24 hours before my daughter was born, I was steamrolled with gratitude to my stay-at-home mom. It was like the depth of her sacrifice finally hit me. When my daughter was born, I was struck by the necessary control motherhood demands of us. (I mean what other job description includes producing the single source of nutrition for a tiny human?) My kids are older now. They haven’t had the privilege of a stay-at-home mother. Too often in my divorce work, I see stay-at-home mothers who feel discarded and undervalued. This predicament can create an added layer of betrayal to the divorce process, but it isn’t insurmountable. It doesn’t have to swallow you up. If you are a stay-at-home mother, you are brilliant when it comes to transitions. Divorce is just a new season. Here are some tips for protecting yourself through the process.
- Honor your Role. Remember who you are – you are the nucleus of your home. You are the wizard behind the curtain. You know all those minuscule yet deeply critical details that make or break things. You are the CEO of the household – the chef, the childcare, the R&D, and the brand rep. Just because you don’t get a paycheck, do not underestimate the stronghold you have and the reach of your own powers of persuasion. You just have to be able to tap into them.
- Get a lawyer who gets you. Find an attorney who has professional experience inside and outside the courtroom. Your lawyer should know how to come up with long-range strategy, creative solutions, and can advocate vigorously in the courtroom. Your lawyer should be familiar with the literature and data about predicative outcomes for children. She should understand state law and the application of the same in your jurisdiction. Particularly if you have not had ample access to finances, your lawyer should have experience with financials as well as access to other like-minded professionals (like CPAs, health insurance brokers, and financial planners) to bolster you with knowledge you along the way. Finally and most importantly, your lawyer should respect what you do as much as you respect what she does.
- Stop asking why it happened. When we get divorced, everyone wants a definitive answer. He cheated. She drank too much. He was abusive. She was too controlling. Ok, I admit, it’s easier said than done. Just do yourself a favor and reserve those conversations for your therapist or closest friends. Even if you’ve been done wrong; don’t talk about it too much with the rest of the people in your life. Chances are, they won’t understand. You probably will not want their pity. And, you will not want your children’s friends aware of your dirty laundry.
- Relish the magic of the untethered you. Accept your situation as it is. It is happening and regardless of how you got here, it is and will be okay. Yes, getting divorced stinks, but guess what? Being divorced doesn’t have to be so bad. You do have to let go of the dream, though. No one who gets married expects to divorce. Even if things were a little off from the start, we all think we are going to be the ones to beat the odds. For some, a divorce is like having the rug pulled out from under you. Sometimes even a charmed life can suddenly be derailed by one or a series of events. Either way, use this time to do what stay-at-home moms never do enough – shift the lens back on to you! For more inspiration – check out the Instagram account “Moms Before”.
- Take Charge and Lead with Integrity. Do not be naive – do not play defense in your divorce. You may have seen your husband act unpredictably to get what he wants at work. Maybe you’ve seen him slow down and play a long game to confuse his opponent? Remember: he is perfectly capable of employing the same tactics on you. Unfortunately, you are now his opponent. This is one of the toughest notions to wrap your brain around, but it is true. Don’t be surprised if your husband compliments the food you cook or the dress you wear, all the while plotting his best exit strategy. Even if you do not want a divorce, consider taking charge of the divorce process so that you can set the tone of the proceedings. The process can be an ennobling one. You can come out ahead even if it looks a little different than you imagined. But, you will need to have a deep desire and unrelenting focus on moving forward to renew your best self. Put another way, a good offense could lead to a better “severance package” from the job.
- Trust the universe has it handled. Sounds wacky – but why not try it? I mean, it’s better than the alternative? Don’t shoulder this – leave the heavy lifting to your lawyer and your therapist. Your meticulous support of each member of your family, from pet to parent, has occupied premium space in your brain and being. The care you’ve given your family has been so on point because you have devoted yourself to the job. But, it’s time for a company reorg and you’ve just been given a job-share. Sure, your ex may not be your favorite co-worker, right now, but you can handle this transition without catastrophe. Trust that you’ve instilled enough in your kids that they will be able to brave this transition. You’ve already done the work to set it all up. Give yourself a break and let yourself focus a bit on your own self-care, your vision for your future, and your ability to reclaim love.
Monica Cary is a Seattle family law attorney with over 17 years of experience as well as a former King County Family Law Pro Tem Commissioner. DuBois Cary Law Group, PLLC is a full-service woman-owned family law firm providing compassionate legal representation for Northwest Families with over 30 years of combined experience. Call us today.