Note: This is part two of a two-part post about Jeanette Hanscome. Click here to read part one about her early life, writing career, and how she lives a full life with a visual impairment.
Jeanette Hanscome was in a hotel room on vacation when she received the email from her husband. Subject line: “Moving.”
After 22 years of marriage, the two had been separated for a few months. Jeanette had been hoping they would be able to work through their issues, reconcile, and life would go back to normal. But it was not to be. Her husband was moving to a town four hours away from their home in Reno, and he wanted a divorce. She sat in that hotel room and thought, “Life is never going to be the same.”
She said to herself, “I’m going to be a single mom. I’m going to be divorced. And I can’t drive. How am I going to do this?” She saw the possibility of losing absolutely everything, including her writing career.
Jeanette had the perfect job for someone who is unable to drive due to vision limitations: freelance writing and editing from home. But now she might need to find a regular job in order to make enough money as a single mom. She had no idea what would be in store for her and her sons. How would she manage it? It didn’t take long to find out.
“God immediately surrounded us with help.
“As soon as my church found out what had happened, they just stepped in. They made a list of people that could help with transportation. My church became a beautiful example of how to help somebody through a crisis. They were extremely helpful. They paid bills for us. We never really went without anything unless we chose to. Of course it was hard, but I can’t think of a thing we went without. God constantly provided everything beyond what I expected.”
Jeanette didn’t actually go through the emotional part of dealing with the divorce until several years later. Instead, she immediately went into survival mode and figured out how she was going to live as a single mom. She also had to go through the divorce process and custody arrangements for her nine-year-old son, Nathan. (Her other son, Christian, was already an adult.)
She was concerned about Nathan’s relationship with his dad, and she was also worried about how his relationships with his friends would be affected by the divorce. They lived in a large city, but their life was concentrated around their church, which is also where Nathan attended school. It was a small community, and everybody knew each other. Nathan would overhear adults talking about his parents’ situation, and it would upset him.
Thankfully, he came to his mom with his fears and concerns. And Jeanette soothed his fears and told him the truth of the matter. She made sure he (and Christian) knew he could always ask questions. Jeanette tried to feel what he felt, answer his questions honestly, and at the same time not talk badly about his father. That can be a hard line to find. She says,
“It’s like talking to kids about any tough subject. Just answer what they ask. Don’t overwhelm them.”
Christian knew a lot of the details, though Nathan didn’t. And, six years later, she still struggles with how much to tell Nathan. There are those who have told her she should sit him down and tell him the whole story. She considered it but opted against it. However, she did recently remind him that he’s allowed to ask anything he wants to know about the divorce.
During the divorce proceedings, the family lost their house and had to file bankruptcy. So Jeanette needed to find new housing for herself and Nathan. She started looking at apartments and quickly realized she would have to pay more in rent than they’d been spending on their mortgage. She could do it, but it would make life extremely difficult.
Around the same time, she realized she was getting restless. “I was so thankful for all the help that I was getting, but I was also starting to get the sense that as long as I stayed there, I would be unable to have an independent life. If I was going to really rebuild my life, I needed to rebuild it somewhere else.” In Reno, people knew her as part of a couple. And some people there were angry at her ex-husband. “It’s really hard not to bash your ex when you are surrounded by people who are really mad at him.”
Jeanette started thinking about the possibility of moving somewhere more affordable and where she could get a fresh start. Her parents still lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Jeanette had grown up. They told Jeanette that she was always welcome to come back and live with them, and ultimately she made that choice.
“We started out as a trial move for a few months,” she says, “but as soon as we were here I knew this was where we would end up staying. Nathan had cousins around. We could finally settle down. We could finally relax.”
The difficult part of moving was that her adult son, Christian, chose to stay in Reno. He had a job, friends, and a full life there, so he didn’t move to California with his mom and little brother. But Jeanette has seen how he has grown in independence since she moved away, which makes her proud as a mom.
When Jeanette moved, she had to start all over again to build a support system. Her cousin invited her to a Bible study, which worked out well because Jeanette was able to get to know everyone slowly. “They were very kind, godly women. They gave me the freedom to share what I wanted to share.”
At first, all they knew was she just moved back to the Bay Area. Then she told them she was a writer. And finally she trusted them with her divorce story, and they became her emotional support system as she worked through the aftermath and the grief process of divorce and becoming a single mom.
“I didn’t know I needed a totally different set of friends for that until it was happening. As nice as my friends [in Reno] were, I don’t know that they could have done this,” she says. “There are definitely benefits in getting a fresh start somewhere else. Because you end up in a place where the people don’t know your whole situation, and they don’t know your ex, so they are less apt to start taking sides. That was helpful.”
Jeanette also landed in a church that had great resources for people going through divorces and other difficult situations. They had a divorce care ministry, as well as betrayal care and other counseling services. All of those things were very helpful for her and gave her a community of people who could relate to what she was going through.
However, though those types of groups are helpful, she cautions against too much of it. “I’ve learned the value of getting involved in ministries where I’m using my gifts but I’m not always talking about what brought me [to the Bay Area]. The first groups I got involved in besides Bible study were betrayal care and divorce care, and I thought, ‘This is all I ever talk about.’
