PeggySue Wells never expected to go through a divorce, but she shares the secrets of how she rebuilt her life and found peace through the process.
PeggySue Wells: The Secrets of Rebuilding Life After Divorce
PeggySue Wells is a mother of seven, has worked five years as a radio show host, is a history buff, and a tropical island votary. She parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken pilot training. She writes from the Hundred Acre Wood in Indiana and is the best selling author of 29 books including, “The Slave Across the Street,” “Slavery in the Land of the Free,” “Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries,” “Homeless for the Holidays,” and “Chasing Sunrise.”
PeggySue remembers the toll that her mother’s two divorces took on her when she was young. Her grandmother, aunt, and uncle were also divorced. Almost everyone on her mother’s side of the family had experienced a divorce.
PeggySue was determined not to repeat the pattern. She was going to work so that she could live happily ever after. The problem was, it didn’t work. When her youngest daughter was not quite two years old, the family sat down and PeggySue told her husband that this wasn’t a good environment for her or their children. She didn’t want her children to think that this was how men should treat women. She told him that either he had to stop being abusive or he needed to move out. He chose to leave.
PeggySue was heartbroken because this was the one thing she was going to do right in her life. She didn’t have a plan B. For PeggySue, the hardest part was feeling so betrayed by someone that she had given her whole heart to. She felt that she must not be valuable enough, because if she was he would have stayed and made the effort to make it work.
PeggySue remembers that one of her daughters asked him once why he didn’t try to date their mom again and win the marriage back. He told her that it was too hard. But after many times in court and mediation, PeggySue is sure that working it out would have been easier.
After her husband left, PeggySue went into crisis management mode. Her kids were embarrassed and didn’t want to tell anyone. They didn’t want to be considered a “broken home.” PeggySue was sure he would come back within six months so she was ok with that.
Looking back now, she wishes she had told someone, because they needed help. But there was also a stigma associated with divorce twenty years ago. If you couldn’t keep your marriage together you were a bad wife, a bad mom, and you didn’t have enough faith. You weren’t a good Christian.
When the news of their divorce finally broke, PeggySue says that there were people who dropped their friendship with her family immediately. She had to realize that those actions said a lot more about her “friends” than they said about PeggySue and her family.
While things are different now and people are generally more accepting of divorce, PeggySue says that those who consider themselves churchgoers still face a stigma around divorce. We are holding on so tight to the ideal that we allow things to happen that shouldn’t be allowed to happen until it escalates to a point where the situation is very toxic.
How to Help a Friend Going Through Divorce
PeggySue says that the best thing you can do if your friend is going through a divorce is to stay by them, no matter what. PeggySue has some friends who have stuck with her through everything. She has called them to cry, to tell them how she can’t believe what is happening to her, and they have empathized and discussed everything with her with no judgment.
Even if they are making a choice you don’t agree with, that doesn’t mean you reject them.
Marriage is a Contract
PeggySue says a difficult part of going through her divorce was that her church, and many like it, viewed divorce as an unforgivable sin. So PeggySue turned to her scriptures often, searching for answers from God.
Through studying the Bible, she learned that marriage is a contract. When divorce happens, it’s because there has been a breach of that contract. God cannot sin, but in Jeremiah, it says that He divorced his wife (the church) because the bride had broken her covenant to the point that it couldn’t be patched up.
Sometimes in marriages, just like in businesses or other areas of life, people break their contracts. Some can be rewritten, and some can’t. PeggySue believes that viewpoint can get people to a place of understanding.
The Road to Rebuilding
PeggySue had the opportunity to meet with a few different counselors through her church. She says that counseling was very important for her healing. It isn’t scary, and it isn’t a quick fix, but it made a huge difference for her.
Who You Can Really Change with Counseling
She would read her scriptures and be so frustrated because she felt she was doing what the scriptures say but nothing was working the way it was supposed to. She would go in and tell her counselor about her job and her kids and her ex-husband. Finally, after about six months of this, her counselor looked at her and said, “We can continue these conversations. Or we can do some hard work and fix this.” She meant PeggySue needed to change. She was the common denominator.
