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The Stigma of Divorce

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If so many marriages end in divorce, then why is there still such a stigma associated with breaking the "'til death do we part" vow? Because the last thing you need when you're going through your divorce, and experiencing all of the accompanying emotional anguish, guilt and turmoil, is for anyone to judge you for it. Yet, it happens.

And it happened to me.

Eight years ago, my son started kindergarten at a pricey private school where we didn't know anybody but where most of the other families had been attending the pre-school program for a few years.

Unfortunately, a month prior to school starting, after a few months of therapy, some soul searching and much crying, my husband and I made the decision to get divorced.

We still wanted our son to attend the school, even though the divorce would make it financially harder. To gain admission to the school, the three of us had submitted to multiple admission interviews and, once accepted, signed a contract for the upcoming school year. So it seemed like the right thing to do.

Plus, I had already come to terms with being the Jewish mother of a half Catholic kid going to an Episcopalian school in a small town in Florida. It's easier to explain if you can just say that your husband is Catholic. But now, I was also a divorcee. Try explaining all of that to some of the other mothers. Or not.

Because it turns out, I didn't have to explain. This information was available the first time I showed up to volunteer, serving lunch to the entire school, and didn't wear a wedding ring. I was volunteering so that I could meet some of the other parents and to try to feel connected in a school where I was already different by virtue of my religion.

That first volunteer day, I introduced myself to the other moms who were on lunch duty. And I self consciously tried to keep my left hand in my pocket but when you're serving out food to that many kids, you need both hands.

In the lulls between classes in the lunch line, the questions started. And they started off innocuously enough.

"Where do you live?" Easy enough to answer.

"How many kids do you have?" This question was easy too.

"Do you go to church here?" "Um, no I'm Jewish."

"What does your husband do?" "Oh, well, I'm divorced. Actually in the process of getting divorced."

Silence. And then the next class came through the line.

I learned that nothing stops a conversation more quickly among a bunch of mothers with young children than one of them saying that they're getting a divorce.

I only made one mom friend that year even though I kept volunteering. I tried. I took my kids to the same playground that everyone went to after school. My kids were cute, well behaved and nicely groomed. But we never got past the playground. I was even on my best behavior until I started dating one of the kids' dads during the second half of the year. But he had already been divorced for a while.

After that year, my then ex-husband and I decided to send our son to the local public school. It was an excellent school, free (well, almost) and the families there were much more diverse in their ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic levels and, yes, even in their definitions of "family." My non-nuclear family fit right in. So did I. And some of the women I met that year are the ones that I'm still close with today.

So I wonder, what happened during that year of private school? Did being near a divorcee make some of the other moms worry about the health of their own marriages? Because my marriage had always looked good on paper. Did they object on a religious basis? The Episcopalian church seemed pretty liberal and accepting to me. Or were they afraid I'd hit on their husbands? I was looking pretty good for a mother of two kids under the age of 6. The no-eating, lots of exercise stress diet of divorce did my body good.

I'll never know the answer but it's probably a mixture of all of those things. I've talked to other women -- mothers who have had the same experience of feeling ostracized or judged, even by their friends. Going through a divorce can stop invitations from coming and the phone to stop ringing.

The reality is people get divorced. And they get divorced for good reasons. Abuse, infidelity and yes, just plain old unhappiness. That counts. But there will always be people (friends, parents, teachers, co-workers and even random strangers) who disagree with divorce.

So how do you deal with that stigma, especially when you are in the thick of the divorce process, at your most vulnerable and needing support? Surround yourself with those who are understanding and those who are non-judgmental. Keep your sense of humor and try not to give a shit. Focus on your well-being and taking care of your family.

Then when you're on the other side of it, you really won't care. And maybe you can be the one to help a friend or even an acquaintance get through their own tough times. Trust me. They'll appreciate it. I know I sure did.
 

Follow Jennifer Cullen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dewlaps