Our Stories

MAKING A WAY OUT OF NOTHING

Danielle
Danielle Sanders

Danielle Sanders, successful blogger and single mom of three doesn’t need your approval or your pity, and she welcomes you into the sister circle of strong, compassionate and resilient women with open arms. Danielle created The Sum of Many Things, a Lifestyle and Personal Development blog for Women of Color, as a platform to talk about important issues like feminism, wellness, single motherhood, and parenting. Women are encouraged to tell their stories to help others. “Powerful things happen when women link up,” Danielle says, reflecting on her mission of uplifting and bringing women together. Danielle is an inspiration, a self-made woman who overcame tremendous odds to escape domestic violence, raise her children on her own, create a supportive platform for women and challenge tired stereotypes about both domestic violence survivors and single mothers.

Danielle was married for twelve years and had three children with her ex-husband. The relationship was volatile and abusive, escalating unpredictably after her father-in-law re-appeared in their lives. He was very ill and his sickness shook up Danielle’s ex-husband. “Once his father passed away he went on a downward spiral and started drinking. Once that happened, his anger increased.”

Danielle had dated her ex-husband for seven years and they lived together for six prior to getting married. The first year was blissful, with him actively engaged and loving. When she discovered she was pregnant with their first child he was delighted. “He went to every doctor’s appointment,” Danielle recalls. He was a successful banker and together they were the perfect, happy, young couple. It was only after his father’s death that he became violent, dispelling the hurtful and false myth that domestic abuse survivors willingly engaging with monsters. Danielle’s relationship was non-abusive for nearly a decade before her husband changed. By that time, she was married and pregnant.

Behind closed doors, the abuse started as verbal and soon escalated to become physical. When Danielle was nine months pregnant he threw a decoration at her, burning the entire side of her face with molten candle wax. It sealed her eyes shut and she went into labor two days later with the side of her face still burnt from the attack “It got worse from there,” Danielle says. “He was very much Jekyll and Hyde.” By that time her ex-husband had left his corporate job to work for their church. On the outside, she struggled to maintain the facade of the young church couple with the cute babies. “I can’t tell you what kind of performances I put on,” she says, “He was into the image and how things looked.”

On top of the escalating abuse, Danielle also felt shame. “My dad has never disrespected my mother. I felt very ashamed. I felt like my family would think ‘you know better’, so I hid it until four years after I actually left him”. The stigma of being a domestic abuse survivor is a cruel addendum to the abuse itself, with many women being chastised as being weak or stupid because of their situation.

“I followed the rules, I dated the man for seven years. I had my children after we got married. I did everything we were supposed to do and it still turned out negative. It bothers me when people think I should have had some crystal ball,” Danielle says.

She discovered that he had an affair while she was pregnant with her third child and seized the opportunity to make her escape. She kicked him out and never looked back. It was only years later when he made threats against her life that she told the judge she’d been abused before. “I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that I was a victim,” she says.

danielle
Danielle and her kids

Danielle left when her children were one, three and five. She only had the clothes on her back and her children’s clothes. “I literally lost everything. I didn’t have a bank account, I literally had to start over with three very young children,” Danielle says. It’s been eight years since she left her ex-husband and she’s just now starting to feel somewhat stable again. “It was a very tumultuous and trying time in my life,” she says.

Danielle was operating in survival mode and recalls that even though it was extremely difficult to tell friends and family what she was going through, she was overwhelmed with support. “My family is my rock,” she says. She struggled with shame and regret. “I carried that shame for years,” she says.

Danielle began to rebuild her life one piece at a time. “It’s very difficult to make that decision to raise your children alone,” she says. Her family gave her a place to stay. She found a job right away and childcare services for her children with an old college friend who had opened a daycare.

Her parents helped her buy a car and she opened up a banking account. “It was very small baby steps for those 6 months,” Danielle says. Every new achievement would reinforce that she was doing the right thing and that she would be OK.

During this period of transition, Danielle would struggle with fear and doubts, often crying herself to sleep and feeling guilty for letting the abuse go on as long as it bad. During this period of tremendous change, she also learned to take well-deserved pride in her family and her achievements. “They have a support system,” she says.

