A Sisterhood of Singles
Local group supports women throughout the divorce process, By Cheryl Silver
Eileen Kaden Dean knew her marriage was in trouble long before she filed for divorce.
She and her husband starting dating during rehearsals for a theater production in 1998. Both were working actors, but, once they married, Kaden Dean exchanged her theater career for a more “traditional” life as a stay-at-home mom in South Orange. Her husband was on the road, working six nights each week. “We were literally ships that passed in the night,” she says. When her kids were 13 and 8, she discovered her husband had been cheating for years.
She told him he needed to leave, and the divorce was finalized seven months later.
In anticipation of the looming break-up of her marriage, Kaden Dean had already landed a job teaching theater and music to underserved inner-city middle-school students in Newark.
But fear of the future was almost all-consuming. Financial worries combined with heartbreak made for a rough transition into single motherhood.
“You need to separate your heartbreak over losing your partner and best friend from the very real and practical financial decisions you have to make,” Kaden Dean says. In addition to her teaching job, she expanded her personal business, working as, of all things, a wedding planner.
Kaden Dean spent her first two post-divorce years putting her full focus on making sure her kids were okay. “No dating. No big changes. No me time.”
“I would get up, take care of them, cry on the way to work and between my classes and again on the way home, and then come home and take care of them.”
She was making ends meet, but the challenges, she says, didn’t end.
“How do I get a Christmas tree into my house and in the stand all by myself?’
She attended a few support groups for divorcees, but she felt as though everyone had so much anger. “I didn’t feel angry so much as heartbroken,” she says. “And really shaken.”
Then, while looking at a possible new house to buy, Kaden Dean met Jill Sockwell.
Sockwell is a senior sales associate on the Robert Northfield Team at Keller Williams Midtown Direct Realty, a single mother, and the co-founder of the Maplewood Divorce Club.
She knows firsthand how difficult it is to move forward when it feels like your life has been turned upside down. Sockwell met Suzanne Riss in 2010 when they each separated from their husbands and were going through divorces.
“We became friends and wound up going through this time together – taking our ‘walk and talks’ around Maplewood, sharing the ups and downs, and helping each other keep an optimistic outlook,” Sockwell says.
They wanted to offer that kind of support to other women, so they founded the Maplewood Divorce Club about five years ago.
“We were surprised that more than 50 women showed up at our first meeting at Coda (Kitchen and Bar),” Riss says. “The group now has hundreds of members and it keeps growing every day.”
The Maplewood Divorce Club welcomes women from Maplewood, South Orange, and neighboring communities in Essex County. According to New Jersey Court data, the county recorded more than 2,000 divorces in 2017, the second highest number in the state behind Bergen County.
After hearing so many stories from women in the group, and meeting so many women who were feeling lost and alone, Sockwell and Riss decided to write a book. The Optimist’s Guide to Divorce: How to Get Through Your Breakup and Create a New Life You Love offers advice from hundreds of women about what helps get you past loss and what keeps you stuck.
Lori Lengua was given the book in the spring of 2017 by a woman she met when she was walking her dog in her Maplewood neighborhood. Her 14-month-long marriage was failing, and she says the book is helping her understand she is not alone in all the challenges she faces.
Lengua had been feeling isolated living as a single woman in the ’burbs, and she was grateful to learn of the in-person support group, which provides much more than just referrals for lawyers or good health insurance.
“The group has helped me gain more friendships and open my network of friends,” Lengua says. “It just was so great to see the strong women, how we all keep it going in our lives even in hard times.”
Riss says the group has helped hundreds of women transform their lives, “making it possible for them to not only get through one of the most emotionally challenging times they’ve ever faced but also to support other women in the process.”
Maplewood resident Cori Lynn Campbell is currently navigating the negotiating phase of her divorce with her husband of almost 13 years. She credits the Maplewood Divorce Club with introducing her to Kaden Dean, who helped her find a job.
“I was afraid I’d have to move with the kids to the Midwest where my family is and where I could stretch alimony a lot farther than I can here,” Campbell told the support group.
And that’s when Kaden Dean told her about a middle-school performing-arts teacher opening at her school in Newark.
“Two weeks later I had the job. Benefits, pension. And furthering the cause of social justice, which is something that’s very important to me,” Campbell says. “It was a crazy two weeks. I didn’t even have a resume. But Eileen walked me through everything....[She] empathized with my situation and genuinely wanted to help.”
Sockwell says the group is still going strong, with four new members joining almost every week. She and Riss have plans to start offshoot groups for women at varying stages of the divorce process. And she says they’re currently developing a TV show around the novel idea of the Maplewood Divorce Club with hopes of reaching a larger audience.
“Learn all you can and reach out to others who have been through divorce for support,” Sockwell says. “You don’t have to go it alone, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Cheryl Silver is a theater enthusiast and runner who previously worked as a journalist in central Illinois before moving with her husband and three children to South Orange in 2016.