The end of a marriage brings a firestorm of emotions. It’s not merely the end of a relationship, it’s also the end of a traditional family unit, and the "happily ever after" that many of us spend much of our lives chasing. Grief, anger, and fear come out of nowhere — in family interactions and conversations — and often rock the confidence of an otherwise capable parent, instilling a significant dose of "Mommy Guilt."
I had been a financial advisor for years, and I was well respected for my ability to provide guidance and perspective to clients as they dealt with life transitions. I had the skills, as well as the experience, to negotiate a reasonable divorce settlement for myself as I became a single woman. I purposefully selected the assets that would help support the income I needed right then, along with those that would set the stage for my future. I understood the process of dividing assets and the importance of implementing a balanced financial plan for my future. I should have been among the best prepared for the divorce process: I should have had the perfect divorce, but I didn't.
I remember one day when my 16-year-old son said, "Mom, didn't you read the book, You Don't Matter? Because you don't matter to me!" Those words rolled easily off his lips and landed on me with an avalanche of guilt and self-doubt.
My daughter also shared her less-than-stellar opinions of my mothering. To provide a factual accounting of my deficiencies, she showed me her test results from school, which she claimed showed that when I helped her with her schoolwork, she did poorly; and that when her father helped her study, her grades improved.
It was no surprise that the children's father also fueled my insecurities. He was quick to inform me that the children did not have emotional breakdowns at his house. He went on to suggest that if I was a better mother, there would not be such turmoil in my house. The results were in and they were unanimous: I had failed at being a wife and a mother.
I didn't see it coming: I never imagined that the day would come when I would need to defend my coveted role as a "good mom." I felt that my ex-husband had masterfully targeted me with a litany of parental failures intended to disrupt and destroy my relationships with my children. Was my ability to be an involved, supportive, and loving mother going to be a casualty of my divorce?
I thought that I always had good instincts about what my children and I needed to get back to that place of confidence. So, I spoke to them honestly and without blaming their father. I maintained an open heart and an open door to my home. I exercised unimaginable patience and let them grow to a point of maturity where they could see me as the well-intentioned, loving mother that I am.
My relationship with my daughter continues to heal. After 10 years, she is able to see the parental manipulation that caused her such pain and anger. She values me as a mother and as a professional woman and actually says that she is proud to have me as her mom! I waited a long time to feel her approval and love. I will wait longer for such accolades from my son, but he has my open heart and my promise to work tirelessly to restore a loving relationship between us.
Splitting time between parents can be draining and traumatic — for you and your children — not to mention the strain of living each day with a meager settlement. The emotional healing will take time, but your financial destiny is in your hands.
My divorce gave me a unique perspective on both my professional and personal life. Being prepared financially will help weather any storm. When reconstructing your finances, it is critical to choose the right assets (i.e., income-producing assets to support your standard of living or assets that help secure your future) during the time when you are spending all you earn on divorce proceedings. Many women want the security of the family residence — even when it will severely compromise their ability to succeed.
So, while it’s very difficult when the rest of your life appears to be falling apart, you need to focus on your finances. You will find that there is an incredible peace of mind in having an ally and a plan. I’ve experienced this firsthand and have made it my mission to provide that comfort for others. I talk to my clients about current and future wealth, and I can steady the course in that domain while they work to find their current and future happiness.
Elisabeth Cullington is Founder of the Women’s Practice at HoyleCohen and a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.