Danielle found the pastor of her old church to be extremely supportive. He heard her ex-husband talk to her on the phone and was uniquely aware of how bad the situation had become. Her pastor told her that he was happy she’d finally decided to put herself first and give her gift cards to Toys R Us to buy the children Christmas gifts. “He was awesome,” Danielle recalls.

“It was the people in the church who were funny acting.  They’d pull me aside and say ‘God wants you to cure your marriage and you just need to pray.”

Danielle left the church. “I still deal with these stereotypes,” she says. “People are wolves in sheep’s clothing.” It infuriates her when she sees memes or social media posts that portray domestic violence survivors as dumb or imply that they ‘got what they deserved’.

“Every single mom I know wants to be the best that she can. It is you 24/7. It is you who is trying to find daycare and you coming home after 12-hour days and helping with homework– all this with a smile on your face,” Danielle says. “My kids are not less than and I am not less than simply because my marriage ended.”

Whether or not you’re a single mom says absolutely nothing about your moral character but people still make horrible and incorrect assumptions. “If someone’s kid commits a crime, oh I bet she’s a single mother,” Danielle says, “Why are we getting the beat down?”

It’s unfair and sexist that society puts the full blame for the dissolution of a marriage on women. “I don’t like the stereotype given to single mothers and I also don’t like the competition between mothers,” Danielle says. “I’ve been them all! There is no difference, we just juggle differently. Every mother I know, we are the heart of our home. Why do we use these titles to divide us?” Danielle calls the women in her sister circle her “sheroes” and calls for women to unite and lift each other up, rather than tear each other down.

Danielle
Fierce Mama

Despite everything that has happened to her, Danielle does not speak ill of her children’ father. “I’ve had no need to bash their father. I let them know that it wasn’t all bad. There were moments where we had a ball. He’s a human being that’s flawed, just like me. He’s not a monster.”

She lives to break the stereotype of single moms and domestic violence survivors and believes the best way to do so is to hear more stories.

“We only hear this narrative that’s been circulating forever about welfare moms,” Danielle says. “Don’t tell me I’m getting child support and living high off the hog. The child support I get barely pays for one kid to go to school. That narrative needs to be expelled.”

Telling individual stories of single moms helps defeat these terrible stereotypes. “I am sure there is more positive than negative and our stories are so varied. You can’t just lump us into one narrative. I feel like that with single motherhood. It’s not just one experience. These stories are important to tell,” Danielle says. “We need more media and blogs that gather women together to share these experiences and give us platforms where we can say ‘we’re the American family too’!”

Danielle also wants women to be able to publicly  experience all aspects of their struggle and be able to be angry, in pain and hurting. “People don’t let women, particularly women of color go through that. They want you to skip to forgiveness. It’s a process,” she says. Anger and sadness are necessary to get to forgiveness.

“Was I angry at the time? Absolutely. Did I have a right to be? Absolutely,” she says. “Stop microwaving the healing process. It takes a lot for single mothers to even make the time to deal with stuff. I heal after 11 pm!”

In addition to her website, The Sum of Many Things, she runs a website that celebrates Chicago house music, which has been a passion of hers since she was a child, but The Sum of Many Things is her true passion.

It’s a platform for women to prop each other up, tell their stories and get important advice. “Nobody wants to be out here struggling. We’re not people with no goals and no ambition. That’s just crazy to me. My experience has been the women I know, who are just like me are phenomenal, incredibly strong and queens of multi-tasking. Even if you didn’t know how you gotta figure it out,” Danielle says. “If you are going through any transition, tell your story because there might be another woman who needs to hear it. My passion is women and making sure we’re ok.”

Danielle will keep expanding her platform and tearing down myths about domestic violence survivors and single moms through bringing women together.  “Let’s stop beating these women down,” she says. We need to show more women how to make a way out of no way. As for herself, Danielle enjoys a rich and fulfilling family life. “I don’t need someone to make my family whole. It’s whole right now and whoever comes into it better be whole too.”

Danielle, you are a #MomWhoRocks!

Elizabeth Lavis
Elizabeth regularly writes and blogs on issues of political and social importance with clients world wide. Check her out at www.elizabethlavis.com.

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