When my parents divorced, we moved from the East Coast to the Midwest. Mom rode Chicago’s El train to her secretary job at an advertising agency, I held my Snoopy stuffed animal frightened in the corner of my first grade class, and my older sisters infiltrated already formed cliques in their lunchroom. When the “welcome wagon” woman called, back when welcoming a family into a neighborhood was a common courtesy, she brought over a basket of goodies. Back then, community came to the aid of broken families. Nowadays it feels as if a strong woman has to get out there and comb the streets in order to find support from her village.
Stephanie Scarpulla was lucky that she already had her village. With her own children’s clothing line, bluebird, and store in the Lower Haight district of San Francisco, Stephanie took motherhood and singledom and made them one in the same. “I never acted like I was the single mom in the room,” she said in a phone interview. “Half the time I’m a single girl, and half the time I’m the mom.”
Mom to Mia, age seven, and Lily, age nine, Scarpulla spoke to me about the best ways friends and family can reach out to moms going through a recent divorce.
Stephanie always accepted the invites from her married friends. “Even if intimidating, I didn’t let myself be bothered, which paid off, because to lose those [married] friends is so hard. They turned out to be some of the most supportive friends.”
Moms who have shared custody might have their kids on the weekends, so remember to include them in family events. “I have to tell them that I have the kids [on the weekend], because if you miss a couple of get-togethers, you don’t always get asked again.”
Stephanie also made sure to maintain responsibility for her own social life. “I would have dinner parties at my house, that’s a very married event. I started hosting couples as well. I was always comfortable around both husbands and wives, and I have one single mom friend who’s always invited, but the rest are couples.”
“I had to learn how to ask for help. If I asked my friends for help more, it would have made my job easier. I always felt that I should be able to do everything and that my friends were the last people I would ask to help. If a single mom asks for help, it is hard for her to ask for help, so drop judgment and help her.”
The best ways to help your divorced friend, according to Stephanie, are to offer to pick up her kids from school and offer to host regular playdates with them and your children. Secondly, communicate. If you are hosting a playdate with her children, let her know if her kids are acting out or seem depressed—she will want to know, as she likely can’t spend enough time with them.
Divorce, as with a tragic loss or death, is hard for people to get near unless they have been through it themselves. Friends don’t always want to deal with it, and can sometimes get confused. “I have hard days and there are a lot of emotions around the kid stuff,” Stephanie noted. “One friend who is a mom would get mad at me because I was always cancelling plans and my feeling was that I didn’t know what my feelings would be day-to-day.” Assume that the divorced (or divorcing) mom is on a roller coaster of emotions and you can be at the end of the ride with a smile.
Talk About the Divorce.
Stephanie wished most of her friends would bring up the divorce. “Starting the conversation is awkward, especially if you’re in a group with all married friends, and you are the one who has to talk to your friends and bring it up all the time.” People don’t always know how to react to divorce, so it helps to be open and broach the topic so the divorced mom doesn’t always have to.
Consider Her Financial Situation.
Married friends may have two incomes and money is not as much of an issue, for divorced moms, household incomes usually change. “It’s hard for me to pay for dinners sometimes, and difficult for me to say this to my married friends. I could say this to my struggling friends who are artists, but not my married friends.” For this reason, for instance, don’t invite your struggling friend to an expensive girls’ night out. Be cognizant of how expensive certain restaurants are and that she may need help with the babysitter. One idea is to offer to have her children over for a sleepover and to share the baby-sitter costs while you are out with friends for dinner.
Introduce Her to New Friends.
Stephanie explains that going out at least once or twice a week helped keep her sane. She had the network through work, but not all women do. Invite your newly single friend out and invite others that you think she’d like to get to know.
Accept Her Dating.
“It was uncomfortable talking to my married friends about my dating. There were judgments from them because they didn’t remember what it was like. Some of them wished they could date; they were living vicariously through me. For others, they didn’t want to hear about it because they were worried for me and were so far removed from the dating world.” Accept that the divorced mom wants and needs to move on with her life. Some of Stephanie’s more supportive friends offered sleepovers for her kids if she had a date.
“I was the only one in Mia’s class to be divorced, so especially at family parties, it felt weird,” Stephanie said. Schools and divorced parents can work together to create a divorced parents group, or as it was for me in grade school, a divorced group for kids while at school. If your friend is having difficulty reaching out, point her toward divorced parents’ support groups, such as the Berkeley Parents Network.
Related Story: Parental Alienation