Can A Divorced Grandma Find Her Own Voice?
“I know I am a wonderful grandma. I just never thought I’d be a wonderful grandma without a grandpa right beside me.”
Doris shares this with a group of women whose husbands of 30 or 40 years have left them for someone else. What makes this group of women different is they are all divorced from a high powered, professionally prominent man.
“It breaks my heart every time our granddaughter does something cute and I can’t share it with him. And, I resent his having anything to do with Betsy on his own.”
As everyone nods, Evelyn shares how she gave up her interior design career as her husband’s business began to grow. “We started from scratch. I quit college and worked so he could get his MBA. I did one hell of a job, basically as a single parent, with our four children. He needed me to help him expand, doing what I called the ‘meet and greets’ of his clients. I knew I was part of his wooing them. But, apparently, now that he’s wooed everyone he needs, he no longer needs me. Somewhere along the way, though, I lost myself and any vision of who I am.”
These women, some recently divorced and others divorced for a number of years, share their stories of hurt, betrayal, and lost dreams. They are baffled how their lives took a sharp u-turn. After a full life of putting their husband’s needs ahead of their own, of silencing their own voice for his sake, they thought they could finally settle back and benefit from their efforts. Then, they were hit with, “Sorry dear, I want a divorce,” or, with clues of his affair, they asked for the divorce.
It’s impossible to find statistics on how many corporate executives, CEOs, military brass, attorneys, surgeons – men in high powered careers – have left their wives of many years.
But the women all have a story similar to Gail’s. “After all I did to help him get to the top, how could he drop me? I knew we didn’t have a hot romantic marriage. There was no room for romance while I was running a chauffeuring service for our kids and he worked late nights and weekends building his career. I made excuses to the children every time he missed dinner or one of their soccer games or school plays. I dutiful sat through boring business dinners and conferences – with a gracious smile.”
Many women turn a blind eye to their husband’s affairs for the sake of keeping their family and social world intact. They assume once the children are grown, and they have grandchildren, they would reunite. And once he retires. Unfortunately, for far too many women married to powerful husbands, it doesn’t work that way; the husband does retire; he retires from you. Of course it’s not fair; you paid your dues but he just dropped you.
You love being a grandmother, but he broke up your world as you knew it. No more “grandmaandgrandpa,” no more taking the grandchildren to see Santa, no more joint family and social life.
How do you find your identify when the woman you trained yourself to be has been deleted? Self-blame and unresolved anger snuff out the energy and vitality needed for figuring out what you want for your life now.
Based on the groups I’ve run for women in this position, here are some questions that can help you recharge that energy. By answering them, you will be giving credence to your past role in your husband’s success, perhaps venting some anger, and hopefully acknowledging your skills, abilities, and competence. Then, you can think about moving forward.
- What have I contributed to his success?
Make a list of all you did for him and his business associates. Include your Hanukah and Christmas gifts, handling the office redecorating, vacations that were centered around business trips.
- What did I do for him within the family that allowed him to devote his time and energy to his work?
Make a list of how you covered for him with the children. Include practicing catch with your son or being a cub scout leader, creating excuses for when his work caused him to break promises to the children, handling medical emergencies when he was too busy or out of town.
- How much did I cover-up for him with the children so they wouldn’t be mad at him for letting them down?
Think back over the years and write down as many specific and general instances as you can. For instance, making excuses for when he forgot the awards dinner for your daughter, or buying presents for the children so he would have something to give them when he returned from a trip (having promised them a gift).
- What of my own life and my own dreams did I give up to help him with his life and his dreams?
Write down the childhood dreams you had when you thought about being grown up. Include the ones that were pure fantasy. Now, write down what you gave up to live this life for your husband. Include any career or career dreams, further education; your taste in decorating the living room, your choice of hair or clothing style; the multiple moves that entailed leaving friends behind, or never making close ones because you weren’t there long enough.
These are the kinds of questions Doris, Evelyn, and Gail, and lots of other women must raise – and answer – in order to make sense of their current lives. These three women had the benefit of participating in a weekend retreat devoted to divorced wives (and grandmothers) of powerful husbands.
These groups can’t undo your past, but they can give you a chance to stop beating up on yourself. When you learn how you got to this point in your life, what you gained as well as what you gave up, then you are free to find your own voice today
Three months after the retreat ends, Doris laughs, “It’s been ages since I felt really free to laugh. Of course I’m sad at how my life was shattered, but frankly, I’m happier now. No more putting myself aside for others. I have a vision of who I am now that stems from my wishes for me – not for my children or my husband. My grandchildren will always be vital to me, but now, I have found my own voice
Your voice is waiting to start singing its own song!
If you have questions or comments or want more information, contact me at:
Dr. Karen Gail Lewis
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