We can read about marriage, consider marriage, even cohabit. But in my book, we don't really know what marriage is like until we live it.
We can read about parenthood, consider parenthood, help with the children of friends and family. But we haven't an inkling what it's like until we live it. Even more so than marriage.
It's not for nothing that it's one of those Big Bad Life Events. You know - the ones they warn you about, often accompanied by anti-depressants. Even in the most civil of circumstances, divorce is an ending, and a slow one at that. Then there are all those pesky emotions - anger, bitterness, regret, anxiety - along with relief, and even exhilaration. It's rarely simple. It's never easy.
But we don't anticipate the impact on our careers. With or without children, any major disruption will put a kink in our powers of concentration, not to mention our abilities to eat, to sleep, to manage moods.
And if we have kids? And primary custody? Is divorce a career killer?
In my own life, I thought I had it all figured out. I married older, well established in my career. I'd traveled widely in my twenties, so by my thirties when I had my first child, I was more than happy to make compromises. I stayed in the workforce, accepting lateral moves with little to no travel, and tasks I could perform in my sleep. Good thing, too. When my second son arrived, that came in handy.
I ventured out into one major position, but frankly, the strain on the family proved too great. I left that job, and worked out an arrangement with another company, telecommuting in a less rigorous role. I was a full-time mom and a full-time employee. With a traveling husband, it was a viable means of "having it all."
Tiring? Sure. But worth every minute.
When trouble began brewing, something had to give. My better moments were reserved for the kids, by then in elementary school. As for resolving our marital problems, we couldn't. And in the midst of separation and divorce, a corporate layoff left me unemployed.
My career? Not a priority with everything else disintegrating.
In the wake of a drawn-out battle, I focused on my children. When the dust began to settle, finding regular employment was no longer a given. My new reality was "overeducated, overqualified, and over 40" - apparently a toxic combination. Project work and freelancing were all I could find. An irregular income, but a more fitting lifestyle in my situation.
Do single fathers face these same dilemmas?
I imagine some do. But a strange thing happens in our culture. Single mothers are a dime a dozen. We expect women to do it all, and without breaking a sweat. Single fathers on the other hand are highly praised for their responsible parenting, and sometimes (not always) employers cut them some slack.
These days, I'm still busy finishing out the single mother shuffle. I work from a home office, and take every project I can get.
My old life? It's hard to remember. This life is tougher. This life is richer.
Did divorce kill my career?
Divorce encourages us to reassess. For men and women both, adjusting career plans may become a necessity, especially when children are involved. Moving for a new opportunity may not be an option due to custodial arrangements. Traveling can be problematic - emotionally and logistically. Kids may require therapy, or simply more of our attention. For me, my sons took center stage for a number of years. It was the right thing, for us.
In my case, let's say divorce wasn't so much a career killer as it was a career shifter.
Ideally, no one should have to risk their livelihood when marriage ends. No one should have to choose between parenting and paying the bills. Given the millions of single parents in this country, employers ought to be more amenable to flexible arrangements. Wouldn't that be in everyone's best interest?
So will divorce kill your career, or shift it?
There's no way to say until you go through it. But anticipate change. It's likely to come.