Does it seem like your life will never, ever get better? With each day and each new challenge you face, does it feel like every single solution centers on you? How can you possibly tackle all of these challenges, when you don’t know the first thing about what you are doing right now? You are getting divorced and the sky is falling.
Take a breath and think about what these divorced moms want you to know right now:
1. Don’t Freak Out. That’s right, you don’t know or understand everything that is going on. It’s normal that you are afraid. But don’t panic. Get educated. Find out what your rights are. Knowing what your choices are makes you feel more in control.
As divorced mom Lisa explains, “Education is power. When I look back I realize I was afraid of everything I couldn’t answer — and that was a lot! I tormented myself with horrible scenarios of how the kids and I would end up. It wasn’t until I faced my fears and started to investigate what was real and possible that I began feeling better.
Life was not going to be easy or simple, but it was never going to be as bad as I imagined it. And guess what? Now, eight years out, my life now is better than I ever could have imagined it.”
“Go online and find out about divorce in your state,” suggests Susan, a high-functioning professional and mother to two. “Make a list of questions and meet with a mediator, lawyer, or collaborative law attorney, so each one can tell you how you might get your divorce done and what it will cost. Talk with a financial advisor, too, because money is the Number 1 scariest thing for all of us.”
2. Don’t Do It Alone. “Doing it alone, because I was ashamed of what I would look like, is precisely what kept me spinning in a bad marriage for years!” says Maddie. “I hate to say it, but I was a master at lying to myself. Just when I thought I could take it no more, my Ex would do something that would make me stop and hope all over again. When our marriage cycled down again, as it always did, I hated myself, for the fool I was for still being there. It wasn’t until my best friend called me out that things changed,” Maddie adds. “She asked me, what the hell was wrong with me? How long was I going to keep living like this? This was like her clobbering me on the head. She was right, and I was embarrassed then, for what I looked like, for staying.”
Getting perspective and hearing from someone else as they reflect on your circumstances is powerful. However, this person shouldn’t be just anybody. Find somebody you respect and trust. Better yet find a professional who will listen to you objectively; a divorce coach who will help you do something or a therapist with no agenda and who can make suggestions that will help you climb your way out. “Divorce,” says Maddie, “is not just about finding a lawyer, it’s about reinventing your life. It’s about you deciding who you want to be now that you have no more excuses, no one else to blame. It’s about growing up.”
3. Create Boundaries. With your Ex, you will always have your children in common; but that does not mean it’s the “same old, same old” in terms of communicating and interaction with your Ex. Things are different now.
“Don’t let your Ex intimidate you anymore, or sometimes more subtle, take advantage of your guilt and confusion over doing things the “right way.”
“When my husband and I first separated,” explains Keisha, “I wanted my kids to be the least affected possible. So when my husband would bring them back from the weekend on Sundays, I knew the kids would be hungry, and I would make dinner for everybody—just like old times. He would join us. He started taking it for granted that I would always serve him food. Sometimes he’d complain about a dish. Eventually I realized this was masochism! I was tolerating, even entertaining a man in my home after he had left me! I was acting like it was business as usual, when it was really killing me seeing him. I wanted to be an adult and rise above it, but what I needed was space away from him, so I could heal and stop being reminded of him. Now, he’s learned, for the time being, he can’t just send me random texts, for example, and expect me to respond like I used to when we were husband and wife. If he has something important to say, it goes in an email for when I can read and respond to it. As for limiting our seeing each other, he drops the kids off at the front door and understands he is not welcome inside. Outside, in public, I try to be civil and sit with him at school events or our kids’ birthday parties, but my home is mine. It’s not his to visit or relax in. The moment I created boundaries, my life started uncluttering. I started focusing on me and my needs. I stopped hearing him and started listening to me.”
4. Don’t seek to REPLACE him. Face yourself. “Listen, chances are, it was not just his fault your marriage failed. What did you do to contribute to its downfall? How will you avoid the same pitfalls in your future?” These are the big questions Charlotte, a divorced mom to four children thinks you should ask. “Are you investing in you now? Are you doing work on yourself? I’ve got a girlfriend,” says Charlotte, “who’s been married three times. Each time she’s either left her husband for somebody else or she’s immediately hooked up with somebody who becomes her husband when the previous relationships failed. She’s afraid to face herself is my guess, like a little girl. She’s never spent anytime alone but turns to others to fill the void. She’s in a constant repeat cycle and then she’s surprised when it doesn’t work out.”
“Breaking up is extremely painful, especially when you have kids,” Charlotte adds. “God do I know it. But part of my redemption and growth has been being with the pain and loneliness. It’s about feeling the feelings and not just pushing them under a rug.”
5. Do something. As alone as you might feel, as bad as you think your kids have it, there’s another woman out there who has a worse divorce tale. “Go to a support group for women,” suggests Melanie, a divorced and single mother to a 14-year-old boy. “Meet your friend who got divorced years ago, and ask her again, what went wrong. Listen to their stories. What can you learn? Get over yourself and do something to change your circumstances. Maybe it’s just baby steps, like going to that support group, or meeting with a lawyer to find out your rights.”
“But do something. And if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your kids.”
6. Use Your Kids. “For years, I was staying in a horrible marriage for the children. I thought I was the only one suffering. I reasoned if I was the only one hurting than I could justify staying because the kids had, what I thought, a good life,” said Annie, a mother to two teenage daughters. “But the day I heard my kids parroting the way my husband spoke to me … they were no longer these precious, innocent little lambs, but these teens who were insulting and disrespectful toward me, I realized this was my fault. I was allowing a dysfunctional model to rule our house. What was worse, I worried what kinds of choices would my girls make for mates because of the pathetic role model I had become. This is what caused me to actually seek divorce. It was no longer about me. Now it was about the damage clearly impacting my kids.”
If you can’t find the strength to save yourself, think about how your kids may be suffering, internalizing, or modeling your behavior. Harness that deep, primal power to do the right thing for them, and it will lead to the right thing for everybody.
7. Learn about Money. “You need to learn what is coming in and what is going out. Create a budget, even if you are like I was, and never had a budget before,” urges Debra. When you start understanding the basics, you will understand what you need for child support and/or alimony and where you will have to cut back. Don’t ignore the financial or waive your rights just to be done with the divorce. Your decisions now have long-term impact on how you and the children are going to live for a long time. If you don’t understand, find someone to teach you.
8. You can’t see it, but it’s there. You can’t know your silver lining in advance, but there is one. Everyone is afraid of change, and going through a divorce is a major life change. You deserve to feel terrified. But today is not your forever. Eventually you will realize there are unpredicted benefits you never imagined.
“One of my greatest revelations is finding me,” says Sophie, a French woman who is now one year past signing her divorce decree.
“I don’t have to spend time anymore trying to please him. I did not realize how hard I worked trying to make him happy, and he just never was. Today, I spend that time on me and my children. And to be honest, I love what I am finding in the mirror. She’s new, but also familiar. I don’t know everything about her yet, but she’s real, and now, she’s talking to me straight.”