PeggySue explained that the most important change from counseling was the change that happened inside of her. She went from being a very bitter, victim-oriented person to feeling the weight and bitterness leave. In fact, her daughter even personally thanked her counselor for giving them back their mom.
Using the Scriptures and Jesus in Real Life
PeggySue explained that a counselor isn’t your friend, but they are there to do the deep, hard work with you. She came out feeling lighter and understood and loved. Eventually, her counselor told her that she had to stop comparing her life to the scriptures. She said that God did set up families to run a certain way, the way we talk about at church. But there are two things that all people experience in life. We all experience pain, and we all need a Savior. PeggySue realized that her mess didn’t fit with the scriptures ideal, but Jesus Christ can come in and clean up all of our messes and still make them fit into His plan.
Counseling really helped PeggySue dig down to the lies she believed about herself, God and life. She was able to replace them with truth.
Now PeggySue is able to face challenges and simply say, “How do I move forward from this?” Counseling is a safe place to let out all the ugliness that you have experienced and be heard.
PeggySue says that her counselors, mentors and friends have all been angels along her path. But if we don’t have eyes to see that, we will miss it. That’s why it’s so important to have a guide to bring you out of your wallowing, and bitterness and help you find the world beyond your pain. Life can be celebrated.
Lessons For Families
Lesson #1: God is Still at Work, Even in This
In your most difficult moments, you have to remind yourself that God is still at work, even in this. That’s the number one lesson that PeggySue learned. The times when you don’t see what’s happening, that’s when He is doing the most work. God is always in control.
PeggySue was sure her marriage falling apart had come as a surprise to God. She was sure He hadn’t been paying attention. She had to work on really understanding who God is and realize that He is worthy of our trust. That was one of the lies that PeggySue had to let go of.
Often we think that God is withholding something from us, but He isn’t. When our thinking doesn’t line up with what God says, it’s usually because there’s a lie somewhere that we have buried that we need to dig up and replace with the truth.
Lesson #2: The Five R’s
PeggySue recalls that one Saturday her daughter was home and just very grumpy. PeggySue made a few jokes, made her favorite tea, made her favorite pancakes, tried everything she could think of to cheer up her daughter. Her daughter pushed the pancake around her plate, ignored the tea, didn’t laugh at the jokes. So PeggySue started thinking, “Well I must suck as a mom. She would rather be anywhere else than here with me.” So then she felt rejected. That rejection started to make her resentful. She started thinking, “Well if she’s going to give me the silent treatment, I’m going to give her the silent treatment.” She went into resistance mode. She wasn’t going to interact at all. Then she started thinking, “Well you need to know how this feels. You hurt me because of the way you’re treating me.” So she started asking, “When are you going to clean your bathroom? Have you done your homework?” That’s revenge. Does this interaction sound familiar? PeggySue explained these types of situations are common in families or long-term relationships.
We sink into the cycle of the five R’s:
We may feel hesitant to visit family during the holidays because of the five R’s. We don’t want to deal with the emotional abuse that seemingly always takes place during what is supposed to be a joyful time.
But PeggySue has good news. The cycle is breakable.
That day with her daughter, instead of asking her about her homework or cleaning or bathroom, she told her daughter how she was feeling. Her daughter looked up and told PeggySue that the little boy she babysat for had leukemia.
Stick to the Facts
It’s important to remember that more often than not, people are not acting the way they are in a reaction to you. They have their own lives and they’re doing the best they can with where they are. The key to ending the parade of the five R’s is never letting it start. You need to take a step back and look at the facts.
On that Saturday, the facts were that PeggySue had a grumpy daughter. If we leave that fact alone, there’s not a problem. She could ask if there was something she could do to fix it, but sticking to the facts prevents the conflict.
