The first part of this post was written by guest contributor and parenting coach, Dana Hirt, who consciously set out to protect her three young children from the negative effects of divorce and in doing so, had a "good" divorce which paved the way to her own future happiness and the well-being of her entire family.
Dana shares her own personal divorce story and offers some tips for how you, too, can plan a good divorce.
The second part of this post was written by guest contributor and divorce coach, Tara Eisenhard, who believes that families should evolve, not dissolve, through the process of divorce.
Tara shares what a good divorce is and offers advice for how you can have a positive divorce of your own.
You’ve decided you want a divorce.
Deciding to divorce your partner – especially knowing what a destabilizing effect it will have on your children – is probably the most difficult choice you’ve ever considered.
No doubt you spent many months deliberating, trying to come up with an alternative solution.
During that time, you likely fought for your marriage and your family with everything you had.
Perhaps you worked with a therapist or attended a support group to ensure your decision was the right one. Having made the wrenching decision, you’re experiencing pain, anguish, sadness and uncertainty beyond what you think you can endure.
I know exactly how you feel.
Marriage and family, which have long been heralded as a central part of a successful society, were extremely important to me.
When I married my husband at 26, it was “‘til death do us part.”
The first years of marriage and family life went pretty much as I presumed they would. So, after 13 years of marriage when I found myself thinking about upending my marriage commitment, it felt inconceivable.
Plus, it was difficult to face people who would consider me a failure at an institution in which I presumed I would excel.
When I first started thinking about divorce, I was the mother of three young children aged 12, 9 and 7, to whom I was fiercely devoted.
As a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), protecting them from undue harm – and modeling how to live a rich and full life – was (and remains) my life’s purpose. In fact, equally important was to make sure they saw what a loving, enduring and mutually respectful marriage looked like.
Given the circumstances in my marriage, divorcing their father was the only way to do that. There simply was no other way I could live my life with integrity.
Even with the rightness of the decision on my side, and my desire to have a "good divorce," the road was at times unendingly sad, fearful, and emotionally draining.
Going through the process of divorce and rebuilding my and my family’s lives that first year was one of the hardest periods of my adult life.
You’ve likely discovered that divorce is not only unsettling for you and your partner. Other people in your life – both close and tangential – may be emotionally triggered by the news. Some people will have no compunction telling you that you should have tried harder to keep your family together.
Family and friends may not be supportive in ways you find meaningful or helpful.
You may be given advice to do everything possible to eviscerate your partner in court and/or get the biggest financial settlement you possible can. Another may suggest you interview every rock-star divorce attorney in town, thereby disqualifying those family law professionals as options for your husband.
It’s never easy to be in a fragile state of mind and have people project their issues onto your unique situation.
But sad to say, it’s part of the process.
What got me through was knowing that no matter how hard divorce would be on me, I was going to do whatever was necessary to ameliorate its impact on my kids at every step of the process – and to work with their father to do the same.
Let’s move on to talk about a subject near and dear to every SAHM’s heart...
Divorce Advice for Women with Children: Putting your kids first.
By deciding not to work outside the home while your kids were young, you clearly made the intentional decision to put your children and their needs before your desire for career fulfillment.
That children-first decision is even more important now.
Your kids are undergoing a massive rupture in their lives, which makes them more vulnerable and at risk.
At this tenuous time in their young lives, your children will be watching and learning from you more than ever before.
The question you must ask yourself is this: What do you want them to see?
My answer was that no matter what the circumstance, I wanted my children to see me comport myself with grace and dignity. I was determined to find a way to get my own emotional and psychological needs met without forfeiting my all-important job as their Mom.
I wanted to have a good divorce. And at the end of every day, I wanted to be able to say I was doing the absolute best I could for my children.
In one way, I had a distinct, albeit unfortunate blueprint for how not to proceed.
As a child of a horrific divorce, I knew how harrowing it could be on children. My folks did everything psychologists urge divorcing parents not to do.
