Don’t do divorce like everyone else. It doesn’t have to be ugly. Making it ugly is a choice. Instead, choose to lead by compassion and I promise you, the way you lead will have a significantly more positive impact on your own and your family’s happiness.
We sat down with globally-renowned Certified Divorce & Relationship Decision Coach, Cindy Stibbard, for her professional insight.
Divorce – kind of a scary topic, isn’t it? For mothers stuck in a relationship they know isn’t sustainable, it can be especially overwhelming to think about. It’s a beyond difficult discussion to spark with our partners – and we need the right approach to ensure our children’s lives remain stable throughout the process.
Fortunately, those seeking advice and support through the full process of divorce – from starting the initial conversation to transitioning into the world of co-parenting – have someone ready to stand in their corner.
Cindy Stibbard, the certified divorce coach and founder of behind Divorce ReDefined, her self-started boutique Divorce & Relationship Decision Coaching practice, won’t just show you what IS possible in a life beyond marriage – she’ll also teach you not only how to survive divorce, but how to THRIVE because of it.
We sat down with Stibbard to ground the conversation of divorce around motherhood – and get some practical advice that can replace the fear around this topic with empowerment.
You call your brand Divorce ReDefined. How does society brand divorce – and how do you redefine it?
I think that society’s version of divorce and definition is very antiquated and still very stigmatized on an international level. The way society sees divorce is making slow changes but still isn’t keeping up with how we as individuals in relationships are growing and evolving at the rate we need.
When an individual, or a couple, decides that divorce is the best option for them, it can quickly slip into the typical adversarial battle where both parties lawyer up and do everything they can to protect themselves financially and emotionally out of fear and not knowing what else to do.
Why do we get stuck in this old mindset? There are so many other approaches to divorce that could be better suited to your situation – but we don’t know what we don’t know… yet wouldn’t you like to know?
That’s where I come in. My work is focused on helping people understand, prepare for and navigate the landscape of divorce, starting with deciding if divorce is truly right for you, in a much more rational, sensible and cost-effective way. It’s all about thoughtful, considerate preparation based on education, guidance and information that will allow us to proceed down a path toward a better outcome.
Divorce is also so heavily layered in emotion – and the traditional approach plays into those emotions for monetary benefit. My approach is to dig into the fear, overwhelm and often anger that comes with divorce, so that we can prevent those emotions from getting in the way of you making rational decisions and end up costing you far too much money. Once we do that, we can move towards a place of greater self awareness and clarity so we can show up as a better, stronger, more grounded version of ourselves on the quest to redesign the relationship with your former partner right.
Let’s hone in on those emotions. When people are thinking about divorce, what’s on their minds?
The number one thing that’s holding people back from leaving a relationship is FEAR. Fear of finances, fear of change, fear for the kids, fear of being alone and fear of the unknown.
It is our natural inclination to create fabricated situations of something that actually hasn’t even happened. So often, this fear is just something that isn’t real, but a story we tell ourselves. FEAR is simply False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s natural to let fear have a seat at the table, but we can’t let it eat.
And so what can we do to release the fear and push ourselves in the right direction? Well, we see what we are afraid of, and we do it anyway.
As a Coach, I work first hand with my clients removing the emotional overwhelm of, “I don’t know what to do. My life is over. I don’t know what steps to take. How am I going to make it through this…”
We work on deeply uncovering all those emotions and facing them head on. Because fear is simply unanswered questions. So the more answers we can find the better we can move forward and let it go.
We can’t change what is happening to us, but we definitely can change what we do about it.
I imagine a lot of people are putting divorce off – caught wondering whether they should stay or go. What’s the impact of this?
Oh, my gosh, yes. This is HUGE. It’s far more common than you might think and in fact, research shows that 70% of women initiate divorce and most women contemplate divorce for an average of two years before they do anything about it. For many, even in my own experience, it can be much longer than that.
For myself, it was a good five years before I had the courage to make a move. I was a stay at home mom, raising a family and focussed on creating a “family unit”. When I left my marriage I had no idea what life would look like without financial stability or not being a mom full-time.
Because of that uncertainty, it is so common for women to dismiss the struggle they are going through in their relationship, and decide to put divorce off until the kids are older. This doesn’t often doesn’t go as well as we think. Leaving a marriage when the kids are teens or young adults can sometimes make it more difficult because those kids have more developed minds, opinions and perspectives on how divorce affects them. There is never a good time, there is only just the right time for you.
Let’s talk about the kids. How do we define and explain divorce to our children?
Kids need different amounts of information at different developmental stages.
Parents desperately want to believe that their kids will “get over” the divorce quickly. Sometimes, overwhelming concern can tempt parents into denial. The kids are rushed through the grieving process so the parents can assure themselves – often falsely – that the kids are “doing fine.” Many parents greatly underestimate how much time and attention their kids will need to heal properly.
When it’s “time to tell the kids,” many parents assume their children will already be half-expecting the news of the breakup. Instead, for the vast majority of kids, it’s a shocking, never-dreamed-of revelation.
