Divorce is one of the most devastating things you could ever put yourself or your family through. The devastating effects and the toll it takes on you and the people closest to you leaves you emotionally, financially, and physically drained and grasping for what your next move should be.
In the beginning, starting a new life can seem hopeless-futile. You know you should pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move forward, but most of the time you are left wondering what exactly does forward look like?
I have been blessed to be surrounded with some of the most amazing people on my journey. People who have loved and supported me from day 1. Some of the greatest support I have received has come from a few women who are just like me, and whom I have the joy of calling some of my best friends. These women have walked through the fire of divorce and lived to tell about it. I am constantly inspired by their strength, their wisdom, and their willingness to help me find my forward.
Today I am starting a new blog series entitled Life After Divorce. Through this series, I will introduce these amazing women to you and share their stories through a series of interview questions. These questions reflect questions I think anyone who is going or who has gone through a divorce has asked.
My goal is to encourage any woman out their who may have just started a journey through divorce, or who may have reached a place in her life where she can't seem to find which direction is her forward. I hope you hear each one of the stories of these women, and I hope that you take some of their wisdom from their well-worn journey with you just as I have.
There is life after divorce. There is a forward. Trust us.
Meet my dear friend, Bethany*.
Bethany is a beautiful, amazing single mom to an adorable vibrant, outgoing second grade boy. When I think of the word "survivor", a picture of her always forms in my mind. I have known Bethany for many years, and when I first began my divorce journey she was the number one person from whom I drew strength and encouragement. Bethany and I have both walked in very similar shoes, and on my really, really bad co-parenting days she is the one I turn to and say things like, "Please tell me I'm not being crazy!". She is an incredible human being who has overcome so much, and I am so excited to share her wisdom with you today.
- Before your first marriage, what red flags were you most likely ignoring? The way he would hide everything. He had lots of secrets, and he was very controlling. There were always other girls around and things that were left from these other girls. There was also the warnings from my family and friends.
- During your first marriage, what were some things that your relationship lacked? Compassion and trust
- Do you think that you placed unrealistic expectations on your first spouse? If so, in what way? No, I don't.
- What kind of unrealistic expectations were placed on you by your first spouse? To be accepting of him being with other girls, his partying, the lies, and allowing him have control of everything. In his mind, I was to be left at home and I was expected be the perfect wife who kept the perfect home and who raised the perfect child. I was not to say a word when he came home smelling of another girls perfume, otherwise there would be hell to pay and the screaming, yelling, and name calling would commence. To him, I was always the bitch that ruined his life. In fact, I still hear that, but I just don't let it get to me now.
- When you and your first spouse finally separated, what was your first thought? I thought my life would end. I felt like it was all my fault, because that was what I was being told by him, and at that point I was still allowing him have control over me. I got very depressed and had thoughts of suicide. I even wrote a separate note to all of my loved ones. As I finished the letter to my little boy, I was in full out tears. I couldn't bring myself to consider what his life would be like without me there, and in that moment, I decided I had to pull myself together and make things the best I could for him. I ripped up all letters and sat there weeping until the early morning hours. I knew in my heart that I could not leave him alone.
- What was the hardest thing about being on your own for the first time in years? The hardest thing for me about being by myself for the first time in years was the public perception of my life. I hated to watch all the whispers and knowing that people were talking behind my back. I knew what they were talking about and who they were talking about, and it just killed me that I was at the center of their gossip. All I wanted was to be the perfect, normal me that I was before, and having people talk about me was not something I had ever experienced up until that point.
- Who made up your primary support system? How did those people help you the most? My mom, my sister, and all of my friends including all of my girlfriends. There were also those friends that I was not allowed to have contact with throughout my marriage. After my separation, I went and found those people again. They were really kind, and proved to be a rock for me to lean against during my separation and divorce.
- What was your initial thought about dating after your divorce? I did not want to date again afterwards. I was so worried about being played again, and my whole goal was to not let anyone into my life. In my mind, I wanted to be the person to play or hurt someone else, and it was so weird to me that I felt that way. Plus I also thought that no guy would ever want to be with me. My self-esteem was so far down, and I didn't think there would ever be another person for me in this world who would think I was pretty.
- How did that change in the months and years to come? I ended up meeting the man who is now going to become my husband. He had also married young, and was going through a rough time too. We were able to talk to each other about what was going on in our lives. He made me feel very loved and wanted. It was like I had finally found someone who would actually like me for who I am and who truly cared about me.
- Tell me about the moment you met your current spouse/fiance for the first time? I'd actually known him for a long time because we went to school together. But the moment I really noticed him was when we had some friends that were leaving and we were both there to tell them goodbye. It was like even though we had always been acquaintances, we suddenly had an instant connection and it seems like from that moment on we were inseparable.
