One of the best parts of my divorce was the registry. It’s just what it sounds like: I created a list of items I wanted for my new home and shared it with friends and family. The experience was affirming and uplifting in ways I never imagined; I felt validated and supported, feelings that were woefully unfamiliar as I stumbled out of my marriage. It is unfortunate that we made it to 2022 without making this “a thing,” but fellow divorcés: The time is now!
Part of our daily liturgy (Eilu Devarim) highlights the deeds that have no measure: honoring your father and mother, performing acts of love and kindness, rejoicing with the bride and groom… I think supporting the needs of families in transition could be a timely addition to this sage to-do list. Just as we gift folks items they need when they get married or have a baby, certainly we can add divorce as a lifecycle event that merits the same generosity and support.
In 2021, I lost my job and struggled through Corona hell, along with all the other families with small children. I suffered a level of isolation previously unfathomable as I recognized the toxicity of my marriage while confined in quarantine.
I took my kids and left my husband in February 2021, beginning what turned into an 11-month stint in temporary housing — a combination of Airbnbs, motel rooms and home hospitality — until the divorce finalized. We went to mediation in May 2021, where I agreed to walk away from the house I purchased before I got married and all the items inside. I didn’t want to fight over stuff. The divorce finalized in December that year and I finally established a new home for my girls and I a few weeks later. I had significantly less stuff and space than ever before, but I was happy. To quote Pirkei Avot (4:1), “Who is rich? The one who rejoices in their lot.”
I heard about divorce registries from a friend and loved the idea for a host of reasons, both practical and personal. But the concept also sparked a lot of shame and classic Jewish guilt — how appropriate was it for me to share a list of stuff I wanted with the world? I talked it through with my therapist, and quelled my numerous “what if” anxieties by reminding myself how frequently I advise my girls to use their words and ask for help.
I tested the water by posting an article about registries on social media, which garnered an immediate and overwhelmingly positive response from my network. I already had a wish list of items I had curated while daydreaming and scrolling through Amazon; they weren’t “big ticket” purchases that would take months of saving to procure, but they would make my home more comfortable. I edited the list, took a deep breath and posted the link to my divorce registry. I felt vulnerable (which Brene Brown has assured me is a good thing) and worried about being judged unfavorably.
I had no idea that the outpouring of support and love I’d receive would warm my heart and mend a few places I didn’t know could heal yet.
I was, and continue to be, surprised and delighted by the fact that the home my girls and I share was literally furnished by generosity. Some of the gifts came from dear friends who knew my pain, but more often from folks I hadn’t seen in decades, who stepped up and stepped in when I allowed myself to be vulnerable. The parents of an old student of mine gifted us a climbing dome. A woman who I haven’t seen since we were both at Jewish summer camp in the 90s gave us our bar stools. The ritual Jewish objects I’d once used were tainted with the unhappy memories of my marriage, but one of my childhood friends’ mom gifted us a kiddush cup. A Jewish educator colleague sent us matching candlesticks.
I spent days mulling over how I could explain the registry to my kids. It was an incredible opportunity for them to experience being a part of a sacred village, and understand that the divorce was a milestone that could be celebrated. In the end, I explained to them that I’d asked my friends and family to help us rebuild our lives. As the packages arrived, I showed them pictures of the person who sent the gift and told them about how I know them and who they are. My girls unanimously agree that “Mommy’s friends are the best,” and I’m very grateful that all four of us know and appreciate that fact.
My new home is peppered with positive associations and reminders of the connections I’ve honed throughout my life, which helps combat insecurities and isolation when I feel them creeping in. I’ve posted the notes from the Amazon packages as an art piece on my wall; it is a constant reminder of the goodness that appeared when I needed it most. The gifts are symbols of the loving kindness that’s come our way from many different people from many places. They’ve helped me rewire my brain in our home. I feel safe and secure, and my remote community feels very close.
I created my divorce registry during an incredibly dark and disconnected period of my life, without realizing how much it would be an antidote to that pain. The experience gave me a staggering appreciation for the many connections I share with humans on a daily basis.
A few weeks ago, I was able to send a gift to a friend re-establishing her home post-divorce and it was truly my pleasure. In my marriage, I was isolated and I didn’t feel like I could ask anyone for help. I’ve had the opposite experience in my divorce. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to live among a loving community, I’ll never go back.