Even when there’s obvious conflict in the home, kids remain in denial about the seriousness of the conflict because this has become their “normal”. They never suspect that their parents’ separation is imminent. The reaction is nearly always the same for kids. . . shock, followed by denial, then anger, fear, lowered self-esteem and depression.
Children who are not allowed plenty of time to talk about their feelings and slowly progress through each of these stages – with help from patient, supportive parents – are at high risk of carrying problems with anger, anxiety, low self-esteem or depression into adulthood.
Most experts agree that it takes between three to five years at minimum for a child to pull themselves together again and pick up where the divorce leaves off.
One of the most serious mistakes divorcing parents make with their kids is that they introduce change too quickly. From the parents’ perspective, there’s often an eagerness to sell up and move, to flee the pain of their unraveling relationship or to be closer to other family members for support.
But for the children, such drastic change intensifies their sense of loss and their anxiety.
The kids are already grieving the loss of the thing a child holds most dear, which is an intact family. This is not the time to wrench them away from other things that are familiar.
My cardinal rule is: Change as little as possible. Keep as much as possible the same.
Kids in general need to know the details in terms of where they are going to go, who they are going to be with, and have a picture of what their lives will look like. If you leave them in the limbo stage of, well, we’re not really sure yet, that uncertainty will be what’s hard on them.
A lot of children of divorced parents get caught up in the fight – and have to listen to one parent complain about the other. How do we avoid this?
Yes, it’s difficult to interact with your ex, but unless you and your kids must keep distant from their other parent for safety reasons, it is your duty to encourage your children to maintain a relationship with their other parent. There is so much crucial healing that happens when kids can maintain frequent, in-person contact with BOTH parents.
Even when couples agree to divorce amicably, good intentions to show good character seldom survive the rigors of divorce. Even the best intentioned ex-spouses have a strong urge sometimes to hurt each other at times after the divorce is finalized.
Jealousy, competition for the kids’ love and attention, and resentment over intense hurt can often tempt you to get back at your ex in all kinds of ways: withholding payments, showing up late, insisting the requested change in the kids’ drop-off time is inconvenient, even when you know it’s not.
But is it worth it? Is it worth lasting anxiety in your son? Long-term depression in your daughter? That’s the price kids pay for their parents’ hurting games on each other. Your ex may no longer be in the house, but your kids will sense any lingering hostility on your part, and will feel trapped in never-ending conflict. For them, it creates on-going emotional strain. It is imperative for you to resolve your hurt, hate, and need for revenge as soon as possible. Getting rid of your resentment for good is crucial to the well-being of your children. Children are emotionally the healthiest when there is a minimum of conflict between the divorcing parents. Over the long term, kids usually grow to respect a parent who honors the other parent, but will lose respect for a parent who badmouths their ex or is obstructive
To keep yourself in check, ask yourself, “Do I love your kids more than I hate my ex?” Because if you are really honest about that, then you know you have to stop choosing to put your kids in the middle of the conflict.
How does motherhood change after a divorce?
A lot of mothers, especially stay at home moms, have a really hard time with letting go of their time with their kids. I think that is one of the bigger pain points between divorcing parents.
But at the same time, unless there’s a real need that the child cannot be raised by their other parent for safety reasons, neglect, abuse, or whatever it is in those departments, then in my opinion, there really isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t allow your children to have an equal relationship with both parents. They are half of their other parents.
It’s our own identity as a mother that gets really attached to our kids because we don’t necessarily know who we are without them. I experienced that myself. And letting go of time with my kids literally felt like my arms were being physically ripped from my body. It was a kind of deep pain that I can’t describe. As a stay at home mom, my life was my kids. My purpose was my kids. My home was my “office” and my “workplace”, and up n divorce when my ex-husband wanted 50% of time with our kids, I was shell shocked. “How dare he want that much time with our kids, it’s my job!” . That’s how I identified who I was. Without my role as a full time mother, who was I?
But this became the best opportunity that could have come for my divorce. Not only did it give my children a chance to establish a deeper relationship with their father, it enabled me to figure out who I really am and what I truly want in life.
Not only is that better for ourselves (and any future relationships) it is better for our kids when we become really solid in who we are as an individual independent of anyone. There is true power and awakening in that. And what an empowering role model it is for our kids.
If you were to think about divorce as something that happens at one point in time, and then focus on that one momentous event, it will seem like an overwhelmingly negative experience. And for many of us who go through it, that early phase really can be a true life crisis.
In reality, though, getting divorced and becoming a single parent is a process of multiple stages. The initial phases can be deeply unsettling, but over time, you have the opportunity to create a deeply satisfying new life for both you and your children. You can choose to turn your story from one of devastation, into one of resilience.
Those who are just contemplating divorce or looking to initiate their divorce journey, in the healthiest way possible, will find practical advice and support in Cindy Stibbard’s NEW mini-course – The Talk – which will teach you how to navigate the hard conversations around divorce.
Interview has been condensed for clarity.