Even experts aren’t immune from the stress and self-doubt that comes with divorce. Here, Divorcist’s resident “financial advisor who’s been there” Cecile Gallot shares how she managed money and moved past mom guilt in the early days of separation. *Please note that this is not intended to be legal or financial advice. Cecile simply wants to use her personal experience to help the next girl (or guy).* Do you have a question for Cecile? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Hi Cecile. I’m worried my children’s quality of life will be reduced if I get divorced. What should I do? –Jennifer E.
Hi Jennifer. Great question and definitely one I was worried about too. Short answer: You kids will be better off, even if finances get tight.
Get smart about money sooner
Anytime you’re splitting one household into two there are going to be adjustments that need to be made. Your income might be decreasing just as your expenses are increasing (I’m looking at you, legal bills). Many people say that they wish they would have made adjustments to their spending a lot sooner. I’m one of them. Not that I didn’t tighten my belt, I did. I had to. But I tried to keep things as normal as possible for my kids as long as I could. During our divorce my lawyer had said that I could spend “within reason” and not have to worry about dissipation. I was upset that while I was pinching pennies, paying the vast majority of the household bills, my ex was living it up and partying.
So as soon as I got “permission”, I decided that we didn’t have to spend every night and weekend at home doing nothing. I didn’t want my kids to notice the financial impact the divorce had. I felt an enormous sense of relief when my daughter no longer wanted to go away to summer camp. She saved me from having to have the difficult conversation of not being able to afford the $2-$3k it cost.
Kids always notice
Despite my best efforts, my kids noticed anyway. They’re young, not blind. Because at some point, all the spending caught up with me and I was forced to change, forced to cut back even further, noticeably. I definitely have times where I feel awful that my son isn’t in baseball or basketball like other boys his age. Or that my daughter isn’t in any extracurriculars, she’s only tried a handful. Financially my kids’ quality of life changed. It’s unfortunate, and I wish it were different but there it is.
Here’s the thing though, my son’s not athletic to begin with. He really has zero interest in sports and my daughter has thrived in art and has been exploring things on her own. Kids adjust. They find their own paths. Now that my daughter is working and making her own money, she’s extremely responsible with her money especially for her age. The things that I feel bad about not providing aren’t necessarily the things that my kids even care about anyway. Much of that is me putting pressure on me rather than my kids feeling as though they are missing out. Are there some cases where they feel the difference? Of course. Everyone’s situation is going to be a little different than mine was. Some kids are already active in extracurriculars that might have to be cut from the budget. And that’s hard. Kids aren’t always going to understand why things had to change. At least not until they’re older. While the financial impact of my divorce has not been what I’d like for my kids, here’s the true impact of divorce vs. NOT divorcing.
It’s better in the long run
Prior to our divorce, our home life was incredibly dysfunctional. As a result, both my kids suffer from anxiety and a low sense of self-worth. Both my kids worry that they’re not enough, that they’re not lovable. They both need a lot of reassurance and validation. We were constantly walking around on egg-shells. I was pretty much constantly irritable and upset. No one’s feelings were validated, appearances were of the utmost importance, we were constantly being gaslit, everything was a power struggle. We were all miserable. My daughter and I would spend most of each weekend cleaning because of how my ex would act if we didn’t.
Cleaning up his mess
I didn’t think it was right that a child should have to do as much as she did so I’d ask my ex to do certain chores and he would turn around and tell my daughter to do it. We’d fight because I’d deliberately asked HIM to do the chores. He’d say something along the lines of, “but you’re women, you LIKE to clean”. It was infuriating, but he got a kick out of pushing my buttons. I’d argue that we both work, we need to both contribute. He’d agree but nothing would change for the better. More and more of the household responsibility fell on me as I tried to shield my daughter. My ex and I would have the same fights over and over. When I got really upset I’d point out that I made more than he did.
Needless to say, there was a LOT of arguing. I was not my best self and didn’t like the examples we were setting for our kids, not around household responsibilities and gender roles, not around how to treat others, how to behave and definitely not around relationships. A few months before my son turned 5, I’d just returned from a trip. Within 10 minutes of walking in the door we were arguing. He baselessly accused me of cheating by dropping the f-bomb right in front of our son. My son stood in-between his parents with his arms stretched wide in a “stop” motion. He was trying to keep us apart and to get us to stop fighting.
Finding the courage
I’d come really close and then chicken out on asking for a divorce. I was scared. I had the same concerns about finances affecting the quality of life I could provide for my kids and even waited until my son entered grade school and my daughter entered junior high for our daycare bill to go down before asking for a divorce. Looking at my little boy with his arms outstretched, it was clear. I did NOT want my kids to grow up in this environment. It wasn’t healthy for any of us.
A phrase that’s stuck with me though I can’t remember the source is, “you’re not going to heal in the environment that made you sick”. And even though I know the reasons why I waited, even though I wish I could have provided my kids with more opportunities to explore different activities, to have provided them more family vacations, etc. I wish I would have pulled the trigger sooner. Even if it’d meant having to downsize our house. I ask myself, could I have prevented some of the emotional and psychological damage to my kids and myself if I’d left sooner? I waited so long because of worrying about money. One of my friends who’d been through something similar and who struggled herself as a single mom, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, told me, ” You’ll figure out the finances.” And you will.
It’s worth it
I am not going to tell someone that it’s not hard trying to rebuild your life on one income. It is incredibly hard. Having to make sacrifices is pretty common. My life as a single parent is not easier. It is better, however. What I will tell people is that it’s worth it. It’s worth the sacrifice. I didn’t have a good partner in my marriage. My kids deserve better. I deserve better.
Provide them with something better
I may not always be able to provide my kids with what I want to financially. What I have provided is worth more than money. I’ve provided them peace, a safe place to be ourselves, feel our feelings, to not have to walk on eggshells and a safe place to heal. I showed them with an alternative. I’ve shown them that things can be different, that you don’t have to stay in an unhealthy environment. That it’s ok to walk away from people who are harming you, even if they’re family. I’ve shown them that some things are more important than money, more important than material possessions. I’ve shown them that it’s important to prioritize their mental health. I’ve shown them that it’s possible to rebuild even if you have to start from scratch. And I’ve shown them what healthy relationships look and feel like. You can’t put a price on that.