Building a Support Network

We all know intuitively that going through a divorce is difficult, but we don’t always think about the many practical ways that divorce will affect us and our families. One very real benefit to being married is that there are two adults living in the house. You can come to take it for granted (guilty!) that you can depend on that other adult to watch over and care for the children while you are gone, and vice versa. (I know that this is not always the case. Some spouses do not share in the care and supervision of the children, even when you are married.) When you and your spouse separate, all of a sudden there is the looming question of, Who will watch/take care of the kids when I’m not home? This can be a very scary, daunting, intimidating and/or paralyzing question. It’s one that I’ve asked myself MANY times.

As you begin the divorce process, I want to encourage you to start reaching out to others and building your support network. You will need it. Speak to others about the role they can play in creating a healthy and supportive environment for your children. It’s not about who is loyal to you or your spouse; it’s about who is willing to support the children as they go through a difficult life transition. Look for those who are non-judgmental, who have previously shown a healthy interest in your children, those who offer help, etc. I challenge you to sit down with a sheet of paper and think of all the people in your life. Which ones would be willing to help you? Sometimes you’d be surprised at who is willing. How can they help you? Are they good at cooking, cleaning, watching kids, doing handyman work, or something else? Your support network should include more variety than just those who can care for your children. There will be times when you need help with other things. Think about who you can call before you find yourself in a tight spot.

I’ve found that it helps to just be honest with people. I let them know that I’m recognizing that I’ll need more help than I did before, and I’m reaching out to see who is able and willing to be a part of that team. When presented with options, most people will tell you which tasks they prefer, which days they’re potentially available, how much advance notice they need, whether or not they expect compensation, etc.

GROUPS YOU MIGHT CONSIDER SEEKING HELP FROM:

