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On the cusp of her 50th birthday, writer and mother of three Joy Cipoletti made the agonizing decision to leave her husband and start her life anew. Below, Cipoletti, who blogs regularly at The Divorced Breadwinner Mom, explains what went into her decision to divorce, and what life was like after the split.

What’s it like to be divorced in midlife? In a word, freeing.

While many of my friends were planning exotic trips or extravagant parties for their 50th birthdays, I got a divorce. After years of struggle and agonizing over whether to stay or leave, I declared my independence from someone whose drinking was ruining not just his life, but our entire family. I knew if I stayed I would continue to shrivel up until there was nothing left of me but a shell. I was already just going through the motions of raising three school-age children and working to pay the bills. The divorce was final just before my 50th birthday.

divorce 50
Blowing out the candles on my 50th birthday party, which happened right after my divorce.

I immediately felt relief as the burden of indecision was lifted. Glimpses of joy occasionally poked through, along with glimmers of hope.

Then reality set in. I had three children to raise and a household to provide for. Although I’d been the sole breadwinner for the past eight years, it was official after divorce: I was on my own. There was no man to fall back on. As a self-employed business owner, my income ebbed and flowed with my workload, but I’d always trusted there would be enough. After divorce, though, money worries gnawed at me.

So did worry about my kids. I didn’t have a lot of energy to give them in the early days after divorce, and they were resistant to outside help. Attempts at family conversations were disastrous as we scrambled to adjust. I did the best I could, though guilt was a constant companion at that time. Over time we all settled into new routines, though there were some rough patches along the way. One kid needed professional help to overcome some emotional issues, and another needed to use me as the scapegoat for his anger.

Well-meaning friends told me I needed to date right away because I wasn’t getting any younger, and good men were hard to find. I wasn’t ready for that, especially with teens and a pre-teen boy at home. I got a few invitations but not from anyone interesting. Older men (my dad’s age) flirted or commented on my appearance and my workouts to the point of discomfort. Wiser friends suggested a fake wedding ring and earphones. (I switched gyms.)

With all the challenges in the early years after divorce, I wondered if it was possible to enjoy life as a midlife divorced breadwinner mom, and to my delight, it is. By strengthening my spiritual connection and letting go of the picture I had for how my life “should” look, I have created a life I love today. I have rewarding work and time for things that are important to me: spirituality, great relationships with my kids (two now in college), friendships, exercise and nutrition, reading and more. From surviving to enjoying -– that’s what happened after my midlife divorce.

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