Going ahead with a divorce or deciding to separate is rarely thought of as easy or fun, especially when children are involved. We still have so much societal pressure to remain married, and weathering such intense change can be overwhelming. Sometimes, even the mere thought of divorce sends people into a complete panic that makes them second guess their giant questionings about a blatantly unhealthy relationship. Wasn’t becoming a parent challenging enough? Plenty of parents decide to stay in miserable or dead relationships for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you are one, or know some. But, for those strong souls out there who are brave enough to cut loose and let go, there is a wonderful community-based website and app called Splitsville that makes the whole process more approachable and (dare we say?) positive. With tons of popular support for people going through all of life’s other milestones (showers, birthdays, weddings, et.), Tara Averill has tailored Splitsville to do the same, but for divorce. The site includes editorial contributors, access to anonymous community chats, and lots more. Below is my interview with the amazing and inspiring Tara, whose project is helping to lead so many people out of the quagmire of bad, or numb, relationships. ~Rebecca Conroy
Tell me about Splitsville, and how it all started.
I found myself sitting in bed at night with my laptop (tortured by the thought of divorce as my only option) googling things about divorce: how it affects the kids, how you know if you should divorce, what it’s like being divorced – stuff like that, and I found it was slim pickins out there. It was all “how to save your marriage,” or poorly researched, unsubstantiated claims about the “horrible” effects of divorce on kids. I have learned that much of what’s out there is just regurgitated rhetoric, and I was craving a fresh perspective. I was brainstorming names like “The Divorce Store,” but anything with the word “divorce” in it just sounded ugly. Once I physically moved out and was putting my new apartment together, I found that we had no cultural process for divorce… whereas for marriage and childbirth there were very clear rites of passage – the showers, the announcements, et. Splitsville developed as a lifestyle brand that I want to encompass the 1-5 years many of us spend in “Splitsville”. We are looking for funding to roll out the next features – more partnerships, referral system, a divorce gift registry and dating site, as well as various entertainment properties. This post-marital life phase is the wild west for many of us, and deserves it’s own space in the media landscape.
Getting divorced isn’t bad or a mistake. It’s a natural evolution of the relationship for many. I think it’s pretty normal to have several significant intimate relationships in the course of an adult life. And we live so long now, it’s just common sense. We need to stop catastrophizing divorce. It’s not helping anyone.
Huffington Post had launched their divorce section during that time, and I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I was craving stories, information, experience, and community around the possibility of such a huge transition for me and my family. Although I have wonderful friends and a wonderful therapist, there is no substitute for the experience of those who have walked the walk. When I would meet someone whose experience resembled mine, it was like gold to me. Divorce is an unpopular decision. Unless there is extreme blatant abuse or addiction obvious to outside parties, no one is going say “Awesome, go for it!” It is such a deeply personal decision and no one can tell you what’s in your heart and mind. We need to uncover that ourselves and follow a path that we can live with…
For some, the security of the house, 401K, etc. and easier logistics outweigh the fear of being alone. That person may need that particular type of security to feel safe in the world, and there is nothing wrong with that! Sadly, we judge ourselves and others for their decisions about their marriages without really asking ourselves what marriage and divorce really mean. Marriage has evolved from something people did to physically survive in the world to something that we do based on “love,” which, to my knowledge, has yet to be defined by anyone. We let anyone get married. We let anyone have kids. Yet when someone wants to divorce, it’s this arduous awful process. Perhaps we should make getting married harder to weed out the people who shouldn’t be getting married in the first place? But no one tells you that when you are young-ish and feeling whatever iteration of “love” is feeling good at the time, and telling everyone you are getting married – no one says “are you sure?” or, “why?” But we ask people that when they decide to divorce. I’ve stopped asking people “why” they divorced. It’s like asking why you love someone. It’s personal!
When you have time away from your kids, what is the first thing you love to do for yourself?
In this order: Some sort of spiritual maintenance (like meditation or helping others), doing work I have likely neglected, work on Splitsville, exercise, get a mani/pedi, have plans with friends, maybe go on a date, read the New York Times, or see a movie. I enrich myself, and, in doing so, my kids get a more well-rounded, well-adjusted person for a mom.
Splitting up is hard no matter what, but especially for parents. What do you think are the most stressful aspects of it, and in NYC to boot?
Money is hard. Especially in New York City. I am deeply grateful that I never, ever stopped working. As much as I longed to be home and do pick-up and all that yummy, cozy mommy stuff- I never stopped working. I surrendered to the reality that my kids were going to experience love and care from other adults who were not me… and, then, I realized this was a good thing. So, I have a career I can count on to help me support my children, which feels great. I know that doesn’t help the many women who have chosen not to work. But relying on my partner for financial stability never sat right with me. For those people, I’d recommend being open to a life that doesn’t look, on the outside, like the life you and before. Maybe you live in a much smaller apartment, or the kids go to a less expensive school, and you become generally much more thrifty about everything… but at least your life will be built on your truth, which is irrefutable and no one can take that away from you. Also, the whole “living in the style in which you are accustomed” thing is total bullshit. In Sweden, all kids costs the same, whether you are the child of a hedge funder or a janitor – a kids costs what a kid costs. The same for everyone. Interesting right?
Does Splitsville service other cities yet, or just New York City?