  1. Friends – Share the intimate details of your divorce with only your most trusted friends. Not every friend needs to know every detail to be a good support person. You will probably find during this time that there are some friends who stick with you and show you support, and those who are completely uncomfortable with the idea of your divorce and fall away from you. Treasure those friendships that withstand adversity. You don’t need a lot of friends, just a few healthy, reciprocal friendships. Looking after your own mental well-being is of utmost importance, so take time to talk about real issues affecting your life with a trusted friend. Planning a fun outing with a friend is also a way to nourish yourself. Don’t underestimate the importance of participating in positive social interactions to help combat the negativity that comes with divorce and which can threaten to drown you.
  2. Babysitter – Perhaps you already have a trusted babysitter in place. That would be ideal–someone who already has an established relationship with your kids that will continue during and after the divorce. If not, start looking around now for at least a couple of people you can ask to watch the kids when you need help. This could be family, friends, a teenager, even a professional nanny. If you need to seek out someone who you don’t know personally, make sure to check their references and do a background check and interview. There are many lists on the Internet that will tell you what to look for in a babysitter — be sure to check them out. Also, I would recommend compensating your babysitter, unless it’s your parent or someone else who absolutely won’t accept money. Even if your babysitter is unwilling to accept payment, still acknowledge their efforts with thank you notes, baked goods, a token gift card, or some other means of showing your appreciation. Try to plan out and communicate your babysitting needs as far in advance as possible. You will probably have to rely on more than one person to cover the variety of dates and times needed. You should also decide if your babysitter(s) will be available to your ex, or just you. Some babysitters see themselves as advocating for the kids, and they don’t care which parent needs their services, while other sitters will feel like they are only comfortable “working” with one parent. It depends on many issues: trust, family/friend loyalty, compensation, schedule, proximity, etc. There is no right or wrong answer, only what makes sense in your situation. Also, I want to stress that any money you have to spend on a sitter is well worth it. Your children are your most treasured possessions and you want to make sure they’re well taken care of.
  3. Family – During the divorce process your family may want to help you, but feel unsure about how they can do it. Be honest with your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents about your needs. They will often be willing to step in if you need a babysitter, help moving, a minor home repair, yard work, help transporting kids to activities, etc. Be appreciative and let your family know how much you value their help. It’s easy to take family for granted, so make sure you go the extra mile to show them some love. I should also mention that there are instances where your family members are so uncomfortable with the idea of your divorce that they won’t help you. Don’t automatically write them off. Maybe the shock of the news caused them to react badly, but they’ll come around later, once the shock has worn off.
  4. School – It will probably be in your children’s best interest to let their teachers know that you and your spouse are getting a divorce. Children can act out in unpredictable ways during the divorce process, so it’s best for their teachers to understand what might be causing your child to act a particular way. Let their teacher/school counselor know that you want to be informed if they see any issues or concerning behaviors arise.
  5. Healthcare – Both you and your children will need the continued care of your doctor, dentist and any other healthcare professionals you see. If at all possible, try to keep the same providers throughout the divorce process. Depending on custody and decision-making rights in your case, the care of your children might be your sole responsibility or you may share it with your ex. Even if your ex doesn’t get to make healthcare decisions for your child, he/she may still be entitled to your child’s healthcare information. Speak with your lawyer and/or your healthcare providers about this. Setting up care for yourself and/or your children with a counselor at this point would probably be very helpful for all of you. Whether or not the divorce is contentious, there will be emotions and situations that you all need helping dealing with. Talking to a counselor can help you feel comfortable dealing with your honest emotions in a neutral setting. It’s not always advisable to share all of our thoughts and feelings with family who have the potential to be hurt by your raw thoughts and feelings. Confiding in a counselor makes sharing and processing our emotions a much more freeing experience.
  6. Faith community – I want to put in a caveat here about sharing too much information or sharing with the wrong people in your faith community. Unfortunately, religious people can be some of the most hurtful individuals you’ll encounter while getting a divorce. Be prepared to lose relationships that you thought were rock-solid and to potentially be the topic of gossip. With that being said, you may want to talk to your pastor or a few close friends at your place of worship about what you’re going through. Only share what you are comfortable sharing and understand that many places of worship are hotbeds of gossip, so keep that in mind when deciding what to share. You might also want to do a Google search and see if there’s a divorce care group in your area. Chances are, it won’t be at your house of worship, but it might be preferable to process the divorce with strangers. Also, it might be necessary to share with your pastor that you aren’t available to invest as much as you did previously in your house of worship. The divorce process is demanding of your attention, finances and time. You will probably have to take on more responsibilities post-divorce as well, because your ex will no longer be there to help you. A good pastor will understand that the dynamics of your life are shifting and so too, must your priorities. Don’t be guilted into giving/doing more than you feel capable of. You will have to set healthy boundaries for yourself and stick to them.
  7. Lawyer – I found out the hard way that sometimes it is necessary to get legal assistance, even when you *really* don’t want to. Your situation may be so complicated that you need a lawyer’s help. Maybe your STBX is making things so difficult that you can’t handle the divorce without the help of a professional. Whatever the reason, a lawyer can be an amazing advocate. Not only can he/she help you with all of the confusing details during the divorce, but you may need their assistance post-divorce as well, when new issues crop up (such as child custody/support/alimony). Spending thousands of dollars on a lawyer is a hard pill to swallow, but the consequences of not getting the help you need could be devastating. You have to look at your own situation and make a decision that you’re comfortable with.
  8. Online support – This has been helpful for me when I’m looking for advice about what to do in a particular situation that doesn’t have an obvious right or wrong answer. Sometimes hearing about the experiences of others can help you make a more informed decision, help you feel less alone, or get you thinking about things you had never even considered before (like ways to support your children’s relationship with your ex). There are support groups on Facebook, chat rooms, forums, blogs, Youtube channels and more. Just be careful about oversharing personal information and don’t get so sucked into the culture of these online groups that you neglect your real life responsibilities. Also, it’s a good idea to run any advice you receive online past your lawyer or other professional. People share all kinds of information online, some specific to their case, their state, or even some of it inaccurate. Learn to carefully evaluate everything you read online.
  9. Spread it around — This last bit of advice speaks to the importance of not depending too much on any one person. Your need for assistance will probably increase fairly significantly after divorce, so be careful about putting too much burden on people. Let people play to their strengths when they offer/you ask for assistance. Dad might be excellent at replacing that old vanity light in your bathroom, but he might stink as a babysitter. Don’t ask him to be everything to you, but let his skills as the ultimate handyman shine through. Also, make sure you are speaking to the right people about whatever topic you’re focusing on at the time. You can tell your mom that you have questions about the kids’ healthcare info, but your mom is not going to be able to answer your questions. Go to the experts — call the clinic — and then you can give mom an update. If you overburden people with your issues (especially issues they have almost no knowledge of or control over), you may burn them out with your problems. Be open with your support system and give them permission to tell you when they are on “divorce overload” and need a little break. (Trust me, they will get tired of it, especially if it’s prolonged.)

Please let me know of any other support persons you can think of and I’ll add them to the list. Thanks!

Wishing you boatloads of helpers during this difficult process,

L

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