Good grief – Healing from divorce takes the long and winding road

I’ve written plenty here about my recent relationship. Full disclosure: while it technically ended three months ago it has been one of those marathon breakups, a classic case of two-people-who-just-won’t-let-each-other-get-on-with-it already – despite what both parties know is best.

So when this muddle went into its final stretch last week, I was surprised to find myself devastated. On Sundays when my kids are with their dad and I would have otherwise spent with my ex-boyfriend, I instead engaged in unseemly behavior like walking around the streets of Manhattan while bawling uncontrollably, listening to John Legend on a loop and reading the Wikipedia page on Carrie and Mr. Big. Not only was all this embarrassing, it was also incongruous with the events at hand. Something else was at play.

So I called one of my best friends. I’ve known Kirsten for 12 years, and even though she lives on the other side of the country, we remain very close and she knows all my shit. Kirsten did what a good friend does: she listened. As I talked and sobbed and blubbered and talked some more it all came out. Besides the end of my relationship, my mom has been unwell. My mom, who adores my kids second only to their parents. As my children and their needs as people grow, it seems that our circle of people shrinks – and the pressures of being a single mother mount. I am just one person responsible for two human beings. It feels like too much.

“We’ve all watched you over the past few years be so strong and amazing,” Kirsten said. “But I said to myself, ‘I hope this girl can find time to process it all. Because sooner or later it will catch up with her.’”

Listen to my Like a Mother episode about this topic:

It has caught up with me. When my husband fell off that cliff three years ago, I slipped into survival mode: I jutted my jaw, made sure the kids and my business and the money and the divorce and the house were all in order. Trust me, there were plenty of late night crying fits and trips to therapists and a wonderful support group for loved ones of brain injury victims. But I’m not sure I fully felt the gravity of my loss – our loss. The loss my whole family suffered.

Now, three years’ worth of grief has come knocking. If I have any say in the matter, it is allowed in mostly on Sundays (though now that the flood gates have opened, all bets are off). I may see a movie, go for a bike ride or tackle a household project or two. But those are my days to be sad. To indulge in the emotion and grief and healing that has eluded me. Eluded us.

Funny thing, how empathy blooms. At bedtime after coming home from her dad’s on Sunday, I laid next to Helena in her twin bed. She was riled up after the transition, which is not unusual, but it spiraled into something else. “Why can’t our family be like other families?” she cried. I worry I dismiss the grief my kids might feel over the divorce. After all, Lucas wasn’t even born when we separated – Helena not yet 2. “It’s always Helena, Lucas, Daddy – and Mommy separate. Or Helena, Lucas, Mommy – Daddy separate. I want us to be like Eleanor’s family.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. So I held her head in the crook of my neck and listened and let her cry and cry. “Thank you for telling me how you feel,” I said. “It’s important to get it out. Because sooner or later it will catch up with you.”

Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

15 thoughts on “Good grief – Healing from divorce takes the long and winding road

  1. Oh Emma, I can totally relate. So many times I put up walls through tough times and bottle it all up. Then the smallest crack leads to a downpour of ugly out of control emotions. You’re reaction to your precious daughter is just perfect. Sometimes they just need us to hear and understand them.

    1. Thanks Toni – I read this to Helena this morning. She’s just 4, but she totally gets it. “Oh yeah!” she said. “That happened Sunday!”

    1. Thanks Jackie – but I’m sorry it made you sad. It was sad, but it is also happy and it just is. Life is hard and then we deal with it. Allow me to amend that: *IF* we deal with it.

  2. Hi there….came across your blog recently. It’s hard being a single parent, and at times I’m afraid I’m not strong enough for my two kids. I guess what I get out of your post is that sometimes we just need to listen and empathize with the kids instead of trying to fix it for them?

    1. Kelly- YES, *JUST LISTENING* that is a big life lesson I’m learning. We all just want to be heard. To feel we are understood, normal. So important to apply in parenting.

  3. Yep. I have so much to say on this, but I just paraphrase it w…I so totally get it. Same page. I’ve had similar heart wrenching conversations w/BOTH my kids. Oh man…some of the things they say just tear you apart and it makes you wonder, “Will this pain EVER let up?!”… Hang in there, girl. And i will too. :-)

  4. I am going through a very painful divorce at the moment. Should I focus on healing my wounded heart and depression, or should I concentrate on looking for a job? I have been a housewife. I do have a little saving and family to fall back on. But my husband seems to push me to work, while I am emotionally and physically unwell due to grief.

  5. I’m not a mom, but I’m recently divorced. I can definitely relate to being so good about keeping yourself together, and then boom, you just cannot. Everything becomes too much and you end up in tears. I can be hard on myself in those moments, but I too have wonderful friends who assure me that I need to allow myself to lose it sometimes. Those moments help me ultimately move forward in my healing.

  6. I’ve been perusing your blog. So much rings true for me, having been raised by a single mom. As a child, I longed for a mom who’d listen to me. What I got, instead, was a mom so overwhelmed with grief that she never noticed how hard we (my 2 bros and me) were hurting. I resented her then, and continue to resent her now. 20 years of therapy haven’t erased the pain, either. This is powerful stuff, Emma.

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