- Fought in front of us;
- Talked about each other to us kids;
- Acted spitefully and vindictively toward one another;
- Put us children in the middle;
- Forced a custody battle that nearly required court intervention.
Fortunately I was a resilient girl, and I found other adults to support and tend to me at a time when my parents did not or could not.
Three decades later, I found myself keenly in touch with that early experience.
Every decision I made…every situation my children came to me with…every interaction with their father was viewed through the lens of, “What did it feel like for me and how can I make it better for my kids?”
How to Have a Good Divorce: Valuable tools and tips for living through the divorce process.
My experience – and those of many divorcing and divorced co-parents in my coaching practice – has demonstrated that while the road is difficult, it’s possible to survive and even thrive during and after divorce.
Recent research on the effects of divorce on children is that it’s not divorce, per se, that psychologically damages children.
It’s how you divorce that is the predictor of future problems. That makes being as mindful as possible as you go through the process absolutely essential.
While I understand that each divorce is unique, there are some valuable tips and advice that have helped me and other SAHMs to manage through divorce. Perhaps some of them will resonate with you:
Remember that you can’t control your partner; you can only control what you do and how you act.
Decide the mindset you want to have. Parent your kids how you believe is best.
Find trusted people (family and/or friends) who will be there for you 24/7.
Quality - not quantity, is what matters.
Let yourself fall apart when you’re not on Mom duty.
There were some days that I was a literal mess from the time I dropped my kids off at school in the morning until I picked them up. But at 3:05pm, Mommy was back, upbeat and there for my kids.
Answer your children’s questions and address their fears in age-appropriate ways.
Toddlers will be particularly sensitive to changes in their routines, so make every effort to try to maintain consistency even if it is between two homes. Also note that attachment to the primary caregiver may become more pronounced.
Tweens may be especially concerned about how Daddy is doing, particularly if he moved out of the family home. Reassure them that he is taking good care of himself and that he would be happy to answer any questions they have about him directly. Then give their Dad a heads-up to prepare.
Your teens probably will not be terribly surprised by the split, as by that age they tend to be receptive to even nuanced tension between parents. Given their development stage, their primary concern is likely to be themselves. Reassure them that you are okay and are handling things, and that proms, class trips and college visits will go on as planned.
Divorce is an emotional roller coaster, so take extra good care of yourself:
Seek therapy if you want or need professional support for how to cope with divorce. Find support groups of other divorced or divorcing SAHMs. Eat healthily and get at least some exercise. Do plenty of soothing self-care, whether that’s a bubble bath, buying fresh flowers or getting a massage.
Confront the worst-case scenario that tops the list of your fears and decide what you will do if it comes to pass.
I found that considering the ‘what ifs’ was helpful when I dealt with the ‘now thens’.
Do your best to deflect rude or invasive comments about your divorce; fight the urge to defend your position or your ex-partner.
Protect your children’s image of their father – regardless of what he may have done to you.
For example, don’t use your kids as a wedge between you and their father. And don’t keep your children from spending time with their father to punish him.
Unfair settlements hurt everyone - kids included.
Keep focused on what is fair and equitable for all concerned.
Don’t punish your ex-partner for abdicating his role as a more involved father if you both agreed he would be the breadwinner and you would be a SAHM.
Reconsider that now you need a new agreement for how he will co-parent successfully when the kids are with him.
Empower yourself by getting educated about the divorce process and its financial implications.
Learn what the terminology means. Seek the guidance of a qualified professional to determine a fair amount and length of child support and/or alimony payments. Ask questions if your divorce mediator or attorney says something you don’t understand.
How to Have a Good Divorce: My personal and professional experience with mediation.
As a divorcing SAHM, a number of people advised me to get an attorney to protect my interests, money and assets.
Not sure which route to take, I asked a divorce attorney friend of mine for her professional opinion.