This applies in all kinds of relationships, not just at home. At work if someone else gets the promotion, you can make up a story about why you didn’t, and that becomes your reality. That’s where the problems start. Stopping rejection prevents the cycle from continuing.
Sometimes there are things that happen that were premeditated and are intended to hurt you. Those instances are like bombs. Sticking to the facts still applies though. The minute you attach stories and turn it into drama, that’s when the five R’s start.
How to Break the Cycle Where You Are
- Rejection: If you’re feeling rejection, nip it in the bud and stick to the facts.
- Resentment: If you’re already in resentment, you need to acknowledge it and notice what’s coming out of your mouth. If it’s drama coming out, you need to shift to gratitude. In the scenario of the promotion, maybe thinking, “I’m grateful I have this job,” will help. When we shift into gratitude, we shift out of resentment.
- Resistance: When we are in resistance, we give people the silent treatment. The trick is to try to engage with the other person to get out of resistance. With kids, get down on their level. Make eye contact. We need to build a bridge to find out how the other person is doing. Sometimes asking about how they are doing can be difficult. A good way to open this dialogue was suggested by Brené Brown, “The Story I am making up in my head about this is…” and then you tell them what you are thinking. Often this perception is wrong and the other person can clarify. Jordan Peterson said “It’s better to have an uncomfortable conversation and fix it than to go down the road and end up with a broken relationship.”
- Revenge: Revenge is the basis for a lot of TV and dramatic movies. Revenge centers around thoughts of, “Serves them right, they had it coming.” To get yourself out of revenge mode, you have to practice generosity. However, there are instances where practicing generosity with the person who is attacking you isn’t healthy. With PeggySue’s ex-husband, for example, it wasn’t a good idea for her to be extra generous. But you can still find people to be generous towards to help break the cycle. If you don’t practice generosity, you run into bitterness.
- Repeat: Not getting into the cycle is the remedy for the repeat phase of the cycle, but also not accepting the toxic environment ends the repetition.
Lesson #3: God is Teaching Me About Him
When something bad would happen, PeggySue used to panic and worry about how she was going to handle this additional big deal. But she has learned that God isn’t forcing bad things to happen to her. Everything that He allows into her life is an opportunity for her to learn something new about Him.
PeggySue will be the first to admit that she doesn’t know a lot about God. He’s unfathomable. There is so much to Him that we’ll never know everything there is to know. But there are things He needs us to know and can teach us something in every situation.
So PeggySue doesn’t panic anymore. She simply asks, “What are you teaching me in this?” And then she walks through the problem with God. Just a little while ago, a two-story tall tree outside of PeggySue’s home fell down and hit her bedroom window. But she found the hand of God there. Her window was a double pane window, and the tree only broke the outside pane. God was in control of even that fourth of an inch between the two panes.
PeggySue hasn’t fixed the outside pane yet because it is a reminder that it’s all fixable, and God is in the details. And in learning these things about God, PeggySue has learned a lot about herself too. She knows she isn’t perfect, but she is willing to hand her heart over to God so He can cleanse it.
Lesson #4: The Three C’s and an E
PeggySue has learned that she is a lot happier and the atmosphere of her home is better when she removes the three C’s and an E from her conversation.
Remove the 3 C’s
Remove the E
Without those four things, we are able to own up to our mistakes and life is a lot better.
Lesson #5: We are Still a Family
PeggySue had to remind her kids that families come in different size and dynamics, but they are still a family. That means behaving like one.
Bible Study and Prayer
PeggySue had Bible time with her kids every day. Even if they had been out late, she still read a psalm to them. For nightmares, they would pray together that the nightmares would go away. Bible time became very important to their family.
PeggySue taught them to memorize the books in the Bible and when they had them memorized, they got their own Bible. They would learn to read and mark verses. She gave each child a journal to write a verse that they liked each day. If there was a word they didn’t know, they would write it down and then look it up and learn about it. PeggySue still has lots of her kid’s journals. She knew that the most important thing she could do for them was to foster a relationship with the God that created them.
