I was walking around the duck pond behind my apartment complex this morning and ran into a young lady named Rushi with a cute little dog. Of course, cute little dogs always precipitate a pat and a conversation. So does an adorable little boy named Josh.
Unexpectedly, our meeting set loose one of those soliloquies that comes 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 for themselves and their two-year old son.
“I don’t understand why he is so hostile,” Rushi said. “And using his son as a bargaining tool. How can I fall into this kind of legal mess? I’m lost.”
I often meet women going through a divorce crisis and my experience has prepared me to help. I find many rewards in having been there, done that - even looking back at the mistakes I made. You see, I know these women can make it through. I have faith from having been there.
Here are 5 lessons I learned from my unwanted divorce with children (and dogs.)
1. If possible, get what you need from the divorce settlement. Don’t be a martyr. Think ahead. Plan for the futures of yourself and your children.
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 found I needed that alimony for medical insurance and other expenses pertaining to me alone. As it turned out, I was not marketable after being out of the workforce for several years and childcare costs were 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. And a lack of confidence. I took his advice on the alimony, and I wish I hadn’t. And, he would have paid child support regardless of whether or not I asked for alimony...it's state law.
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."
2. Pray. Pray for anything and everything you need. No request is too difficult for a caring God.
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 still blamed 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 child a little older than my daughter. 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.
Help came to us many times in this way.
3. Find a girlfriend network. Tell them what you need.
I gained great strength from a network of my women friends. Penelope rushed in with food when my ex cut my income. My friend, Mary, insisted I come to her place for dinner often - 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. Marci, my young sitter, took over my daughter and my household while I was giving birth. 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.”
Thank you, Lisa. I say, “Amen.”
4. 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.
I had no idea how long it would take me to heal from that divorce. I did eventually work out the finances to enable me to stay home for two years. I then 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 when 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. I misjudged the emotional fallout of divorce.
“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.
5. Build an identity for yourself that gives your children a positive role model. Mom has a good job. Mom has a great group of friends. Mom is important to our schools and community.
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 hindsight, I realize I should have worked much harder and quicker to find a new identity. 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.
Back at the pond, Rushi talked herself out while I offered encouragements. Then she bid me goodbye. As she went off around the pond toward home, I could hear her talking to her son.
"Yea, we can do this, Josh. We’ll make it. I know we will.” Bella, the dog, looked up at Rushi as if she agreed. And so did I.