Few people who go through the end of a long-term relationship are able to do so without a good measure of fear and anxiety.
It’s a major life event that comes with a lot of grief and anxiety. Plus, there are a lot of unknowns to face, particularly when there are children in the mix. “Where will everyone live?” “Can the kids go to the same school if we have to move?” “Does this mean I’ll have to write a Match.com profile?”
Of course not every divorce is an amicable one. In some cases there are real things to fear, such as domestic violence or parental abduction.
But barring those extenuating circumstances, there’s good reason to believe that the things that worry you most about the path ahead will not be a problem at all. Or at least not for long.
Indeed that path can lead you out of a place of fear and onto stable ground where you can build your best new life.
From my own experience and those shared with me by members of my Facebook community, Positive Co-Parenting After Divorce, here are the five biggest worries of divorcing parents and the reasons why they’ve turned out not to be an issue at all.
1. That the kids will be devastated by the news
My former husband and I nearly turned ourselves inside out in anxious anticipation of talking to our eldest, then five, about our split (our younger son was only one). Of course the conversation was heartbreaking. Even though we’d chosen our words very carefully to emphasize that we’d always be a mommy and daddy together, he really felt the loss of the husband and wife part.
But within perhaps half an hour, the worst of that was behind us, and he was already reasonably soothed by our assurances. With the news shared, we could then respond to his needs, rather than simply feel sick to our stomachs at the thought of hurting him.
Rob, a father of two, was also very worried about how his two children would respond to learning about the divorce. “It went better than expected, but I was a nervous wreck leading up to telling them,” says Rob. “My younger one reacted by saying now he will have two houses instead of one! My older one needed a bit of counselling after. Since then neither have had any issues.”
Indeed the best research out there shows that while separation and divorce can bring a tricky transition period for the kids, there’s little evidence that it’s a long-term trauma. In fact, the process may make them uncommonly resilient.
“I was afraid that my kids’ lives would be ruined,” said mom of two Laura Kathleen. “I had no positive divorce role models and had archaic ideas of what a ‘broken home’ looks like and how children of divorce suffer. I feared they’d never feel secure or stable, that shared custody would affect their strong attachment to both parents. I worried they’d inevitably struggle and face difficulty simply by being a ‘product of divorce.’ The worry was crippling.”
“I started by reading anything and everything I could get my hands on about co-parenting, joined a few online groups, and really started looking for examples of people who handle divorce and two homes well. Once I knew others could do it I was confident we could too — and so far I’m proud to say we have.”
2. That they won’t be able to manage financially
Splitting the same resources over two households is rarely easy. That’s why we see more and more co-parents working creatively with their living arrangements, bird nesting or sharing one home split into two apartments, for instance.
Most often there’s some adjustments that have to be made, but it’s also incredible how often divorce motivates people to reach new goals. As a result, they find themselves able to earn more and manage better than they ever would have imagined.
“I was just afraid of not being able to support myself,” said Katelyn Gammell Cordova, who was a stay-at-home mom at the time of her split. “Shortly after separation I got my own apartment, got a job and proved myself wrong. I stay at home during the day with my 2.5-year-old son, waitress at night.” When child support wasn’t coming in at the beginning she needed a little food assistance, which is exactly why programs like that exist. “But we’re all happy and healthy.”
Although his circumstances were quite different, Rob also wasn’t sure how he’d carry a mortgage on his own while paying child support. But today he says he’s “doing very well financially” in part because his financial and budgeting priorities are his to set alone.
Pamela Vickers* counts herself among the people propelled to greater career success by divorce. “I’ve basically kicked ass at work. I’ve almost doubled my pay in the five years since divorce.” Initially she was concerned about how she’d manage the demands of her job, which included a considerable amount of travel. “But because my ex was flexible regarding schedules, my work travel was OK and now I’ve even managed to find a job with less travel.”