Consistency with Space to Come Apart
As a single parent, PeggySue knew she had to be consistent. With visitation with the other parent, the rules are different. Sometimes it’s difficult as a single parent because you worry that the other parent’s home is “more fun.” You may worry that the kids will want to go live there. But through those worries, PeggySue knew that her role as a mom would be crucial. Her kids could have lots of friends, but they’d only ever have one mom. When they were young, they didn’t need their mom to be their friend. They needed her to be consistent.
Now as adults, their relationship is more like friendship because they are adults too. But kids can sense the consistency of the home. They can tell where it’s healthier and safer.
PeggySue even had one of her children who wanted to go live with her ex-husband. They visited with a counselor about it. PeggySue went through all of her rules that she has at her home. The child said they wanted to go to their dad’s because they’d have more freedom there. The counselor then asked, “Does anyone help you with your homework there?” And the child admitted that no, that’s the fun part.
The counselor told the child that they should stay where they were. And the child agreed. So the consistency is key.
But there also had to be room to come apart and have fun sometimes. They had to watch a funny movie and play games and go to the beach or camp or take a hike. If you don’t come apart on your own terms, you’ll just come apart negatively.
So PeggySue had her family get away once a quarter. Doing so allowed them to clear their heads and see that there is a world far bigger than their problems. They would borrow friend’s cabins, they would go to every museum that held a free admission day, they had their times that they came apart from the mundane daily chores and pitfalls of life.
PeggySue created a family compass. It’s just a short list of things that Wells do, and things that Wells don’t do.
- Wells don’t hit each other.
- Wells don’t call each other mean names.
- Wells are always honest.
- Wells do what mom says the first time.
- Wells do chores.
Each child had a chore for the week, and if they didn’t perform their chore well, they had to keep it again the next week instead of handing the chore over to the next person. They had healthy family meals together. These family meals provided touch points to check in with each other.
PeggySue learned about her kid’s interests. It’s easy to think about what you can’t do as a single parent. But it’s important to focus on what you can do for your kids. When her kids came to her with different ideas, she would ask them, “How can we make that happen?” Her son wanted to learn to fly a plane, so she asked him to find out how to make that possible. They then found the Civil Air Patrol, a civilian branch of the Air Force where you can learn to fly.
Her daughter wanted to be a paramedic before graduating high school, so PeggySue printed out a list of all the things she needed to do. All of these things instilled her children with moral values and provided consistency. They learned that the world is big, but we can always look for a solutions.
PeggySue’s Favorite Bible Verses
“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
She could really relate to that verse. There she was, a mother with seven young, gently guiding them. She loved the idea of a shepherd doing that for her because she needed a shepherd.
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.”
PeggySue loves that this passage talks about how God’s love is so deep and so tall and so huge and so wide that it’s hard for us to comprehend. For everyone, but especially for those who have been hurt or betrayed, we need to be able to rely on that love.
Other Scripture Recommendations
PeggySue would also recommend going through John and reading all the “I am’s” to find the one you need the most right now.
Find a scripture and make it yours. PeggySue says scriptures have layers and when you start digging into them, you start connecting and finding all kinds of things.
PeggySue has a website, PeggySueWells.com with lots of great resources for your family.
- For example, you will find free downloads for family devotionals. They have age ranges from young kids all the way through high school.
- She has a list of questions for healthy conversations on her website. PeggySue tells her kids to always have a question ready because you never know when one of your heroes might show up.
- She also has a list of characteristics of healthy families.
If you are in the process of being unmarried, as her friend calls it, she wrote a book for you. It’s called “Rediscovering Your Happily Ever After: Moving From Hopeless to Hopeful for the Newly Divorced Mother.”
But if you’re done with the heavy, check out one of her novellas, like “Homeless for the Holidays.” All of her books are available on Amazon.