In today’s culture, divorce is not uncommon. Divorce rates among Soldiers and their Families remain steady at 3% according to a recent Pentagon study.
For one Fort Jackson Army veteran, writing a book to help children experiencing the breakup of a Family strengthened her bond to her own children while providing healing and a sense of strength for herself.
“Kids are silent victims in divorces,” said Desiree Tomlinson, author of “Grace and Mia Go To Counseling.” “When a parent decides he or she is calling it quits, the kids don’t get a say and they become the silent victims of divorce.”
This was the case when Tomlinson decided it was time to leave her 12-year relationship and separated from her husband in 2013. She knew her daughters Kennedi and Kinsley didn’t have an option to voice their opinion about the breakup of the relationship between their parents. The process of divorce was long and at times painful for Tomlinson and her daughters.
“I was in a really dark place back then,” Tomlinson said. “I was scared and didn’t know if I could do it but one day Kinsley was on the computer staring at the screen and said, ‘You can do it mommy, I don’t know how but you can do it.’”
While continuing the divorce process, Tomlinson began seeking counseling through the Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center to help her deal with the emotions and frustrations of starting over as a single mother.
It was during this time she wrote a book titled “Still A Family” to explain the trials of her divorce and how she and her daughters were coping through that time of transition.
She said she wrote the book to give an inside view of how a divorce with children worked and how to help children coping with divorce remain positive about the experience and help them understand and heal during the process. She gave the book a “happy ending” to keep readers who may be going through their own divorce positive about the process.
“My daughter said, “That didn’t happen,” she explained about the book’s ending. “I gave the book the happy ending I didn’t have.”
After publishing her first book, Tomlinson knew she wanted to write a companion book for children that included activity pages to help children talk about their feelings while coping with the divorce process. The short, easily digested book also encourages children and parents to attend professional counseling. Tomlinson hopes sharing her and her daughter’s story will help end the stigmas that can prevent some from seeking counseling.
“I wrote this book to open a dialog,” she said. “Some people think that going to counseling means you’re crazy, I say not going is what will make you crazy. Having all this stuff in your mind and not knowing how to navigate and move forward … a counselor will listen and give you the best advice.”
Tomlinson and her ex-husband agreed mutually to take the children to counseling after the girls explained how much they missed seeing their father and friends before moving. Through counseling, Tomlinson believes her daughters are better equipped to cope with the divorce process and have a better understand of what divorce is and that they are not the causes of their parent’s divorce.
While the characters in the book are named Grace and Mia, the story behind the characters belongs to Kennedi and Kinsley. Both of the girls had a helping hand in the creation of the book and chose the names of the characters. Grace and Mia help dispel the fears of counseling in the book and describe their session with Mr. Martinez, their counselor, as fun.
The girls were able to play games during their sessions while being able to express their feelings and frustrations. Mr. Martinez provided advice to the girls that included video chatting with their father outside of regularly scheduled visitations when they miss him most, writing him letters and sending him some of their school artwork.
“I will tell anyone, if you have things that you can not workout … go to counseling,” Tomlinson said. “A counselor is nonjudgmental and is not going to share (your information) with anyone and in turn for downloading all this information (to them), they are going to give you some really sound advice. It’s a win-win.”
Now that the second book is complete and available to purchase, Tomlinson has plans to continue writing the Grace and Mia series that will cover additional topics the girls face such as adjusting to life after the divorce is finalized and bullying.
Though Tomlinson has achieved her previous goals of attaining two master’s degrees and becoming a professor at Midlands Technical College since returning to South Carolina, her next goal is to complete three books, to include a cookbook containing her favorite home cooked meals, throughout 2020.
“I just want to be the best role model to my girls,” she said.
Tomlinson said hearing those words from her daughter brought her the strength to pack her and her children’s household goods and head to Columbia, South Carolina where her two sisters waited to provide support she needed at the start of her separation.
“Now they (her daughters) know that if someone doesn’t treat you right, you don’t have to stay with them. You can still do good on your own,” Tomlinson said. “I have a crazy life but I love it. I love how I have made a comeback.”
Tomlinson is no stranger to the Columbia area. She completed Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training as a human resources specialist at Fort Jackson in 1989. She would later return during her military career to train and serve as a drill sergeant before retiring after more than 20 years of service in 2009.