Any content/event that is NYC-centric is tagged with “local,” and when you create a profile, you can state the city you live in so that others in Splitsville can find you that way. Most of the content applies to anyone “splitting” anywhere! As we grow, my hope is that Splitsville will help create communities everywhere
How does a lady co-parent with someone she split up with while separated, when staying together was obviously hard enough? I know so many people stay around and don’t split up to save money on rent, or to keep things ‘simpler’ for the children. Can splitting up as a parent make things harder for the kids but easier for the parents?
Systems are everything. I have a few tips that I find universally helpful: Pick-ups and drop-offs should always be done around school or a playdate, or an event of some sort. Do not trade back and forth directly, especially mid-day on a weekend. Too much drama and sadness. If you have kids for the weekend, have them for the whole weekend, bring to school on Monday morning and then your Ex can pick up on Monday afternoon. Keep texts between yourselves to a minimum, and don’t express emotion via text in any way, shape, or form…other than, “Thank you for being a great Mom or Dad!” It’s our job to make it as easy on the kids as possible – but kids of divorce also learn resiliency in a way that other kids whose stuff is all in one place don’t. I am FAR from a parenting expert, but it’s our job to teach our kids how to manage pain in a healthy way, not to avoid pain at any costs so they don’t have to deal with it. It’s like, Okay- this is a hard thing and is this how we, all of us, are going to deal with it?
Are there neighborhoods in New York City that are your personal favorites?
I really love the Gowanus area. My kids love to skateboard, and the sidewalks are wide and not so crowded! And there are so many great business there that cater to kids’ activities. Homage, Brooklyn Boulders, Brooklyn Music Factory, the new tennis place, Dinosaur BBQ, and of course…. Ample Hills!
What do you love about not being married or in a relationship with your kids’ dad, and why?
Having the future be open to unfolding in a way I can’t imagine now. My kids’ dad is an awesome person, and great dad. But I enjoy being an adult single woman in NYC and all that entails. I married at a specific point in my personal development, and it became important or me to be on my own to ensure continued development into a mature adult.
Do you think there is still a stigma about single moms at all, or is it the new norm?
I think there is a huge stigma to the whole single mom/single dad/divorced thing. Especially in what I like to call “Neo-Victorian Family Brooklyn.” There is an underlying connotation of failure to a marriage that ends which, I believe, is based upon the lie of: unless you are married ’til one person dies, that somehow, you did it all wrong. All relationships are learning experiences. All relationships have a beginning, middle, and an end. I think single moms do themselves a disservice often by overemphasizing that title to others as well. I rarely (if ever) call myself a “single mom,” because my kids have an awesome dad who takes great care of them, too. They have two very loving, capable parents who support them emotionally, physically and financially. Lucky little devils.
What challenges to mothers face, in your opinion, who are divorced?
Taking time for self-care. Because we feel guilty about being divorced in the first place, we tend to stack up our non-kid time with errands, and things we “have to do.” Try and use that time for fun. I try to tell my kids about all the things I do when I am not with them, so they know what I’m doing, and that I’m taking good care of myself. That sets a good example. I try not to say, “I miss you” a lot, because I think that just reinforces a sense of lack- rather than of freedom and abundance.
What parent has time to date in Brooklyn?
I do, happily. If you have a 50/50 or 60/40 split, which you should, unless the other parent is truly a psychopath (which is quite rare) why wouldn’t you have time to date ?
Stamina and energy are huge factors for raising kids in New York City, especially when splitting up from a significant other. What are some of your personal recommendations to keep your own personal energy positive and high?
Exercise in your own home. Don’t count on getting to a gym. Do YouTube exercise routines. Do not lean on drugs, alcohol, or a new romantic partner (hostage) to get you through, because doing that will only harm yourself and your kids in the long run. If you have even an inkling of a problem, get help. Make plans with other single parents to help share the load on weekends, when you are solo with your kids. Plan to have dinner with neighbors with kids. Share the load – it’s more fun anyway, and, quite frankly, a better way to live than being forced into isolated nuclear families. We are built for community.
Do you help people at all with connecting with divorce lawyers/legal services?
I am looking for funding to create help create a nationwide Angie’s List-esque community ratings systems for lawyers, mediators, and financial experts. There is too much underground word-of-mouth regarding the matrimonial and family law space, and not enough public record or consumer reports-type ratings that help people determine who would be the best fit for their case. It’s all, “I heard that so and so is good,” and we need to be helping each other in more formal, systematic ways. People’s financial lives are destroyed by going to the wrong lawyer too soon, and making ill-informed decisions.
Tell me your thoughts on splitting friends, property and money, and dating new people…
We never split friends. Interestingly, many friends seemed ready to choose sides because, sadly, that is how we are pre-conditioned- that there is a wrong and right party. Our attitude was very much that we respected each other as the parents of our children, and we were not encouraging of any disparagement of each other whatsoever. There is no “wrong” when a relationship ends, even if someone cheated. It’s always a two way street. One of my favorite sayings is, “There are no victims, only volunteers.” About dating – prepare to fall madly in love, and for it NOT to work out. If you are emerging from a dead marriage, you are a dry sponge and will soak up anything voraciously. It’s physics. Try and weather the storm in both the good and the bad, and stay balanced. Definitely keep your kids protected from the highs and lows of your romantic life.