In the midst of my drawn-out divorce, I was stunned at the amount of unsolicited advice I received, especially from single mothers. Now, I don't know if dads offer constant commentary to their fellow fathers… frankly, I doubt it. But the moms? It was a steady stream, and most of it didn't help.
Let's be honest. Mothers judge other mothers when we're married. Is it any surprise they would do so when our families are falling apart?
The trouble is, the onslaught of opinions left me questioning what I thought I knew, second-guessing my decisions, and riding a rollercoaster of insecurities and emotions sparked by the divorce itself. I was raw and vulnerable—wildly hopeful one minute, distraught the next, and sensitive to every criticism, particularly concerning my children.
And seeing what my little boys were going through, knowing how often they were caught in the middle, I felt utterly helpless as a parent. I was certainly in need of counsel—and got some, from a professional. But the recommendations of other single moms? None of them seemed to fit.
Eventually, it dawned on me. Your neighbor's divorce, your co-worker's divorce, your best friend's divorce—these are not your divorce. And my neighbors, co-workers, and best friends were making assumptions—inaccurate or irrelevant assumptions—about what was going on in my household in my divorce.
The bottom line? Never assume.
I offer you advice drawn directly from my "never assume" files. Some of this may apply, and some may be irrelevant. As much as anything, "never assume" is all about acknowledging that each experience of divorce is unique.
If You Are Still Divorcing
Never assume that your attorney is the sole provider of necessary information. In fact, assume the opposite! You must take ownership for researching options yourself, listening to your gut when something feels "off," and remembering that your lawyer is not your therapist.
Never assume that follow-up legalities won't be needed in the future. This may be the benign result of changing life circumstances that require adjustments. For instance, a change in financial situation or job may mean modifications to support or custody arrangements. Or, post-divorce problems with your ex may require legal intervention.
Never assume that family court is easy to navigate. Remember that divorce laws and related processes are state-specific. (This is just one of the reasons that counsel offered by your besties in Massachusetts and New York may be of little value to you in Tennessee.)
Never assume that your friend three counties away is more able to predict your progress than your well-meaning out-of-state pals. Not only do the circumstances of each divorce vary, but so will your attorneys and judges (in style and skill), and thus, the outcome.
Never assume that transitions will be easy or simple, that you won't find yourself stalled professionally, that you won't experience a period of financial disarray or be compelled to dig deep for guts you never knew you had. Never assume that you can't handle it—all of it—or that you won't make it through. You can, and will, find reserves of strength to survive, and ultimately flourish.
If You Are Dealing With Children
Never assume that your child is telling you all that he or she is feeling—about the divorce, about an absent parent, about you, about your new romantic interest, or post-divorce life in general. Your child's age when you're divorcing is a factor, but likewise, temperament, ability to articulate what he or she is feeling, and willingness to compromise the security of both parental relationships by possibly rocking the boat.
Never assume that your children will heal at the same time in the same way. They're individuals, right? They'll grieve, act out, and adjust differently—just as they would with any major life event. This includes adult children of divorce.
Never assume that life after divorce is a "fixed" destination. Circumstances are rarely static, much less entirely within your control. You or your ex may be great co-parents for a time; however, a period of unemployment, a remarriage, a relocation for work, or serious medical issues are just a few of the challenges that introduce emotional and logistical curve balls that shift schedules, impact finances, and need to be dealt with… like adults.
Never assume that an under-performing co-parent won’t mature into a better one—more cooperative in terms of active parenting, more cooperative financially, or more cooperative as children mature into teenagers, young adults, and parents themselves. But never assume that he or she will.
Never assume that change will come easily for your kids, but never assume that they won't amaze you with their resiliency. And that will help with yours, as you find yourself taking new risks and embarking on new adventures that open up your world to glorious possibilities.