Many of us are familiar with the old song by the Clash, “Should I stay or should I go?” Unlike the lyrics, which pose the question to a partner, I, like many women, asked the question of myself years ago when considering divorce. It is not an easy question to answer even when your gut is telling you to go. My feelings about the marriage were not in question, but many factors weighed on me. My top few were financial, my social life, and, most importantly, the effect divorce would have on my children.
Can I afford to live on one income?
Having just purchased a home, I had major concerns about whether I could manage the mortgage and all household bills on one income. A free consult with a lawyer quickly gave me hope when I learned what my ex’s monthly child support obligation would be. With a little belt-tightening and a strict budget I realized I would manage. I feel very fortunate that my salary plus child support enabled me to refinance the house in my name.
Ilene Amiel, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, advises that women fully understand their net worth, including equity on the home, debt, insurance policies, and their credit score. She urges them to establish their own credit if they don’t have accounts of their own. “Obtain the last three years income tax returns,” said Amiel. “Getting divorced may be a short or long-term plan depending on the circumstances, but do your research. Act slowly, think first, and file later.”
What about my social life?
Not only did I wonder how I would navigate socially as a single mother, I had trouble envisioning telling my friends, most of whom were married. How would I maintain friendships with the women I had come to know through my ex? How would I make new friends when work and my children took up most of my time? The answers did not appear overnight and it took active effort to develop my new social life. Being single does not preclude one from socializing with couple friendships, but it is critical to create a network of one’s own. Reconnecting with old friends was remarkably easy and they were supportive of my decision. Slowly, I developed new friendships which became some of the closest I have known.
Will getting divorced ruin my kids’ lives?
While it may sound melodramatic, it’s a question I pondered. Divorce is not easy on anyone, but kids have their own fears and concerns. I was referred to Mary Borowka, LCSW, who has a child psychotherapy practice in Chappaqua. Working with each of my children individually and in small groups with another child of the same age enabled them to express and learn how to process their feelings and recognize they are not alone in their experience. In a recent interview, Borowka reminded me that by the time parents are ready to share news of their divorce with their kids, they’ve already gone through the processing of that decision, but for the children it is just the beginning of a huge life transition. Along with feelings of sadness, kids often have concrete questions about logistical concerns, such as where they will live, when they will see the other parent, what will become of family vacations and what else in their lives will change.
As the divorce process ensues, she reminds parents not to lose sight of their child’s best interests. “How parents deal with one another has everything to do with how life after divorce will be experienced by a child,” she said. She encourages couples to avoid losing positive regard for one another, “Hostility between parents makes kids feel they have two separate parts of their lives that they need to figure out how to negotiate on their own.
“Kids want to like both parents and you should want them to as well. Healthy relationships with parents create a good foundation for healthy relationships throughout life.”
Kids can survive and resiliently move through a divorce when parents make the effort to conduct themselves in a manner in the best interests of the children.
I have never regretted my choice and my children are happy and productive young adults now. Having a supportive network of friends and family were key to logistical challenges and emotional support, all of which helped me to create a life of my own design that I treasure.
Miriam Longobardi is a freelance writer, fourth grade teacher and single mother of two daughters living in Westchester. A breast cancer survivor, she volunteers for the American Cancer Society, has completed four marathons and travels the world. Follow her on Twitter @writerMimiLong.