She advised me to consider divorce mediation to work out the parenting agreement as well as any financial settlements with my soon-to-be ex.
Hiring a divorce lawyer and potentially triggering a litigious start, she said, would make an already difficult situation potentially much more gruesome emotionally. And if it got contentious, which attorney-driven divorces often do – it had the potential to harm our children unnecessarily.
I chose mediation…gratefully, the kids’ Dad felt similarly and agreed to this approach.
In simple terms, divorce mediation is a process by which two individuals prioritize and articulate their individual desires, and then work in collaboration with professional mediators so that each party can get enough of what they need to agree to the dissolution of the marriage.
The right mindset is essential for a successful mediation, and both parties need to be committed to the process.
If you feel the need to punish your partner, mediation will likely be unsuccessful. If you feel extremely resentful, get the help and support you need so you don’t sacrifice your children’s well-being for the sake of vindication.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of a divorce is accepting that you no longer will be able to control everything about your kids’ lives when they’re with their father. This is what makes a good parenting agreement the bedrock of a “good” divorce.
Without a doubt, you’re going to have to cede control over certain aspects of your kids’ lives – and how their Dad chooses to parent them. So if you want to have a voice in the kid decisions that really matter – then you need to be able to cooperative and compromise with your ex-husband.
Personally, I found the experience of mediation to be empowering.
As a SAHM, I wondered if the mediator would consider me to be in a weaker position.
But qualified mediators don’t allow for an imbalance of power.
Their aim is to ensure that both partners feel equally empowered to advocate for what they deem to be fair and equitable for themselves and their children. Within six-eight sessions with the mediator (during which we had some conflict), my partner and I were able to agree to a parenting agreement, as well as a financial settlement - out of court.
Divorce Advice for Women: Recovering from divorce.
SAHMs are one of the most singularly capable human beings on the planet.
Talented, industrious and caring, SAHMs are consummate managers of their kids’ lives, family life, community and school affairs -- and often the finances and household upkeep. I often say that SAHMs are CEOS, CFOS, and COOs.
That was me. Being my kids Mom was my job; it was how I defined my place in the world. To then be faced with the reality that my kids were no longer under my control 24/7/365 was threatening.
But as I look back, I realized that at some point I knew I could muster the capacity to manage the divorce.
At first, of course, I just coped.
Healing would come later.
When you’re “coping,” you’re mostly on high alert – and occasionally on your last nerve. It’s like when you have a gravely sick child. You just do the things you need to do that absolutely must get done, without thinking about much else.
During the process of divorce, I often felt like I was drowning in fear or sadness or simply overwhelmed. So I gave myself permission to only take on what I needed to take on each day.
Some days it was navigating the parenting agreement. Others, it was working with my ex to figure out how to set up the kids’ bedrooms in his new house. Always, when my kids were home with me, meeting their needs as best I could was what I focused on.
There were many days when all I could do was sit with the profound loss.
Forget about losing weight. Or learning a new language or anything else you had been doing pre-divorce. This is survival time.
But eventually, I got through it. You will, too.
The beginning of healing came once I was out of crisis mode and had the time and space to look to the future.
And for the first time in a long time, I saw that one was available to me. The pain wasn’t entirely over, but enough time had passed and hurdles crossed that I had perspective.
What did “healing” from divorce look like for me… and what might it look like for you?
It was important to finally come to peace with my decision.
To reconcile that ending my marriage was indeed the right choice.
I solidified and stayed in touch with my network of support.
I survived all the post-divorce “firsts” we inevitably must pass through:
First weekend alone in the house. First wedding anniversary. First major holiday without the family all together. First time my husband took the kids on vacation without me
I learned to leverage my time without kids to manage all the necessary household tasks so that when my kids were with me I could be more present and engaged.
I took advantage of time for myself to have dinner with friends…take an extra exercise class… pursue a hobby or other interests.
