We are tremendously fortunate to have Holly Bell with us this morning on The Spike. You will know Holly from the Great British Bake-Off and you possibly follow her on Instagram. On a non-baking theme, she also got divorced and then decided to write a book about it, called I Don’t Know You, But… which is a very impressive and thorough manual for divorce from a female point of view, covering everything from the emotional to the financial, hundreds of testaments, tips, advice and viewpoints from women who’ve been there. Even if you have no intention of getting a divorce, it’s a fascinating book, a peek behind the curtain.
I’ve wanted to write about divorce on here for years, but every time I decide to go for it, my husband and I have a row and I feel like it would be just too passive aggressive to then suddenly post about divorce.
But it is such an interesting subject and, I feel, totally shrouded in mystery – much like a termination. If you need either of those things where do you go? Who do you ask? What will actually happen? If I was in a bad mood I would say it is the invidious machinations of a male-led society that wants to keep all of that information away from women, lest they start getting ideas, but in more clement times I’d say that once you’ve done either thing, you’re inclined to forget about it and not revisit the experience out loud. It’s not a selfish thing, more a natural response to something you’d just rather forget.
Anyway, I’m veering off-topic – Holly has adapted for us here part of her book about how to manage weekends post-divorce when your children are with him.
Take it away, Holly:
Divorce is tough, whether you choose it or have it thrust upon you. Divorce without kids involved is, (I am told) much easier. You can have that literal clean break (not just a financial one) and move to the other side of the world, never speak to them again and pretend the marriage was just a bad dream. This is a fantasy many divorced parents harbour.
If you have children and you’re separated/divorced/divorcing, you’ll know it’s not so simple. I remember thinking that I was having to learn to let go of my children way before what felt natural; the late teens empty nest emotional rollercoaster was coming earlier, though fleetingly. In the early days of separation, they were away every weekend and it was very hard. I went out a lot, visited old friends all over the UK, I did masses of DIY, but I felt lost and a bit limbless. I found it hard to come to terms with my sons having experiences and memories in their formative years that I would not be privy to. Their private interior world of experience was developing faster than I had expected to contend with.
Going from a busy house with three boys under 10 to the silence of zero was like a thump in the chest. It hurt. But then it hurt less. And less. And in time I began to see it as recharge and admin time. I committed to being present for the children when they were there and, in the time they were not, I would get the boring stuff done; the cleaning, the food shopping, the repairing, the sorting of clothes that didn’t fit them, the life admin of dentists and optician appointment booking. All the stuff that detracted from enjoying time with them. I batch-cooked too. A lot. The freezer was full of home-made ready meals. I had to focus everything on them and their needs during this downtime in the early days because I felt such guilt for having done this to them.
It’s been four years now and I no longer feel guilty when they are away. I use the time wisely on things that I enjoy. Writing, reading, trying to perfect my sourdough bread, making candles (yes really), watching comedy, having late nights watching films and drinking wine, spending time as a couple with my boyfriend. I deserve to be happy and I deserve to enjoy the time when they are away. It is a gift to me, not a hardship. When the boys are here, I do a really good job. None of us should be afraid to say well done for the mothering we do, especially in the face of adversity like divorce.
If you find yourself dreading the time when the children visit their other parent, I’d suggest you make a plan in advance. Preparation will make it far less traumatic in those early months.
Here’s a start:
1. If you find yourself having intrusive thoughts and spiralling into angsty moments of wondering how your life has come to this, set a timer. You’re allowed five minutes for the pity party, then do something else. You have to be your own best friend. Use distractions; audio books, podcasts, TV, music, whatever works for you.
2. Make plans to see friends in advance. Try to balance out married friends and single friends as well as varying the activities. It’s easy to end up drinking too much in the early days of separation. Of course you may need a boozy night out or three to drown your sorrows, but alcohol is a depressant so tread carefully. Likewise hanging out solely with friends who are happy in their marriages can be distressing, mix it up if you can.
3. Make a list of those tasks you’ve put off and commit to three manageable ones each time the children are away. It might be finally getting the eBay box of unwanted stuff online. It might be filing all the bills into folders. It might be shopping around for cheaper insurance. It might be weeding the garden path. It might be changing the layout of your sitting room. Whatever the tasks are, get three things done. The sense of achievement is immense.
