“The times, they are a-changin.” So sang Bob Dylan in the 1960s, a time that ushered in an era of change that continues through the present day.
One such change is the number and increasing social acceptability of divorce, both in the U.S. and around the world. But not only have divorce rates increased, the demographics of divorce have changed over the past 50 years as well. The stereotype of the husband leaving his stay-at-home wife and their children for a younger woman may still apply in some cases, along with his payments of spousal (alimony) and child support. But today’s divorce has many faces, including millions of divorced breadwinner moms (3.5 to 5 million by recent estimates ).
Does the rise in divorced breadwinner moms matter?
I’d say it does.
Being a breadwinner mom impacts everything from divorce settlements and parenting plans to family finances to the children themselves. But when I got divorced (a little over four years ago), I thought I was the only one. I found almost no information for breadwinner moms. Though there were many wonderful books and online resources about divorce in general, there was nothing for a self-employed mom and family breadwinner who had full custody of school-age children. I felt alone and lonely.
I wanted to know how others like me had done it – working, providing financial support, raising kids and possibly even having a life. So I began my own research, blogging and talking with a few divorced breadwinner moms I found along the way.
In some respects, today’s divorced moms are more like the divorced dads of the 1960s, growing professional careers and working to support their families. In other respects, though, they are just like moms of the 60s, actively involved in parenting and maintaining primary responsibility on the home front. After divorce, they are doing both on their own.
After divorce, some head of household moms don’t have to worry about finding a job or where the money will come from – major concerns for women whose husbands were the primary or sole breadwinners during the marriage. But the challenges they – we – face include:
- Work/life balance conflicts, magnified
- Working mother guilt (never enough, never good enough at work or at home)
- Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed
- The heavy burden of financial responsibility for the family (even, in some cases, paying spousal and/or child support)
Coping mechanisms and habitual behaviors to deal with these challenges can lead to high stress, burnout, and unhealthy families after divorce. In addition, divorced breadwinner moms experience all of the impacts working mothers in general deal with, such as finding good quality childcare and affordable health insurance, and lower average wages than men in comparable occupations.
The past few years have seen an explosion of information, especially online, and it’s easier today to know that we’re not alone. That helps.
As we raise our children, earn our livings, and contribute to our communities, one of the greatest gifts we divorced moms can offer is a happy, healthy, energized mother who loves and respects herself. The new faces of divorce include working moms who are living their lives to their full potential. Here are a few examples to help the rest of you know you’re not alone, and that a happy life after divorce is, indeed, possible. (These examples came from divorced moms I interviewed for a book that is still in the works.)
- Marti, 48, is the single mom of three girls now in their late teens. She was married for 10 years to the girls’ father and remarried for a short period after divorce (that marriage also ended in divorce). In the first half of her career, Marti was a psychotherapist with a thriving practice. Though she loved her work, she switched to coaching after divorce so that she wouldn’t miss out on being with her daughters. Though there were financial sacrifices from the shift, she wouldn’t change a thing. Today Marti leads a happy and full life which she rates as a 9 on a 10-point scale. She takes full advantage of the outdoor lifestyle available where she lives, and she enjoys cooking, reading, theater, and rich friendships and social activities. She has also written a book on parenting.
- Tina, 38, was a single mom of one daughter, 11, at the time of our initial interview. She was married for 10 years and was the one who initiated the divorce after multiple attempts to address problems were unsuccessful. Tina continued working in the IT industry after her divorce for the money, but also went back to school to prepare for work in a field she feels more passionate about. In preparation for the transition, she downsized considerably but feels like she is the healthiest and most alive she has ever been. Though she was not seeking a new relationship, one found her. Tina recently had a second child and relocated to a city she loves with her daughter and new partner. She rates her life as a 10 on a 10-point scale (even before the new love, new baby and move).
- Suzanne, 50, is the mom of a daughter who just began her first year of college. Suzanne was a stay-at-home mom once her daughter was born, but over the years of her marriage they grew apart. As part of her divorce she planned to be fully self-supporting within two years and turned to a career in real estate. She was successful in establishing a career she loves and enjoys amicable co-parenting arrangements with her former husband where they both placed their daughter’s needs as a priority. Suzanne waited more than five years before dating again, both to be available to her daughter and to work through issues that might jeopardize future relationships. She was also busy building a career in the early years after divorce and is now financially well-off. She has recently begun dating and enjoys traveling, hiking, and a wide social circle of friends. She rates her life as a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale.
Almost all the divorced moms I interviewed rated their happiness at the high end of the scale, enjoying the freedom of life after divorce. It may take a while to get there, but as these faces of divorce show, a good life after divorce is possible.
 I arrived at these numbers using statistics using data from the 2007 U.S. Census, as summarized in “Single Parent Statistics” by Jennifer Wolf on About.com.