Sometimes the healing process brings us face-to-face with lost opportunities. I’ve coached some SAHMs in my practice who look back and wish they had done things differently.
The two things I hear most often are, “I wish I would have left the marriage sooner.” And “I wish I would have had more confidence in myself and believed I would come out the other side.” As regrets go, those aren’t too bad.
While I don’t necessarily advocate for divorce as a self-help method, I found it to be exactly that. For me, there were a lot of positive things about divorce.
Several key areas of growth have been particularly illuminating:
Mom bests "SUPERMOM."
I saw in retrospect that my pre-divorce "Supermom" persona actually did my kids a disservice.
During the divorce, there were days when I was barely keeping myself from drowning, much less able to ensure my kids were happily afloat. But afterwards, I realized that my kids were actually much more capable than I had given them credit for.
Because I wasn’t able to super-manage every aspect of their lives, they had the space they needed to learn a few things on their own.
Bottom-line, divorce was a big lesson in terms of getting out of my growing kids’ way. The more autonomy, independence and responsibility I gave them, the more they blossomed.
Divorce takes two.
All of us eventually need to accept our role in the demise of our marriages. There are outliers, of course, but generally speaking, no single spouse is wholly responsible for a successful marriage.
And no one spouse is wholly accountable for its end.
I had always been a strong, independent, positive and active person, but in my marriage, I so sublimated my needs that I barely recognized myself.
Once on the other side, I began to believe that I deserved to have a husband who is excited to see me at the end of every day, and who is proud of me and of what I do.
Good Divorce Advice for Women: You’re stronger than you think!
It’s easy to underestimate one’s resilience when you’re carrying around a crushing boulder on your back. Divorce = loss; there’s no way around it.
And losses must be mourned.
But eventually, the spark of life returns, and you begin to claim your life once again.
In my case, I learned not only was I resilient, but I surprised myself by being bigger, faster and stronger today than I ever was before!
Professionally, there are second acts
In today’s society, the majority of SAHMs are educated and working in a professional capacity before deciding to stay home with young children.
After divorce or once your kids are older, you have a huge opportunity to reinvent yourself professionally.
If you don’t want to or don’t need to work, there’s so much one can do philanthropically to stay engaged. And there are myriad professional networks for women, which means you never have to go it alone.
For me, my professional exploration led me to pursue a new career as a parenting coach, which dovetails perfectly with my professional background, experience – and passion for parenting.
A friend of mine, starting with a single Instagram account where she published food-related pics and commentary, eventually became a fulltime blogger and has established herself as a thought leader in her field.
Divorce Advice for Women: Getting comfortable being alone is critical to healing.
It can be tempting, post-divorce, to jump into dating too soon. After all, imagining to once again feel affirmed and sexy and lovable can be seductive.
But here's some dating advice for women after divorce: it’s unhealthy to jump in it too quickly. Give yourself time to get your emotional house in order. Make your kids your priority.
Take time to get reacquainted with the person you’re becoming.
While there isn’t a set time limit, a good rule of thumb is to wait about a year post divorce to start dating. Once you do, keep him (them) from your kids until you and a partner are serious.
Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you should be honest with your kids about everything. Most kids, especially pre-adolescent ones, aren’t developmentally ready to think of Mommy as a sexual being.
And what if your ex-partner jumps into dating immediately?
You might be able to obviate it a bit by including certain constraints in your parenting agreement (e.g., no third parties will sleep at the house when the kids are there.) But as you know, the only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
I’m not saying the road to divorce was easy for me – or that it will be easy for you.
I can say with full and unbridled confidence that with the right help and support, you will make it to the other side, and be a better person for the journey.
If parenting concerns arise as you go through this process, I’d be happy to discuss them with you. I can be reached at danahirtparenting.com.
Divorce Can Be a Good Thing
I grew up thinking divorce was a good thing.
When I was thirteen years old, my mom and dad separated and thus stopped arguing.
