Welcome to the next installment of UNYOKED: HEALING AFTER DIVORCE. This series will answer some questions and address some common issues that divorcees face while still trying to live out the Faith. We will share some personal experiences, some stories from other divorcees, explore what the Church teaches, the process of annulment, and try to answer some of your questions as they come up.
As Catholics we are called to live out our vocations faithfully focused on Christ and trusting the Church to lead us. As we know, the vocation of marriage does not always end in “happily ever after,” but sometimes in divorce. Though stories of broken lives are as unique as the people who experience this heartbreak, one thing is still true: these individuals are still called to holiness. And we, as the body of Christ, are to embrace and pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in their joys and trials, which may include divorce.
If you happen to be a faithfully practicing Catholic, and are also a divorcee, you may experience a certain awkwardness while still attempting to be actively involved in the Church. Articles that speak of how to faithfully practice the faith in a deeper way with your spouse may tug at your heart strings, while you think to yourself, “I really wanted that for us”, or “I always thought that our life would be like that.” Seminars on how “you and your spouse can be good examples of a faith filled marriage” may sting a little bit, but you’ll still try to incorporate those ideas as best you can all while still single-parenting. Perhaps amidst the brokenness, your ex isn’t in agreement in raising your children in the Faith, and so you struggle to instill in your children the Truth knowing they will receive information contrary to that over the weekend with the other parent. The scenarios can be many, but the weight behind them is the same. You don’t fit the projected ideal anymore. A perspective shift is needed both within yourself, and respectfully from others.
There is a trend that I’ve watched come to light in my journey through life after separation divorce, and in speaking with other woman who are going through this experience. Life seems unfair for women after separation and divorce. The facts speak to this truth.
Woman are still largely the main caretakers for children. That means that if they are working, they are generally making less money so that they can be available to their children needs. If a woman has stayed home to care for her children through the marriage, she likely has less work-place experience. Her focus has been on the raising and caring for home and family. In many cases a woman may have been isolated from family due to following her husbands career, wherever that may have taken their family. Many women end up hundreds or thousands of miles from their family and support system to be a support to their husband and his career. So when separation or divorce happens it can be devastating, not only emotionally but financially as well. If you have been out of the workforce for 5, 10, or more years, businesses are not likely to look favorably upon your very short work history. “Homemaker” is not generally a career that the workforce looks at with admiration.
So what happens to these women and children?
Many times a woman is ejected from her home. Because of her inability to financially care for her children, the other spouse will be awarded custody. Even if a woman is lucky enough to keep custody of her children it still comes with enormous struggle. If a woman is near her family she will seek refuge and help from their support, but if family is too far away she often only has two options. Some woman work two or more jobs in minimum wage positions to stay close to the children. Other woman may end up in shelters, on government assistance, looking for any way to support herself/family and struggling to feel dignity.
In my own experience, I struggled between those options. With having been cut off completely financially, I had no option but to seek out government assistance. But not before going to the church and every where I could think of for help, before I gave in to walking myself into the government assistance office. Help from the church was almost non-existent. I was given phone numbers by church secretaries of places that might be able to help. None of those panned out. I was offered a spot in a shelter for me and my 4 children, but I could not imagine living in that environment with special needs children. I was blessed with an amazing friend who crowd-sourced food and supplies for me and my children while I tried to figure out how to pay bills and put gas in the van. We stayed with extended family and friends. Somehow God worked it all out.
But I still needed to take care of things financially. I couldn’t work with special needs children needing me 24/7. So I knew I had only one option at this point. Government assistance does not come with out requirements, though. My youngest was under 3 years old (1 yr old at the time) and still nursing full-time, with a Down syndrome diagnosis, so I was allowed to put off seeking a job like they usually require to continue on aide. Woman who aren’t in my position are not as lucky to be able to stay with their children if they still have custody. If you are on government aide you are required to seek out employment for so many hours a week or your aide will be cut off. This brings up the child-care issue. Who will care for your children and how will you afford it? One more issue to worry about. You are also required to present all your financial information, to include any property you own (houses, average, cars, etc). If you are co-owner with you’re spouse you have the struggle of explaining why you don’t have access to these things. You can be required to pay back the aide as well. It was stressful to say the least. And it felt violating having to answer questions about a spouse which now felt like a stranger. I needed some stability for my little family, so I handed over all my information so that I could take care of things.
Slowly, over the last 5 years, things started to come together and it has gotten a little easier. A home, work opportunities, the resources my children needed, and stability finally came. But it wasn’t all without struggle and so much support from generous friends and even strangers.
Like so many woman whose testimonies I have heard, I cried out to God. “How is this fair? WE were abandoned and everything is on me. How will I do this all by myself? Why is he allowed to live life with no responsibility or accountability?” God never spoke words of comfort into my ears, but miracles abounded! I took comfort in the miracles. I knew that He was watching out for my children’s needs. God’s promise of never abandoning me was evident in how we were cared for despite what was going on with my exhusband. And over time I realized that all that I felt was unfair, and all that I knew was truly unfair, was to help me to grow and become the woman that God wanted for me to be. And so I am able, now, to say that I am grateful for all the experiences despite how painful they were.
But it still leaves me a little bit angry for women at large. Where are supports and resources within our church when a woman is abandoned under such circumstances. My help did not come from within my church, but from outside. I’m not the only Catholic woman who feels this way. Many women who are experiencing similar circumstances struggle with feeling welcome when they cannot find the simplest of help from those who should be helping when tragedy arises. Perhaps it is time for us to step up to the plate, go outside our comfort zones and make opportunity available to those who are struggling through the tragedy of divorce.
There are so many small things that could be done to help a woman in need. Have a nonperishable food supply available in a closet when a mother calls for help. We could supply a list of food pantries and soup kitchens. A list of local shelters could be supplied. Perhaps that are a couple of families with extra room-space available in case of emergencies to displaced families. A supply of diapers, in various sizes. Perhaps keep a voucher to the local Catholic thrift store for clothing for a displaced family. Grocery gift cards are another idea. Offer child care for a few hours so that she can go to an interview, take a shower, or go to Confession. Even placing a pamphlet in the rectory or church office with local resources could be helpful. The simplest thing of all, though, would be to say, “What do you need? What can I help you with?”
Please stay tuned for my next article which will address the unfair (and different) treatment of men in divorce as well.
FOR THE ANNULMENT PROCESS
Your local parish office/Tribunal office, and/or your parish priest