Monday, November 24, 2014

A Response to NerdWallet's article about the "Best Places to Live as a Single Mom"

Editor, NerdWallet:

I was very interested to find your article about the best places to live as a single mom, and since I live in Frisco, TX, and love it here, surprised to find our city on the list at number 2. Improving the quality of life of fatherless kids and single moms is a mission of mine, so any light that illuminates these families and their challenges is much appreciated. While I was initially excited, my enthusiasm turned to disappointment when  drilled down into your analysis.

I am working to develop a family center that would serve fatherless kids and single moms for all their needs in one location. As a divorce expert, I have learned first hand that kids from more affluent families are more negatively impacted by divorce than less affluent kids, and the primary reason is the significantly greater negative economic impacts suffered by these kids and their moms after divorce. (BTW 43% of ALL children haven't seen their dads in the last year, and that's not just the kids of divorce.) My work has driven me to learn about the economic and emotional challenges these families must overcome to bounce back from divorce.

In any case, here are some relevant facts that might have changed your analysis:

According to the US Census Bureau,

  • 28% of US households are single parent homes
  • 6% of Frisco, TX households are single parent homes
  • 3  The median number of people per single parent household in Frisco

If Frisco, TX is such a great place for single moms, why aren't there more of them?

The answer lies in your own numbers:
  • Median income    $4400/month (BTW, median child support in Texas is $430/per month)
  • Median mortgage  $2175/month
  • Median child care   $700/month (infant)
  • Median child care   $$650/month (4 year old pre-school child)
Most experts agree that when housing costs alone exceed %50 of monthly income, the family experiencing significant financial stress. So a single mom with 2  young kids in Frisco, TX who is trying to work to support her family is financially stressed, since housing and child care consume nearly 80% of her monthly income. Who can live like that in Frisco? No one.

Perhaps it is clear why only 6% of Frisco households are single parents--MOST single moms cannot afford to live here, and we "export" them to surrounding communities with lower housing costs (and lower quality of schools and life). The reason I say "surrounding communities" is that most child custody orders in divorce cases include geographic restrictions as to the residence of the children requiring either agreement from the dad or litigation and court approval in order to move. Single moms do NOT have the same degree of mobility as the rest of us, so a list of the "Best Places to be a Single Mom" is interesting but not actually useful to single moms, since they can't really move.

While I am sure the city of Frisco appreciates the good press (which we don't need by the way, since the rest of the economy is booming), your analysis of the Frisco economic climate for single moms is deeply flawed. I wonder if the same is true for the other "Best Places to Live" locations as well?

A few more relevant facts:
  • 25% of all single moms receive NO child support
  • Another 30% receive payments that are late or less than the full amount
  • 50% of all single moms live below the poverty line
  • In North Texas, 70% of all listed job openings CANNOT support a single parent family above the poverty level
Please consider a follow up article that provides more than just a cursory list of statistics and supports a more thoughtful and integrated analysis that highlights this growing invisible economic epidemic and the personal hardships that are being created.

There really are no "best places" for most single moms to live.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Emotional Freedom: Phases in Recovery from Divorce

Emotional recovery from divorce happens in phases not stages.

After helping hundreds of people bounce back from the challenges of divorce, I have learned that recovery happens in phases, not stages. While most people talk about the various components of emotional recovery using different terms or labels, there appears to be a general consensus about these 5 emotional components: denial, anger, bargaining, depression/sadness, and acceptance. Some people, mostly Christian writers, emphasize forgiveness as a critical component to recovery and freedom, and I agree with them, so I have included included it here. More on that later.

These are phases of recovery from divorce, not stages. No one moves through this process one component after another in a rigid order. Rather, the primary emotional focus changes over time and like most things in life, it's more like waves than stairs.  Successful recovery requires riding, not fighting, the waves until the storm passes.

I was trained as a psychologist, so of course, I have developed a self-assessment, a rating scale for each of the 6 components of recovery. Here's an example of someone in the early phases where the highest wave peak is feeling angry:

In my divorce recovery seminars, I encourage people to rate themselves at least weekly on each of the 6 phases of recovery during their journaling time. This provides a nice visual thermometer for how they're doing on the road to recovery. As recovery progresses, the bars on the left get shorter, and the bars on the right get taller.

A note about forgiveness: it's a choice. A difficult one, but still a choice. The research is quite clear about this: people who forgive their "ex" are able to move on; those who don't remain stuck in bitterness or depression that affects their entire lives from then on. The Bible makes it clear that forgiveness is not optional for Christians, it's required. Where there is no forgiveness, there is no recovery, and God knows that.

A few relevant factoids about recovery:

  • Most legal divorces take around 15 months to complete, at least in Texas. 
  • The divorce recovery process takes most people 18 months to 2 years, from the time they start. 
  • That usually means that the person who initiates the divorce has a head start of at least a few months over the spouse who gets the bad news. 
  • 90% of men, and 60% of women don't really recover and grow emotionally, they just go back to the old way of living and relationships, because they never forgive their "ex".
Decide to recovery completely; forgive your "ex". Do it for you, not them.