Editors note: Going through a breakup or a divorce is emotionally painful, but there are also logistical/practical difficulties that come with the end of a relationship. What I mean by that is, if you are going through a divorce or a breakup, you might be in shock or devastated and sad and confused and angry and scared, (emotions that are all immensely painful and that take a toll). But then you might have to deal with logistical issues like finding a new place to live, moving your stuff, getting new furniture, changing your address… the to-do list can go on and on. So, when I found out about Onward, a New York City based post-breakup concierge service that helps people with the logistics of a breakup, I thought, ‘What a great idea!’ I spoke with one of Onwards two founders, Lindsay Meck, and during our conversation, found out she grew up a mom who was a divorce attorney. I thought that was interesting and Lindsay told me it played a big role in her decision to start this business. I asked Lindsay to share some of the things she learned from her mom when it comes to divorce and breakups. Here is her guest post!
Ten Breakup Lessons I Learned From My Mother, a Divorce Attorney
By Lindsay Meck, CEO/Co-Founder, Onward: A Post-Breakup Concierge Service
My mother was in private practice for 33 years as a divorce attorney, in southwestern Ohio. For the entirety of my life, she committed her livelihood to helping her clients navigate a complex, emotional, and life-changing process as seamlessly as possible. I will never forget listening to her negotiate a child support case, what would be her final one, from her hospice bed three days before she passed away from breast cancer in 2014.
Growing up with a mother who was a divorce attorney, especially one as fierce, outspoken, and empathetic as my mom, yielded much inspiration to me as a young woman. I suspect few children’s imaginary friends file for dissolutions and annulments like mine did. My mother’s work was also the genesis for my own professional endeavor, my startup, Onward: A Post-Breakup Concierge Service, which I launched on Valentine’s Day in New York City with my childhood best friend and cofounder. Onward’s goal is to take care of the hassles of heartbreak – first focusing on the relocation (housing, move, address/utility changes), and then the life relaunch (therapy matchmaking, financial and physical wellness). With Onward, we share my mother’s hope that a breakup doesn’t need to be a breakdown, but can be a breakthrough – an opportunity to pivot forward into a better next chapter.
In my mother’s spirit, I present ten breakup lessons I learned from her that continue to guide me and my business today:
1. Ask the tough questions now –
My mother posted the New York Times’ “Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying” on the door to her law office. It might have felt a little “Told you so” to folks seeking divorce consultations, but to me, this article was and continues to be a pragmatic primer — tackling religion, child-rearing, finances, and general life compatibility. So often I see couples take the next step out of convenience not out of shared commitment without addressing these fundamentals.
2. “Divorce” is not a bad word –
I grew up discussing divorce at the dining table as commonplace, and was surprised as a kid and more so as an adult to hear it spoken of in hushed tones in the outside world. We know the statistics (a range between 40-50% of married couples), but yet continue to heap social guilt upon ourselves. Divorce happens. It’s time to reframe this reality and use it as an opportunity for growth and change.
3. People can act like their worst selves in divorce –
Sometimes it gets ugly despite the most courageous efforts for it to be otherwise. Researchers have demonstrated how a breakup can throw an entire physiology out of whack, disrupting sleep, appetite, internal temperature, and heart rate. While this isn’t an excuse for destroying an exes’ personal property or acting out with aggression, it does explain where heightened actions or irrational behaviors stem from. Sometimes, my mom would share stories where clients or their ex-partners would remove all the doorknobs when moving out, vandalize cars, offices, and worse. Don’t use these as pro tips, but rather parables as to how we can all do better in our uncoupling practices.
4. Put everything important in writing –
Even the most amicable separations are going to have sticking points as lives and assets unwind. And, as time, shame, embarrassment, loss of control, and outside stakeholders get swept into the mix, the transition will get more complicated. Whether or not a lawyer is involved, it is best to have understandings put in writing acknowledged by both parties. Best not to make assumptions about obligations (bills, leases, pet care, childcare) and ownership (furniture, heirlooms, equipment, vehicles) as the situation evolves, and likely hits some snags.
5. Lawyers aren’t terrible people –
But finding one that aligns with your goals is crucial. My mom loved to quote Shakespeare’s Henry VI, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” A cutting comment, but many might share his sentiment. Lawyers can be expensive, combative, and/or obtuse. When selecting legal representation for a divorce, it is important to find someone who is going to advocate for your priorities, be transparent about costs, and educate you throughout the process. There is a category of divorce attorneys (my mother termed them “the Sharks”) who come to the table seeking vengeance, not consensus, not always at the behest of their clients. This can lead to higher billables and more squabbles. If that is your desired mode, proceed accordingly. For everyone else, explore a consultation with an attorney or professional mediator, ask questions, and go from there.
6. Acknowledge that you are in “Survival Mode” –
Divorce and marital separation routinely rank in the top five Most Stressful Life Experiences on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. It may be hard when you are “In it” to know how this added stress is manifesting in other ways – physically, mentally, professionally, socially. But do your best to check your own self-criticism and be kind to yourself. This is a courageous act and it will not be solved overnight. My mother described this as the “Desk blotter technique,” the office pad (predating laptops and Google calendars) that used to be a dumping ground for scrawled notes and appointments. Some items are “urgent” and others could stand to be jotted down on the desk blotter and left for a little while.
7. Stay in your lane –
My mother’s guidance as she was helping me get my learner’s permit also applied to folks going through a separation. Try to focus on your own experience, without comparing yourself to others’. Everyone’s journey is different. Fixating on whether your ex has moved on will not make your own rehabilitation go more quickly, nor will scrolling through social media evaluating yourself against the perceived perfection of other people’s curated lives. Stay in your lane and go at your own speed.
8. “Careful the things you say…Children will listen” –
I borrowed this lyric from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, but the message also resonates from my mother’s work as a Guardian Ad Litem (person appointed by the court to determine the “Best interests of a child”). Throughout my mother’s career, I saw the repercussions of parental infighting take a significant toll on the children they were arguing to protect. Kids are sponges for feelings, language, and group dynamics. Do your best to model good behavior to your ex-partner in the breakup to your children. Shared insults and indifference (or worse) can have negative consequences on their own social relationships, self-esteem, and ability to trust others.
9. “This, too, shall pass” –
My mother’s go-to quote is a reminder that no situation is permanent. People change and relationships change. The sadness and pain associated with a breakup can be debilitating, but these overwhelming emotions are temporary. You will feel better, and you will be shaped and surprised by your own resilience and strength, but that transformation will take time. Keep going and you will get there.
10. You can break up and still be a champion for relationships –
Even after a 33-year career as a divorce attorney, observing truly awful scenarios play out between separating couples, my mother was somehow not jaded by human relationships. Likewise, after going through a breakup, it can be easy to absorb the bitterness and turn off and away from new experiences. However, remembering that the investment of love and energy in your past relationship was worth it, and that you have gathered insights that will serve you in the future. I’m so grateful to my mother for instilling in me the fortitude to thrive after hardships. Of all the lessons she offered me, this one feels most like her legacy.
To learn more about Onward, visit the site.
Like this article? Check out, “What I Realized About Divorce and Heartbreak When I Slipped On Ice…And Then Slipped Again”