“So I joined the choir and worship team. That was the best thing I ever could have done, because it pulled me out of that stuck place that people can get into where they’re almost addicted to recovery.
“Something I highly recommend to someone going through a divorce is to continually use your gifts and be with people.
“We need support from people who are going through the same thing, but we also need to get away from those people sometimes.”
Jeanette’s experiences led to a desire to pass on what God was teaching her and pay it forward. “I can never pay back the people who helped me. And I could never do for somebody else exactly what my church and my friends did for me. But I have my story, and I have my experiences, and I can pass those on.” She started writing down her experiences, and she wondered if there was a book in it.
She began writing a book proposal, and she was hesitant about whether to talk about her vision impairment and how that affected her, because she didn’t want to limit her audience. But when she told someone her misgivings, they said, “What makes your story unique is you went into the experience with this extra challenge, and you still survived. You still thrived. You came out stronger on the other side.”
So she decided to embrace her full story and tie in the truth that everyone has something extra to deal with. “We all have some reason why we can say, ‘I can’t do this. I’m never going to be able to survive.’ And that’s when God comes in and says, ‘Yes, you can, because I’m going to send you help, and I’m here, and I’m going to equip you.'”
Jeanette found an agent who loved the book and quickly found a publisher for Suddenly Single Mom, which is a collection of 52 messages of hope, grace, and promise for women on a single parenting journey. The book released in March of 2016.
“It’s been really exciting to see it make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. “And some people who aren’t single moms say that it’s helped them through other things like a time of grief or disappointment. It also helped them understand what a single mom was going through. So I’ve found it hasn’t only been a book for single moms but also for people who care about them and want to know how to help them and what they’re experiencing.”
If you’d like to purchase a copy of Suddenly Single Mom for yourself or a friend, click here to find it online.
How to Be a Good Friend to Single Parents
• Help with practical things. See a single mom’s need and meet it instead of just asking what she needs. For example, if you’re going to the grocery store, don’t just ask, “Do you need anything from the store?” Start naming things, and she’ll realize, “Oh yeah, we do need milk. And we’re almost out of bread.” Or if you know there’s an event coming up when she will need a ride or childcare, offer to fill that need before she even asks for it.
• Offer to take the kids out, or invite them over to your house. Single moms don’t often get alone time, so give her some time to clean the house, run errands, or simply sit and do nothing for an hour or two.
• Be willing to just listen to her. Don’t bash the ex. Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Just hear her and let her feel what she feels.
• Don’t judge her feelings or the lack thereof. If she doesn’t seem sad enough or angry enough, that will come. At the current time, she might not have the time to give in to those feelings, because she’s trying to help her family survive. It’s hard to rebuild a life and be an emotional wreck at the same time. The feelings will come, and when they do, she’ll need you.
• Be careful about expressing concerns about the children, their needs, and what you think they should be doing or not doing. This puts undue pressure on the single mom, who is well aware that her kids need help. She is doing her best with what she has. She needs you to support her, not put extra pressure on her.
How to Help the Children of Single Parents
• Get the kids out of their environment every once in awhile. Invite them over. Do fun things with them. Be a consistent source of positivity in their lives.
• Be patient with them. They might be a little more emotional or reactive than they were in the past. So remember they’re going through a loss.
• Resist the temptation to pressure them to grow up faster than they need to. Don’t say, “Well, I guess you’re the man of the house now,” or, “Your mom’s going to need a lot more help now.” It puts pressure on kids that they don’t need. Yes, the kids might need to be a little more helpful around the house, but they cannot take the place of a parent—especially one they’re grieving the loss of.
How to Help Your Kids Understand and Process a Friend’s Parents’ Divorce
• Answer the questions as they come. Don’t give more information than they ask for or need. Let them know one parent isn’t living in the house anymore, but it’s not usually necessary to tell them why.
• Encourage them to be a good friend. If their friend is more emotional or angry than usual, help your child understand that his family is going through a hard time, so they need to be patient and kind.
• Don’t talk badly about either of the parents, even if you think your kids aren’t listening. Children overhear things, and they don’t typically have the maturity to know what not to repeat. It can be very damaging to a child to hear negative remarks about his parents.
• Remember that your kids will likely take on your attitude about a situation. If you are kind and compassionate and helpful to the new single parent, your kids will likely do the same for the kids involved. But don’t forget it can work the other way around too.
Jeanette has a few last words of wisdom for all of us:
Each of us has our own story and our own experiences, and the things that God allows in our lives—and often the thing that we think is going to crush us or be the most devastating thing that ever happened—often are the things that He teaches us the most through. Look at them through the perspective of: What has He taught me through that? What has He done? How has He been faithful? It can be a really powerful experience. When we start to do that, life starts looking a little less devastating. We start seeing that the verses that we throw at people when they’re going through something hard actually are true. It just takes awhile to see it.
I want to thank Jeanette for tbeing willing to share her story and thoughts with the readers of the “Live well. Serve others.” blog. You can connect with Jeanette at jeanettehanscome.com and on her Facebook author page. She would love to hear from you!
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