Michelle Johnston’s divorce was final in November 2006, but the marriage was falling apart before that. She lived in separate rooms from her ex-husband starting in 2004. For Johnston, it took her quite a long time to gather up the courage to say no to living in a loveless marriage.
“I went to speak with three lawyers to discuss the legal process and began seeing a therapist to help me understand the emotions before making any decisions,” says Johnston who was married for ten years.
During this difficult time in her life, she leaned heavily on her mother, who had recently completed a nasty five year divorce from Johnston’s father after 31 years of marriage.
“In a way, if she had never gone through her experience, I don’t know if I would have gone down the same path,” says Johnson. “Her knowledge and guidance regarding the legal process and the emotional ramifications for myself and the children were invaluable.”
There were times Johnston felt, if not for her mom’s love and support, she would just crumble and give up. Her parents’ own bitter divorce, which involved a period of time during which her mother lived with Johnston and her ex-husband (before the marriage became irretrievably broken), made an impact on her ex-husband.
“Because he saw how awful my father was making things and what Florida divorce law specifies, he remained honest and fairly amicable through our divorce,” Johnston recalls.
Her faith in God and prayer were also big sources of comfort and empowerment.
“I chose to believe that, even though this was the worst period in my life bar none, God had a plan for me and would lead me to better places and better things,” she says. “I turned to motivational and uplifting reading, including the works of Joel Osteen and Kristin Armstrong’s amazing book, Happily Ever After: Walking with Peace and Courage Through a Year of Divorce.”
Johnston’s siblings were also a great source of support. They gathered around her, to listen to her tears and fears, and to offer support in any way they could. One brother and sister doubled their efforts to be active in her children’s lives to help them weather the adjustment of a divorced home, a new place to live and new schools.
“My employer at the time was compassionate and understanding,” she adds. “They never hesitated to provide whatever proof of employment and earnings that the lawyers were asking for next.”
Sadly, however, her neighbors turned a blind eye, preferring to watch the drama from their windows. This was most likely due to her husband’s overly friendly relationship with the woman across the street. Though Johnston says she never was able to confirm the rumors, her suspicions and others ran high.
“This was hard to take because I had been close with my neighbors, all of our children interacted with each other daily, and I was perceived as the woman whose marriage would never break up,” she recalls. “You certainly find out who your true friends are when you go through a divorce.”
Johnston says that there is a lot of truth to the saying “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
As a result of this experience, she has become a much stronger woman—as a daughter, mother, co-worker and person – than she would have been without this experience.
“I learned to stand up for myself and get tough when I needed to; never again was I going to let someone else tell me what was best for me,” she says. “The unhappy years of the end of the marriage and divorce process also taught me to live more in the now and appreciate the little things in life. I try to suck the happiness from each day to gather a store within my heart to weather future storms.”
What drives Johnston today is her love and dreams for her three children: Peter 11, Ryan, 9, and Laurel, 7.
“I acutely am aware that our survival and well-being depends on my coming through,” she says. “So I try harder, I hustle more and I don’t give up when obstacles present themselves. I swallow my pride as needed. I focus on being the best mother and person I can for them.”
It was because she felt this need so strongly that she began her “SingleMom Shout Outs” on Twitter. She wanted to offer the motivation and advice she was looking for herself. Writing these Shout Outs motivates her to keep going because she feels like she is helping others.
“Even if it’s only one mom somewhere, at least the benefit of my experience can be put to good,” she says.
Today, Johnston is a marketing consultant with close to 15 years experience specializing in consumer insights, product development and market research, currently working with NowVation, Inc. She also has a freelance career as an author and editor, under the brands Laurel House.
Her first book, coauthored with Rosemary Weis, is Welcome to Grandparenting (www.welcometograndparenting.com). She also just launched an eBook series, 109 Ways. The first book in that collection is 109 Ways to Survive the New Baby. She is currently working on several book projects, including additional titles in the 109 Ways series, a children’s story and—the project most dear to her heart—a motivational book for single mothers.
“This last project is being written one tweet at a time on Twitter,” she says. “Single moms can follow me @macjohnston for weekday tweets offering inspiration, motivation and a little humor to get through our unique days.”
When asked what she believes are the most difficult issues facing people who are divorced, widowed, or separated today, Johnston says finding a community of people in the same situation has been difficult for her.
“I am the only divorced household in my circle of friends and neighbors,” she explains. “I would like to have a group of people I could talk to and hang out with who speak the same language. Turning to the Internet hasn’t worked for me.”
Financial stability is another stress point for her.
“I think divorced, separated and widowed people feel this stress, which everyone feels thanks to the economy, more acutely because our divorces have greatly affected our financial resources and we have no partners to help ease the physical burdens of making money and the emotional burdens of worrying about it. This was something we were used to in our married lives.”
She adds that for single mothers, dating is always a challenge. Whether you embrace the idea or shun from it, there are a lot of personal questions you have to answer to decide what’s best for you and your kids.
“It’s an area, too, that a lot of people have opinions about what you should and should not do,” she says.
Her advice for those who are recently divorced, widowed, or separated is to embrace moving forward with this new direction in their lives. Some things are meant to be survived, not mastered, so endless analysis of your marriage (good or bad) serves little purpose.
“Take the learnings from your actions inside and use them to steer your way forward,” she says. “Take the time to ask yourself what you want from yourself, from others too. This is a time when you will find yourself, consciously and unconsciously, making changes to your life—both in what you do and your attitudes about doing them. There are no templates to follow, so embrace the opportunity of creating what you want the rest of your life to be.”
For more information on Michelle, contact her through www.welcometograndparenting.com and connect with her on LinkedIn. You can also follow her on Twitter @macjohnston for her SingleMom Shout Outs..