Naomi Clark has a cool perspective on the financial side of divorce. “I was afraid that downsizing would be very difficult. Instead, it’s actually been freeing to realize I’m happier in a smaller house with less stuff to look after,” she says. “The financial hit is real, and I’m fortunate that I have been able to scrape by. But instead of feeling discouraged, I get a kick out of thinking I’m beating the consumerist system.”
3. That a co-parents’ new partner will replace you as a parent
Many people have a misguided idea that if their former partner meets someone new, it’ll interfere with their own relationship with the kids.
Kelly Williams* really feared that kind of displacement by a new partner. “I think my biggest fear during the early days was the idea of the other woman and him forming a new family unit with my kids. That was difficult to wrap my head around.”
But the thing is, even though you may think two adults and one or more kids looks like a family unit, there’s nothing about that configuration that makes it any better or more family-like than a single-parent household. It can take an adjustment of perspective to see it that way, however.
More importantly, though, your kids know who their parents are and no new partner (or stepmom or bonus dad) can replace you.
Once you can get to a place where you see that new person in a positive light, as another adult who loves your kid — and who could potentially make an emergency pick-up if needed — you’ll realize there’s nothing to fear.
My two sons have a great stepmom, Amy, who has made us into a three-parent family. She has a lovely relationship with the kids that’s based on common interests, their shared household and love for one another. The boys’ relationship with me is different. I’m still their primary source of cuddles, back massages and mom advice.
But given that it truly takes a village to raise our children — and that we’re so isolated by the busy nature of modern life, often living far from grandparents, aunts and uncles — a bonus parent or two only expands the circle of available adults to share in what really should be a collective experience of bringing up the next generation.
4. That time apart from the children will be devastating
For Tessa Cahill, the prospect of giving up time with the kids was the worst part of splitting up. “They were young when we split — four and 18 months — and I suffered hard when they would go to their dads’,” says Cahill. “Thankfully I had an on-call pal who would always be available during transition evening and we’d make a plan to distract me.”
“Eventually, everyone got more used to it and now I’m excited for them to go to their dads,’ as they love it and I love my solo time. As a side note, it’s way easier to give your children to their dad when you’re in a good place together, respectful, kind and feeling positive about them.”
Sylvie was really unsure how she was going to handle the time apart from her kids — and as a single person in general. “Like a lot of people, I was afraid of being alone and lonely,” she says. “Ironically enough, my experience has been the complete opposite. Since my break-up, my friend group has expanded. I used to rely on my husband and his family for my social life. I’ve now reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I’m way happier and more fulfilled than I was before.”
Others worry their access to the kids will be cut off, and in some cases that does occur. But courts are much more likely to default to equal custody than they were in the past and they frown on parental alienation. Many separating parents are unaware of their legal rights, and an initial consult with a family lawyer is all it takes to put many of these fears to rest.
“Being an involved, hands-on dad, I had fear that the threats would become reality, that I’d be an every other weekend dad with the ‘privilege’ of an overnight once a week,” said Frank Tillman*. “As a man It’s so easy to look at society and the system and get discouraged that you’ll be lumped in with all the deadbeats that don’t care to be with the kids.”
Through the support of a therapist as well as family and friends, he got through that difficult time and acrimonious divorce process and has equal custody and a great relationship with his kids today.
5. That they won’t find love again
Finally, most of us wonder at the end of a relationship — one that we thought would go the distance — how we’ll ever find our way to a new relationship, let alone to a new life with someone. We have so much of our identity wrapped up, not only in being a married person — with all the privileges that affords — but also in being with the person we’ve called our spouse for so long.
After my own marriage ended, I really worried that I had gotten off of the happiness track. That outside of the cocoon of marriage and my family as I knew it, things would simply get and stay hard. But like many others, the change in my relationship status spurred me to a lot of growth, the kind that brings with it a lot of independence and self-knowledge. The good foundation on which I’m now building a new relationship with my boyfriend of two years.
Not everyone has the desire to partner again for the long-term. But for those who do, and who proceed to do the work required to know themselves better through divorce, there’s an opportunity to find a person who suits us in ways we can’t quite imagine at the middle of a separation. And that’s worth waiting for.
*indicates name changed upon request.