- When did you know that they were the right one for you? I knew that he was right for me because of how completely in sync we are together, and how we like to do the same things and we want to do them together. I could also tell that everything was going to be the way it should be when I saw how he is with my son. He treats him like he is his own, and that means the world to me.
- What is something you admire most about your current spouse/fiance? I probably love his compassion, love, and understanding for other people the most. He is totally the type of person who gives 100% to others, and always puts everyone else first.
- How did your previous marriage help to prepare you for your current marriage? Basically the way my previous marriage prepared me for my upcoming re-marriage, is that it taught me how I did not want to be treated, and it made me want to wait until I found the perfect person to treat me the way I had learned that I deserved to be treated.
- If you have children, let’s talk co-parenting. How do you feel the transition has affected your children the most? I sometimes feel that the transition has affected my child negatively. He is very worried about what everybody else thinks/ feels. He has come to the point where he lives from one side to the other, so that he can make everyone happy. I feel like he has reached the point where he does this instead of worrying about himself and what makes him happy. An example of this is that at his dad's house they expect him to call his new stepmother, "Mom", and they expect him to call me by my first name. I find this to be crazy and very disrespectful. However, I also don't want to put him in the position where he feels like he has to chose sides by either upsetting me or upsetting them. I hate that he feels like he needs to call me by my real name when he is over there-in fact I think this is really over the top. I feel that this should be controlled, but his dad and his new wife don't seem to think so. It really wears very heavily on him, and it's a hard thing for us to deal with, especially when I'm trying to co-parent him with them, and teach him what I think is respectful and right, and how to be a good person. I hate to see the way his father is controlling him, but unfortunately I know that this is not something I can control.
- What are some things you do every day to effectively co-parent your child with your ex-spouse? I try to be very open with my ex about everything that is going on with our child, and tell him about all the events that are coming up and what he is going to be doing. I try to respect what he wants for him. We have very different views on things such as extracurricular activities. He believes that he really shouldn't do any extracurricular activities, but I believe that he should. I believe he should do whatever he wants, as long as he's not overloaded. I also want him to follow through with those commitments and I expect him to finish them. There are lots of things he wants to do, but when I ask his Dad the answer is always a, "No.". I feel really bad for him sometimes, and I struggle with how to respect what his Dad wants, but still give him the life that I think he should have. In my opinion, I don't think his Dad should be able have all the control over everything in his life, so a lot of times I just let him do things on my days. This is very frustrating, because then all the days he is with me, he is always busy doing something and I don't want it to be that way, but I also want to give him the best childhood I can. It's hard to find that balance.
- What is one piece of advice you would give anyone who is just beginning their co-parenting journey after divorce? To remember that it is not about the two of you-it is about the children or the child. Try to always love and respect that person as the other parent to your child even though they may say that they hate you and you are tortured by that.
- No matter what, I hope that my child ____________________________(Fill in the blank). I hope that my child knows how much I love him and how I would do anything in this world for him to make it the best it can be. He's an amazing little boy and he deserves nothing, but the best from everyone. I hope he always reaches for the stars, but that he knows that if he falls, mom will be right here.
- If you could define your life after your divorce in one word what would it be and why? Struggle. Co-parenting is the hardest thing, and sometimes I think it would just be so much easier if I just had full custody of him and his Dad wasn't around, or that I was from a divorce where there were no children involved. But then I sit back and remind myself that he is the most amazing thing that ever happened to me, and if that means that I have to have the struggle and put up with his father then it is worth it. That boy deserves everything in the world, and I believe that every child deserves to have both parents active in their life.
- If you could go back to the first time and tell your young newly engaged self one thing, what would it be? Listen to the people around you. Listen to those who care about you, and who love you the most. Your family is only telling you these things because they love you, and they want what's best for you. Trust me, they aren't giving you the advice just to be jerks. They're giving it to you, because they're worried about you and they want what's best for you. I have a lot of days that I wish I would've listened to my sister when she was sitting there with me on my wedding day making a plan for me to escape, so that I did not have to get married. I was so mad at her that day, and I couldn't believe she was doing it, but now I wish I would've listened and just ran like the wind right out the door.
I think we can all take something away from Bethany's interview and learn from her daily struggle no matter where we are in our lives. I admire the way that she strives to give her son the best life possible-a life that is filled with so many opportunities to learn and grow as human being-despite the adversity she faces. I believe this is something that any of us who are divorced with kids should strive towards, no matter what obstacles might be in our way. Bethany inspires me daily as a mother, and I hope she inspires you too.
Stay tuned for more Life After Divorce posts that will be coming your way soon!
Stay tuned for more Life After Divorce posts that will be coming your way soon!
(If you are divorced and you would like to be considered for an interview in my Life After Divorce series, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
*All names have been changed