses when they produce their initial budget for … alimony…and later find that they aren’t able to cover all of their bills.”
Step number 2: If possible, get what you need from the divorce settlement. Again, don’t be a martyr. Plan for the futures of yourself and your children. If your ex won’t or can’t provide, seek legal and financial assistance or ask family to help you get on your feet.
Being Aware of the Pain
I had no idea how long it would take me to heal of that divorce. I did eventually work out the finances to stay home for twelve years, found work at the local university, and began to climb out materially. But I underestimated the pain of watching my kids shift from place to place. We lost important bonding time as I had to give up many holidays and vacations so they could “visit” dad.
The pain of being rejected by my spouse went on for years. I should have seen a therapist but I was too proud to admit I was depressed and failing. “Don't tote that heavy baggage from your previous relationship into your new life,” says psychologist Robert Alberti. “That may mean talking out your feelings with a therapist or focusing your energy in a healthy activity you enjoy.” Cathy Meyer from DivorcedMoms.com says, “…we are all primarily responsible for our own actions and decisions. In other words, healing the pain and rebuilding your life is up to you and the work you are willing to do.” How I needed Cathy’s advice back in those early days.
Step Number 3: Don’t underestimate the time and effort it takes to heal. Get help. Individually. In a group. Find someone to talk to. Professionals in family care can help you sort out your emotions so you can heal faster and better.
Don’t Forget the Kids
The result of my moping far too long was that my daughters had to bear the pain of watching me depressed a good part of their growing up years. In hind sight, I realize I should have worked much harder and quicker to find a definitive me. I needed to build a new life for myself with that all important component of self-respect. My children needed a role model and I did not give it to them when they needed it. An added bonus - focusing on becoming what your children need you to be will take your mind off your woes.
Step Number 4: Build an identity for yourself that gives your children a positive role model. Mom has a good job now. Mom has a great group of friends. Mom is important to our schools and community. My favorite: Mom is now making more money than Dad!” –sorry I couldn’t resist.
At the time of my divorce, friends encouraged me to join a prayer group. At first I thought, God isn’t going to answer my prayers. (I was still blaming myself for the breakup.) Eventually, praying with other women brought a peace to my life. And the results of prayer were startling. I worried about the kids not having enough food, shelter, and clothing at times. One day I prayed for clothing for my eldest. Within days, a woman moved in downstairs who had a daughter a little older than my eldest. The woman bought her daughter the best designer outfits which the girl often rejected. So there was Carrie at my door, often with an armful of clothing that had not even been worn. They fit my child as if they were designed for her.
At other times, I worried about my kids’ safety because their father would
often think up adventures for them but try to save on the cost. One of their trips was to be on a virtually unknown airline and when I looked it up, I was concerned about safety. I prayed that if that airline wasn’t safe, please let the flight be stopped. The airline went bankrupt the week before my ex and the kids were set to fly. Many such happenings began to make me realize God does take care of the widows and the orphans, and I could lean on Him. More than any of these steps, prayer brought the most healing and comfort.
Step Number 5: Pray. Pray for anything and everything you need. No request is too difficult for a caring God.
Back at the pond, Rushi talked herself out while I offered occasional encouragements. Then she bid me goodbye. As she went off around the pond toward home, I could hear her talking to her dog. “Yea, we can do this, Bella. We’ll make it. I know we will.” Bella looked up at Rushi as if she agreed. And so did I.