Their relationship changed from feuding foes to cooperative co-parents, and life became more peaceful for me. As my parents found new partners, I saw them find their own paths to happiness and my family grew. Overall, it was good.
In my twenties, I found myself suffocating in an unhappy marriage.
My own good divorce began with a heavy dose of truth when my ex and I admitted out loud, “This isn’t good for us. We should separate.”
From that moment of brutal yet imperative honesty, my husband and I worked together to end our marriage. We cooperatively untangled our assets and began to build separate lives. I was excited about the new beginning, but was dismayed to receive a mix of less-than-happy responses as I made my announcement to others.
“[Gasp] I’m so sorry!”
“Make him pay.”
I felt hurt, confused and offended by what I heard. The experience sent me in search of books about divorce.
I wanted to read happy stories of gratitude and goodwill, but I couldn’t find any. As a result, I decided to adopt an attitude of curiosity and research why more people didn’t see things the way I did.
I discovered the harsh reality that had escaped me for many years: Society really doesn’t like divorce. Cultural jargon to describe the event includes words such as “failure” and “broken home.”
It’s no wonder people who separate often suffer from a deep sense of shame.
Personal shame then ignites a campaign of blame against the ex. Confusion and a desire for self-preservation drive individuals to retain separate lawyers and go to war in a courtroom. In the process, a couple surrenders all power as paid strangers make life-altering decisions for families in pain.
Personal experience has taught me that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Families can evolve instead of dissolve, and the courtroom arena is an unnecessary option in the process.
It’s all a matter of attitude and approach.
A good attitude is the most important factor for having a good divorce.
We can choose to be victims or heroes. We can view divorce as a miserable failure or a welcome turn on the path of life. We can regard the ex as a partner in the process or an enemy to be destroyed.
A positive attitude will lead to a more peaceful and productive separation.
A mindful approach is possible even when a good attitude is lacking. The road to a good divorce lies in the principles of the GOOD Divorce™:
G is for Goals.
If possible, it’s best for separating couples to agree on a few goals to achieve together. This ensures they will continue to work as partners in the process. An easy goal to set together is for both to agree they want a divorce. They might also agree to a cost limit or timeframe in which to attain the goal.
Personal goals are also a good idea.
Where will you live? Do you want to get a new job? A new car? Would you like to save a certain amount of money each month?
O is for Observation.
The divorce process always brings confusion, conflicting emotions and a cascade of disagreements.
Expect this, and refrain from reaction. Instead, and without judgment, observe the situation. Watch your emotions without identifying.
Listen to your ex without immediately firing back.
O is also for Options.
Consider all options before taking action. This principle applies equally to individual arguments as well as the terms of your final divorce agreement.
Wait until any emotional storms have passed and then think rationally about all opportunities and consequences before determining what to do next.
D is for Dignity.
If you’ve set goals, carefully observed all options and made responsible choices along the way, chances are your dignity is still intact.
Remember to also do your best to preserve your children’s dignity, and that means you don’t denigrate their DNA by talking negatively about their other parent.
It’s not the easiest thing, but a dignified approach is usually more productive than playing dirty.
Sometimes divorce is the best solution to a serious problem.
While the process can be stressful, it doesn’t have to be ugly.
Professionals are available to empower couples and help guide them through the process. A good attitude and the GOOD Divorce principles can pave the way to a bright new beginning.
The choices you make before you start your divorce are critical.
Regardless of how many years you've been married, whether you're the one who wants the divorce, your spouse does or you're both on the same page, the choices you make before you start your divorce will likely set the tone for how the entire process will unfold for you and your children.
And how peaceful, fair, child-focused and cost-effective your divorce will (or won't) be.
But you can only make smart choices if you take the time to get educated and prepare for divorce first.
That's exactly why we created a downloadable kit for smart women like you - to help you do just that!
Click on the link below to learn more about what's included in the kit and sign-up to get yours:
Other Useful Resources for How to Have a Good Divorce: