Whether you are going out on a new date, need to fill out medical forms at the doctors, or gossiping with the other moms after picking up your child from school– Why is my marital status a topic of concern? The social stigma around divorce is mostly negative but it does not have to be. Guest speakers, Tanisha and Najiyyah discuss their experiences on outside judgement after their divorces and how they overcame it with confidence and grace.
OUR GUEST – Tanisha Russell Day & Najiyyah Brooks
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
TH: Welcome to today’s podcast. We have among my favorite ladies who I go back to. I felt like I went to church and we call each other cousins now because they’ve given me the honor of that title. We have Najiyyah Brooks who currently is the founder of Brooks Media, Level Up Radio, DIVA Zone, and a million other things. When we met, she wasn’t doing these things, and that wasn’t that long ago. And Tanisha Russell Day, which is how you have to say her three names. She’s the vice president of brand management also at Brooks Media. They are a powerhouse, the two of them, and they’re best friends like Jessica and I are. We’re going to talk about who cares if we’re divorced. Welcome to the show, guys.
Jessica: Thanks, girls.
Tanisha: Thanks for having us.
Jessica: The last time we got a chance to have a conversation with you guys, we hit a little bit on this. It was such an interesting conversation that we just wanted to keep picking it up. It was a little bit about the social stigma of being divorced and also why does anybody care if we’re divorced.
For people who don’t know you, can you give quick little briefs of your divorce stories?
Tanisha: Naji do you want to go first or do you want me to go first?
Najiyyah: I have more than you, so maybe you should go first.
Tanisha: Okay. I got married back in 2004. I married into a military lifestyle that I wasn’t familiar with, so that was very unique for me, I didn’t come from a military family. I did not do the proper research that I think anyone marrying into the military should do because it is a different world and a completely different lifestyle. A few years later, we had our son, the apple of my eye. He’s almost 15 years old and taller than I am and I can’t believe it. Not too long after that, I, unfortunately, experienced postpartum depression. I didn’t know too much about it, he didn’t know too much about it, and we didn’t know what to do. Then being away from the family, because with the military lifestyle, you don’t control your life, and you don’t control where you’re located. We had to be wherever the orders took us. It put more of a strain on the marriage. I had just–again, don’t say that I put everything on him at all, because he was really amazing and tried his best to be supportive, but I felt for my mental space and my wellbeing that I needed to be with my family. I ended up relocating back to New Jersey, but he couldn’t leave. He had to stay stationed where he had his orders and that put more of a strain on the marriage. Eventually, a few years after that, the divorce happened. We co-parent from wherever he’s located. He’s out of the military now but works for the government. We try to do our best to be civil parents, civil human beings, and we communicate on an as-needed basis. We don’t go out for tea. We don’t go out for coffee. We don’t hang out, but we try to do the best we can for the well-being of our son and also as simple Christian adults.
Jessica: You’ve been divorced how many years now?
Tanisha: Oh, man, maybe 11 years now? About 11 years now.
Jessica: Okay. Thank you for that. Naji?
Najiyyah: Okay, so I was married twice. The first time I was really young in my early 20s. It was someone who I was head over heels with. I did marry for the long term, but I knew in my heart that because of his lifestyle, and I’ll just leave it at that, it was just a fast life for street life, that it was not going to probably end well for me because of my background being a church girl gone left, gone south, or whatever, to make this life choice, but I loved him. We dated for five years, we got married, and we were married for about four years technically, and then we separated and divorced. There were probably I’d say about eight more years before I remarried. This time I married according to my heart, which is being a Christian. This person was in church and he wasn’t a minister yet, but he was a minister in training. We met in church, we dated, and this was a very short courtship, less than about a year and a half. Then we got married, and we stayed married for six years. This is where for me, I guess I can contribute to this conversation today, that divorce left me with a red scarlet letter in the church community, amongst my family and friends, even though I know they love me, no one expected that marriage to end that way. I certainly did not. It has been a really long time since that divorce. I have found myself in a few almost situations where I was considering marriage again, and it has not happened for me. At this point, I have been divorced from that marriage for 14 years. I do not have any children and I’m actually grateful now to say that. I used to be heartbroken about it, but I’m really happy now that I’m not doing it alone in that I just am able to focus on my life. I know that sounds a little selfish, but it is what it is. It didn’t happen for me, so that’s where I am. I’m very happily divorced, but I wouldn’t be terribly sad if I had a great relationship. The end.
TH: You just said a scarlet letter. When you’re asked the question what are the three words to describe you? Is divorce ever going to be one of those three words?
TH: Never. Why is it–?
Jessica: Hold on a second.
TH: You would?
Jessica: I feel if I was describing myself–
TH: Your three words, what would they say about yourself?
Jessica: Here’s what I’m thinking. I think there might be circumstances where ‘No’, but I feel when I had to write my bio for my website a few years ago, I literally think the first sentence was ‘A divorced mom of two’.
TH: If you’re meeting somebody for the first time, not a date. Not a date, you’re meeting someone, a professional, and they say, ‘What are the three words to describe yourself?’
Jessica: Yeah, I guess it would be more personality.
TH: Right, because that was for marketing purposes or whatever. I also would never use the word divorced. That totally does not define me, but I feel like society continues to remind us that we’re divorced. Whether it’s the form, [inaudible] they want to know who’s paying the bill, but I feel like it pops up here. I’m divorced for so long. Tanisha, you’re divorced 11 years. Najiyyah, you’re out 14 years. Jessica and I are 12/13 years. I’m not divorced anymore. That’s like I hurt my foot 20 years ago, and I still have a hurt foot? I don’t know, what do you guys think about that?
Tanisha: No, I agree. I actually don’t even associate divorce with any of my day-to-day life, any of my business involvement. It’s not who I am. It doesn’t define me. It has nothing to do with who Tanisha Russell Day is today. The experiences have been helpful, and I’m grateful for my son, however, that was just one of the many life experiences that I’ve gone through.
Najiyyah: I don’t describe myself as divorced. In fact, if asked, if I have to fill out anything or whatever, I say single, unless divorce is an obvious–
TH: Me too. I feel offended, and I’m like, you know what, I’m single.
Najiyyah: Mmhmm, because I am, and we are. I think it’s really important for us to control the narrative of our past experiences. While being divorced is not something that I ever planned to do, I don’t wear it on my sleeve for anyone to know. In fact, it’s been brought up to me more than I bring it up to others, or people may ask. In dating, that always comes up. Have you at this age, I’m 50, have you ever been married? Do you have children? Those are common questions. Those discussions happen then, but as for me, no. If I never had to say I have divorced again, I wouldn’t. But you know what, that’s 80% of how I feel. 20% is for the sake of other people who may be going through a similar experience. I have to be liberated enough to share without regret or without remorse, but to just be liberated in the experience and coming out on the other side healthy, safe, and vibrant still.
Jessica: I’ve always loved the conversation, TH and I revisit it all the time, the idea of stigma around divorce, the shame that you were made to feel inadvertent, whether it’s conscious or not. I don’t know why, but I feel right now, I’m surprising myself with what I’m thinking in the midst of this conversation, which is that exEXPERTS aside, because obviously now there’s a reason for me to be always talking about being divorced, but I feel like it does a little bit define me. I hate to say it, I don’t want to give in to the social stigma, but here’s what I think. I think that there’s a part of me that’s always been in your face about the fact that I’ve been divorced. I mean, that’s just who I am. I feel in the career that I had where I was working all the time, running live network news shows, it’s not that I took pride in being divorced because that was obviously a super painful process, but I think that there’s an element of me that takes pride in the fact that hell yeah, I’m divorced, I have two kids, I’m running this show, I’m doing this and I’m handling that, and I’m doing it as a single mom. I mean, not really a single mom, their dad is in the city and is nearby and very involved in his 50% custody, but I feel there’s always been a part of me that’s like, what are you going to do about it? You need to know how resilient I am. A little bit. A little bit. I’m resilient, I’m strong, I’m getting through it, and I’m getting stuff done, even though I don’t have a husband. I don’t know that I really thought that I felt that way.
TH: That just goes to show that whether you have a husband or not, that’s not who makes you who you are. We’ve all been through a lot of our own stuff, which makes us who we are today, every little bit, every lesson learned, every little step, good, bad, and ugly. But I feel you’re definitely saying it is a badge of honor to show your strength and resilience and your ability to overcome, I guess, a little bit. I feel it has such a negative spin everywhere that I take it the other way. I just don’t even want to be associated with it because it was such an ugly time for my family, that I just want you to take me for me. I’m not saying at all what you’re saying, but for me, I feel like this is who I am. This is what I can do.
Jessica: Well, that’s true. I took my daughter to a doctor two weeks ago, and it was a new doctor. I’m filling out the forms and it asks am I–why do you care? Why do I need to tell you that I’m divorced for my daughter to see this doctor? I do feel there are a lot of times when you’re out and it’s like, who gives a shit? Why are you asking me that? It has no relevance.
TH: For money.
Jessica: No, they’re not. I filled out the insurance information. It has no bearing on anything. I think more in social situations–maybe it’s a defense mechanism. You need to know that I’m divorced. You’re going to judge me or not judge me. If you’re going to, you may as well judge me now. This is who I am. But Najiyyah, I too am going through a second divorce. I feel that’s probably not ideal. That makes me feel a little bit more–I don’t mind my whole first telling people I’m divorced and being in their face about it, but there is a little bit of like, twice, what’s wrong with me? Are people going to look at me and be like, ‘God, she must be like a real piece of work that two husbands left her,’ and not knowing any of the details of either of those marriages?
TH: That’s just false assumptions because nobody knows the real story of any of it.
Tanisha: I think folks are going to come up with their own opinions in their own way all the time. I am completely over with trying to prove anything to anyone. I am secure within myself. I am doing it, and I have been successful at doing it. I don’t owe you an explanation about anything, on what I went through, why I went through it, and how I’m doing it. Then also, along with what Najiyyah said, I don’t mind talking about it if it’s going to be a blessing to someone else going through it, and they need genuine sisterly support. But as far as explaining, that’s a hell no.
TH: Yeah, I love it. It’s true. It just keeps coming up in the oddest places that we have to summarize ourselves.
Jessica: But where do you guys think that you feel either the stigma or the shame or the judgment? When you’re out and you’re in any given situation, some people may be asking you–you meet me for the first time. I’m part of exEXPERTS so obviously, the fact that you’re divorced, I’m not judging at all. But are there times and what are they when you feel like it comes up and you’re like, I don’t feel good about the fact that I just had to talk about that?
Najiyyah: Well, for me, it’s always a church scenario. It’s always–
Jessica: They’re all judging at church.
Najiyyah: Yeah, it’s a church scenario, because sometimes people have tried to use that to disqualify me. They have.
Jessica: In what realm?
Najiyyah: Well, just insecure women, who are moms and wives, believe me. Unfortunately, unkind people have tried to take jabs.
Tanisha: You never told me about that. You know we’ve got another side if I need to talk to somebody.
Najiyyah: I know, but there’s so much that I deal with like that, so much over the years, not so much now, but when I was younger and more impressionable and more still raw from the experience. It hit me differently. People still might do little things like that now, but I care not. I really don’t. I’m like, if you can a la carte one piece of me and use that to disqualify me, then shame on you because I’m so much more. I’ve accomplished so much more in my life. That’s your issue, not mine. But it has always been a church issue. It has never really been outside of it. It’s always been someone who has unfortunately been involved in ministry.
Jessica: How interesting, you’d think that would be the community that would be the most welcoming and there to help and take you in with open arms, and they’re the ones judging the most. That’s very surprising, or not for some people.
Najiyyah: It is. It shouldn’t be but–
Tanisha: Yeah. I agree it shouldn’t be. You better be telling the truth that that was years ago and not now or we’re going to have a side discussion.
TH: We’re all flying down there today The cousins are showing up.
Jessica: We’ll show them.
Tanisha: Right, right, right, the cousins. You have a village. They don’t want the cousins. For me, this was years ago. Right now, some of this stuff might just go over my head, or either I just don’t give a hoot. I would say maybe years ago in some of my social settings, some of my networks where the majority of the moms would be married, or family events there would be the husbands with the moms and the kids, and it would just be my son and me. I think early on, I dealt with a little more judgment there and had to grow a thick skin and had to grow that inner security within myself. When you think “family event” in an organization, that’s husband, wife, and kids, and for me for almost 14 years, it’s been, mom and my son. I had to become okay with that. People only treat you how you let them treat you.
Najiyyah: So true.
Tanisha: They’ll only say to you what you let them say to you. Now, you can think whatever you want, but if I got the, ‘Oh, you’re not married anymore?’ Once you check them right away, ‘No, I’m not. However, we co-parent, and we’re doing well. How about you and your husband? Are you guys happy?’ Again no shade, but I know a couple of folks that are smiling for the camera, and they’re miserable behind closed doors.
Jessica: More than a couple, Tanisha.
Tanisha: I’m not judging you for you staying in the mess, so don’t judge me for choosing life, peace, and happiness.
Jessica: It’s almost like that age-old battle, not battle because that might be the wrong word, of the stay-at-home moms versus the working moms. My kid’s in elementary school, I would–well, I was rarely there. I never dropped my kids off or pick them up because I was working. Every once in a while, I’d be able to get to something and all the other stay-at-home moms would be together in their little clique over on the side of the room. Then afterward, they would all go out for coffee. It’s like, on the one hand, I didn’t care that I was never included in any of that stuff because I wouldn’t have had the time to join in any way, but it was always I felt they were looking down on me and judging the fact that I wasn’t spending that time with my kids. I’m like, are you kidding me? My kids are seeing me happy and working and productive and all the things that any mom should be. I wouldn’t be happy as a stay-at-home mom, so why would I choose to stay home? If you love it, that’s amazing.
Tanisha: Right. If that works for you, great–
Jessica: Right, but there’s always this discourse that’s created amongst us like you chose this and I chose this, and now we can’t somehow find common ground.
TH: I think there was also for me always a little bit of pity like, ‘Oh, I feel so bad for her. We heard what happened and gosh, so awful.’ I remember a woman came up to me and I know she had good intentions, but this is why there are multiple perspectives on one situation. I’m at a party with my daughter, and it was probably soon after, maybe two months after I separated, so the news was all over town. Everyone was still up in arms about the way that my marriage ultimately ended. She goes, ‘I just want you to know, I’m so proud of you. You’re such a stand-up lady. You came to the party with your daughter and you didn’t hide. We just think he’s the worst.’ I was like I’m at a birthday party with my kid. I think that her intentions were good and I feel some people really don’t know what to say, so they say the wrong thing. But I took that as like, are you kidding me right now? I don’t do pity parties. That’s not good for me anyway. How about do you want to go for a walk? People don’t know what to say, but it gets misconstrued, and then it reminds you that you’re divorced. It took a lot to go to this party two months after and see everybody in town and act like everything was fine. Then she came up to me and I was like now I feel like crap. Now I want to go home and get cake.
Jessica: We know so many people are unhappy in their marriages, and so many people choose to stay to do the right thing for themselves, for the kids, whatever the case may be. Why then are people still so judgmental about divorce? Why does it bother people? If there are circumstances and people are incompatible or have irreconcilable differences, whatever they may be, why is it a problem still these days?
Tanisha: I can’t answer. I mean, I agree with you. I have the same question. Why is it still a problem? I do feel that in society, especially during a pandemic, people have a better understanding of, ‘Hey, I totally understand why she had to do what she needed to do.’
TH: Yeah, absolutely.
Tanisha: I think we’re getting a little better at understanding and accepting and having less judgment. I think there are so many married women who envied us during this entire pandemic with their husbands they didn’t want to be bothered with. The divorce rate increased through the pandemic.
TH: Totally. Even when I separated, my closest married friends were like, ‘God, you get every Wednesday and every other weekend off? That’s awesome. How do I want that?’ I was like, well, you don’t really want it, but if you really want it…
Tanisha: Right, right, I thought most important for me was making sure my overall wellbeing was healthy. That’s mental, emotional, physical, all of that, that I was healthy. Not even too much lower than that, I wouldn’t even say under that, but not even too much lower than that, that my son’s emotional, social, all his wellbeing was healthy too. He’s good. I’m good. That was what mattered most to me.
Jessica: Najiyyah, why do you think people care?
Najiyyah: I’m not certain. I just took a trip by myself, maybe the first international trip I took completely by myself. The liberation that I felt just being and doing in–I even was fortunate enough to meet some couples who were on a yacht excursion I did. They were fascinated that I was that comfortable by myself. They were like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve never traveled alone.’ Men and women, the couples, they were talking to me. I was probably outside of the folks that ran the yacht, the only one without being coupled. It was really liberating to me that I was comfortable by myself. I was like, I could talk to people if I wanted to, or not. I saw one couple, and they did not look incredibly in love or thrilled to be there. I felt bad for them that in all of this beauty, there was obvious tension. I didn’t have to deal with that. I didn’t have to be caring about what a man of compromised character might do on a boat full of women half-dressed. No, I’m serious.
TH: Yeah, I hear you. I’m so proud of you.
Tanisha: I was just enjoying my life and doing what I wanted to do. To be honest with you, for me with that trip just recently, and I’m just referencing it because it just happened, it really made me say to myself for the first time that wow, I think I might be alright if I’m never going to get married again. I’m not saying that because I’m hopeless, quite the opposite. I know that I’m not young anymore, but I’m still full of life, and it’s still an option. But if not, I’m honestly whole, and I’m happy, and I’m at peace. I couldn’t have appreciated that even 10 years ago, so I felt really great being alone.
Jessica: That’s a great place to be.
TH: I’m so happy for you. That’s so fulfilling. What a great aha! milestone in your life. There are so many things that we do in our life that we don’t even see and pat ourselves on the back. The fact that you’re at a place where you can recognize it for yourself and pat yourself on your back, I’m just so happy for you. I really am. That’s fantastic.
Jessica: It is amazing. Look, the bottom line is that’s what everybody hopes to have regardless, honestly. Whether they’re married or not, to be in a place where you’re comfortable enough with yourself to live your own life, whether it’s with a companion or not, comfortable in your own skin, doing what you want to do, feeling fulfilled, being happy, not feeling like you’re being held back in any way, and living the way that you want to live. I mean, look, for anyone out there who’s getting divorced, or has been divorced, and even if you’re not quite there, to know that that’s what’s down the road and that everyone can get there. Some people will get there sooner than others. But that is like a huge aha! eye-opening moments to realize I’m good. I’m good where I am. That’s amazing.
TH: We spoke to someone not that long ago, and he talked about owning his outcome. I think the four of us have really learned how to write our own stories. We decide who comes into the story and who doesn’t come into the story and how we want to deal with that. We have taken charge of our lives in different ways at different times, considering all different aspects of it, to write our own story. I just think that we should all pat each other on the back.
Jessica: Virtual pats. Virtual pats.
TH: Really, just yay for us.
Jessica: Yay for us. All right, well, that seems like a perfect place to put a pin in it until the next time when we can have our next talk and hopefully give everybody hope and give light to everybody that’s going through it. It sucks and we all know it. It totally sucks. It’s hard. It’s all the things people think it is, but then there’s all of this on the other side, which just makes it hard to see it sometimes, but when you’re there, you’re there.
Tanisha: It’s a beautiful thing.
Najiyyah: It is a beautiful thing. I just want to thank you, ladies. First of all, your branding is out of sight.
Najiyyah: The branding is out of sight. The theme is hopeful and it’s just I’m happy that we were asked to be a part of some episodes with you because it’s not talked about enough and so many people are hiding behind and feel that no one else will help them to talk about and you all do it so eloquently and passionately. Just thank you.
TH: Thank you.
Jessica: Thank you.
Tanisha: Thank you TH and Jess.
Jessica: Thank you. Thanks, all of us. We’ll see you next time.
Najiyyah: Bye ladies.
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