Tammy Letherer had been married for twelve years, with three children, when her husband called her to sit at the table. There, he revealed, in excruciating detail, that he had been unfaithful for a decade and that he had recently met a woman in Las Vegas who he wanted to be with. He was leaving her, and he wanted the whole thing to be “taken care of” as soon as possible. After he shattered everything, Letherer thought she knew about love and faithfulness, he left her alone on her dining room floor to pick up the pieces.
“There was a moment, not long after my husband told me he wanted a divorce, when I felt completely trapped,” says Letherer. “It was just days after New Years’. I had spent Christmas alone while he took the kids to his parents. When I tried to use my bank card, it was declined, and I soon discovered that he had closed our joint account. I had no money and there was no food in the house. When he returned, we argued and I hated that our three children were there to hear us. As I looked out the window where the snow drifted pure and white and the Christmas lights twinkled on the neighbor’s tree, I felt like I was in a snow globe—not part of the warm cozy family scene I had taken for granted, but encased in a glass bubble with no way out.”
We recently interviewed Tammy Letherer, author of The Buddha at My Table: How I Found Peace in Betrayal and Divorce. She gave us some great advice on divorce, co-parenting and raising children as a single mom.
SFBAM: Tammy, whether you’ve known for a while that you are headed for divorce OR it comes on quickly, what are the first things you should do when you find yourself suddenly a single mom?
TAMMY: The first thing I did when my husband shocked me by saying he was leaving was to establish a good support team. It included my friend and neighbor, who wrapped me in a blanket, made me tea and toast, and urged me to call my doctor for an anti-depressant prescription. My best friend from college and my therapist were there for me as well. This small inner circle kept me grounded and provided necessary “reality checks” during those first overwhelming, surreal days. They also helped me keep my energy focused so I didn’t cry and overshare with baristas or check-out clerks or customer service reps or the yoga goddess next to me in class — which, believe me, I wanted to do. Looking back, I’m very grateful that I had a foundation of what I call energy awareness, which means taking a split second to ask: will this thought or action recharge me or drain me? With that as my guide, I had more to give to myself and my kids.
SFBAM: What about finances? How can you protect yourself and create savings for you and your children?
TAMMY: I was shocked when, on my very first phone call with a divorce attorney, he told me to withdraw money and file for temporary support. This was before I had even filed for divorce! But he was right. My husband closed our joint account while I was out of town with the kids and I didn’t even have money to get us home from the airport when we returned. It was sobering. In retrospect, I wish I’d had my own savings account. I relied a lot on my attorney for financial advice so I would recommend hiring professionals that you respect and then following their guidance. It’s normal to feel like your divorce is unique but the truth is that divorce attorneys have seen it all and they know what steps to take to protect you and your kids.
SFBAM: What advice do you have on co-parenting?
TAMMY: Your parenting style may differ from your ex-spouse and when emotions are high, it’s difficult not to react to things that anger you. Maybe you don’t like the way the kids are dressed, or that they had cereal for dinner, or didn’t do their homework. I tried to develop a habit of responding rather than reacting. I made myself wait 24 hours before raising co-parenting concerns and then, if the issue was still bothering me, I made sure that whatever request I was making was clear and reasonable. It helps to approach co-parenting as you would a business arrangement. Leave the emotion out of your interactions, choose your battles, and trust that your kids are better equipped than you think to navigate their relationships with both parents.
SFBAM: How do you establish priorities? What should those priorities be?
TAMMY: My priority was to avoid poisoning my kids with the anger and sense of betrayal I felt toward their dad. My own parents divorced when I was sixteen and their relationship was so acrimonious, even thirty years later. I didn’t want that for my kids so I turned to my support circle when I needed to vent. That’s not to say I hid all my feelings from them. In fact, honoring my feelings and being authentic was another priority. I think it’s OK to be real with kids by saying things like, “I’m really mad at dad right now but that doesn’t have anything to do with you and I won’t stay mad forever.” Or, “I’m sad right now because things are changing but I also know that change can be good and I’m going to be OK.”
SFBAM: What other advice do you have for single moms? Especially during a pandemic?
TAMMY: This may seem contradictory but what helped me was to focus on the present moment while, at the same time, believing that a new and possibly better life was awaiting me. Some days my goals were very small: Can I take a nap? Would it be fun to buy a new book? Maybe I can watch a movie with the kids. Finding those moments of peace in an average day was an important practice for me because I was too easily overwhelmed by fears of the future. The pandemic has been a blessing in a sense because it’s given us more time to rest and heal and dream. I say take as much time as you need to imagine the next phase of your life. Be bold. Be outrageous. Make it how YOU want it to be. Then be patient because it will happen.
Tammy Letherer is an author, writing coach, and blogger. She holds a degree in Journalism from Indiana University and has enjoyed a long and varied professional writing career. In addition to The Buddha at My Table, Letherer is also the author of the novel, Hello Loved Ones and the children’s book, My Health is in My Hands. She lives in Chicago with her three children.