4. Plan something nice for when the children come home. Maybe research some well-reviewed family films for a popcorn and movie night. Or print off some biscuit recipes and dig out the cutters to make some treats… plan a geocaching day out. Whatever it is, make a plan and commit to doing it. I hate the phrase ‘make memories’, but you catch my drift.
5. Find one thing that is just for you and make a start on it. Extra points if it’s something you can’t do when children are in the house. It might be barre lessons online or yoga classes. Perhaps taking a Spanish class. Maybe finally learning to use those old watercolours or going to a life drawing class. Or writing that book. Make a start.
Taliyana Lusted says
Thanks for recommending this book. Divorce is awful for all concerned but worse for women leaving an abusive partner. Women’s refuges have been closed down by the Conservative government. For women who end up in financial trouble when they leave an abusive partner Refuges are a god send.
Oh, to have had this 25 years ago. Son is now 30 and appears to has survived pretty intact but the guilt never leaves. Enquiring after his dad and family still catches in my throat, perhaps it always will.
Elizabeth Ross says
Thanks, I bought it. Her writing was too compelling not to, for a start. Reading it made me think that it is also a book you want to read before things are that far along? It not so much that I think that we are heading in that direction – but is it is a bit of a wake up call to consider how you can start living parallel lives and become more like business partners than partners in love. Also – when stress overwhelms, the inclination to retreat and just do what you can, which is understandable but I have to remember the impact it has on DH. Funnily enough – I wondered if there could be a ‘nob’ list written about me.
Lots of talk so far about couples with younger children. I wonder if she addresses the relationship changes that occur in an empty nest? We are nearer to that point than the start of this journey.
Thanks for drawing this author to our attention!
Holly’s book sounds really interesting and I’m definitely keen to read it even though I’m not divorcing any time soon. As far as I know. But, of course, that’s the thing – some choose to divorce and some have it chosen for them.
Anyway, a slight aside, but I really want to urge your readers to make sure that they always retain some financial awareness, if not independence. I am horrified by how many of my friends have no idea how much their husbands really earn, what their pension is, life insurance policies etc. That is really useful information to have in the event of a divorce, but also if you are suddenly bereaved. I know that we all take on different roles in the household and it might be tempting to abdicate responsibility to your husband, but I really think we should all protect ourselves by having some knowledge of the family’s financial affairs.
Taliyana Lusted says
Very well said Willow. Also, if you have an abusive partner, its a good idea to have your own savings account you can draw on, in case you have to flee.
Agree! I have known a few cases where the departing partner has transferred away joint assets (eg money from the joint account) before saying they want a divorce.
I think divorces are as individual as the people involved in them. I experienced a horrific five year divorce after finally leaving a controlling, coercive narcissist following twenty four years of marriage.
He had the house, the furniture, the money, everything and he was determined I was leaving with nothing. It nearly sent me under paying the ever mounting solicitor’s bills trying to reclaim what was rightfully mine. When I finally settled my solicitor kept saying it’s too low, what she couldn’t tell me was how to keep paying her bills until the financial settlement was fair.
At the start someone told me it would cost me £10,000 and I laughed. My God she was right. I have a fairly decent job how do women on less money or with no money do it? They probably don’t. The family court is no friend to women.
Oh, and he tried to turn my two daughters against me they were 17 and 21 so perhaps it wouldn’t have been considered as parental alienation. Thankfully their ages meant they could (eventually) understand my actions.
He told lies about me to all our friends, wouldn’t let me see the family dog and countless other spiteful actions.
We don’t speak and goodness knows how we will negotiate any future weddings for our daughters.
Reading it all back, it sounds bitter and of course I am. Divorce can leave you like that. I am not sorry though, I would do it all again. I have had the worst but also the best times since I left. I am joyful to be free.
Hannah W says
I follow Holly and have bought the book although yet to read it Would it not be better to link to Holly’s own website to buy the book so that she doesn’t have to pay a share over to Amazon?
Yes good point, I’ve changed the links
Rebecca Arthur says
I’m 16 months in to an extremely amicable separation (no blame, just we drifted apart), and ordered this book after reading your review. Bought it direct from Holly’s site (I boycott Amazon) and it arrived 24hours later, signed, with a nice note from Holly. Read Ch1. LOVE IT!! Resonates hugely. Great book, doesn’t lay blame, is kind. Will be lending to my good friend who has utterly lost her way since leaving her husband. THANK YOU SO MUCH ❤️❤️