A very dear friend of mine was given very bad news by her husband of five years: their marriage was over. And there was nothing she could do about it.
My heart hurt for her. I could easily place myself in her shoes -- those of a homeschooling, stay-at-home-mom who lived in a state that was far away from home.
The awful situation she found herself in made me think about the vulnerable position that we stay-at-home spouses are in at the end of a relationship.
Because the decision to stay home isn’t made by one person. It is a decision made by two people - a committed couple. One parent agrees to go out of the home to make the money, while the other agrees to stay at home to watch the kids.
The homemaker is trusting that their livelihood will be provided for by the working spouse, which is no easy thing. Years of workforce experience are lost when an adult stays at home.
When the working spouse decides that the marriage is over, the stay at home parent has their promised future stolen from them. A contract has been violated and a promise has been broken.
But after all of the heartbreak and all of the tears, one thing is clear: a new path must be carved. But how do you do that? Where does a shaken spouse look for guidance?
After agonizing over my friend’s situation, I thought to “look ahead” for her by seeking the advice of other stay-at-home parents who have moved forward from their own divorce and other helping professionals.
This is what they told me. I hope it helps her. I hope it helps you:
Just keep going. My friend Lisle, a 36-year old woman from Pittsburgh, said that the key was to just keep going. “Keep going no matter how hard the urge is to get in bed and pull the covers over your head,” said Lisle. “Lean on your family and friends and let them help you! From a practical standpoint, seek legal counsel and protect your assets. And most important for me was to pray.”
Expect to learn something. Another divorced friend of mine, Jennifer, a 39-year old writer from Ontario, Canada, said, “You will get through it and learn something from it.”
Wait for clarity. “For the first few days, I think that I just held tight to knowing that if I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, accepted and let the shock pass through me and trusted my instincts, that clarity would come,” said Karen, a 33-year-old mother of two. “Priorities snapped in line very quickly. Also, don’t agree or do anything until you are clear-headed!”
Don’t be nice. “Get a really good attorney, and don’t ‘be nice,’” advised Sheree, a 40-year-old friend from Denver. “I’m not saying be nasty or anything like that, but your future is very affected by every decision made now. Try and maintain your routine, too. It helps.”
A job can be your salvation. “When I left (because it was over), the shock and depression had me sleeping most of the day,” said Tabatha, a 25-year old friend from Waco, Texas. “But I then found a job in a field that I love; I stayed busy with church, friends and family. Hope was all I needed to get through the first few months, and even to this day.”
Don’t lie to get back in the workforce. “Don’t try to hide your absence from the workforce in your resume,” said Sabrina Lynch, a human resources manager. “We’ll spot that in a hurry. But know that the HR field is full of women and all sorts of folks who are very empathetic and understanding of major life changes.”
Lynch says that you need to highlight your college degree (if you have one) and whatever work you did that is related to it during your time out of the workforce. Put any volunteer work you have on there, too.
Commit to a new kind of network. Lynch also advises divorcing stay-at-home parents to work on their professional network, which is a lot like our social networks. “Get a profile set up on LinkedIn, and find your old work contacts - anyone who can vouch for you in a professional manner. Consider the alumni network of your college, too,” said Lynch.
Exclude stay-at-home parent from your resume. “As proud as you are (and have the right to be) about being a stay-at-home parent, do not list: Looking at going back to work after being a stay-at-home-parent for XX years as an objective on your resume. Employers want to know about the skills you have that they can use,” said Lynch.
Temping is easy onboarding. “A great place to start looking for work is at a job placement business such as Office Team,” said Lynch. “There, you will be tested on your administrative skills and can possibly be placed for a temporary position. It is a great way to beef up your resume, and work towards a permanent position.”
Lynch also advises newly divorced parents to get up to date on Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. “Managers like me look for those AND test our candidates in those areas,” said Lynch.
Take all the tax advantages. Divorce also has serious financial ramifications. Financial expert Maria Siconolfi reminds parents that the person who has the children more than 50% of the time is entitled to the Head of Household deduction, which is not an item both parents can claim. “You do not have to take the child as a dependent to be head of household, though that is solely based on days with each parent.”
"Whoever claims the child as a dependent also gets to claim daycare/college expenses as well as the tax credit. Make sure the divorce decree says who will get to take the child as a dependent during college years. Most decrees only go to age 18, but there is a deduction up until age 23 if the child is a full-time student.” For more tax information, visit the IRS website.
Get it in writing. “Alimony received is tax-deductible, but child support is not,” said Siconolfi. “Family support will be classified as alimony or child support depending on circumstances, so get in writing how much is allocated to each. It is better to receive higher child support than alimony given the choice.”
Acknowledge the seriousness of the loss. It makes sense to grieve a dream that is dead during a divorce. “A rupture or an act of abandonment is a loss,” said a psychologist Maria Lozano. “It is very possible for one to go through the stages of loss as described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, negotiation, anger, depression, and acceptance.”
Turn to family and friends. “Do not isolate yourself,” said Lozano. “Activate your safety net or your support group. If you feel as if you might be suffering through clinical depression, seek the help of a mental health professional.”
Look for a way to find closure. When you are experiencing the end of a relationship it seems like the situation will never be resolved. But it will, eventually. “Look for a way to attain closure,” said Lozano. “For example, burn a break-up letter or delete a voicemail that delivered the bad news to you.”
Redefine your life. Part of going through deployments and moves means that you start looking at your life as a “military” life. You have been a “military” spouse. You look at your kids as “military” kids. After the end of the relationship, it is good to look for new goals and aspirations that will redefine your life. Let yourself be a dreamer.
As a military spouse, we all get used to doing so much on our own. Still, I am glad to know that there are others out there who are willing to hold our hands and offer advice when life delivers unexpected and undesired detours.
Cyndia Rios-Myers is a Navy wife, Navy veteran, stay-at-home-mom and homeschooling parent.
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