The Crisis is temporary. As the adage goes, “This too shall pass.” The only thing that is constant in life is change. Nothing lasts forever. While many businesses have shut down and life in general has been drastically altered on a global scale, eventually things will reopen and life will resume albeit with modifications.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Akopyan.
Maria Akopyan is a family law attorney and divorce coach from Los Angeles, California. She is the founder of Dignified Divorce Coaching, a coaching business that helps women navigate through the process of divorce without spending unnecessary time and money on legal fees by teaching them how to divorce with clarity, confidence and control. Her experience working with divorcing clients in the legal realm coupled with her background in marriage and family therapy inspired her to empower women to turn the pain of their divorce into their greatest awakening.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Thank you for having me. I decided to pursue a career in law from a young age for the purpose of making a difference in society. Coming from a family who emigrated from Armenia and struggled to create a new life in the United States, I felt strongly about advocating for justice, fairness and equality. Becoming law bound, I proceeded to graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles and attend law school.
My time at law school was also when I had my biggest personal transformation. I was heavily immersed in the self-help personal development realm and actively working with several healing techniques. Through this personal growth and spiritual journey, I decided to honor my long-held desire of helping people heal from their traumas as well. Therefore, after graduating law school, I became a certified life coach in 2015 and went back to school to pursue a degree in marriage and family therapy.
Today, the knowledge and experience I gained from my personal journey, studying marriage and family therapy as well as from helping private coaching clients heal from their hardships serve me well as a family law attorney and divorce coach. I chose to practice family law because my empathetic and compassionate nature, coupled with my legal knowledge and therapeutic background, allows me to be a comforting confidant for my clients.
I started Dignified Divorce Coaching because I wanted to fill a void that I noticed in the practice of law. Divorce is a complicated process, not only legally but also financially and especially emotionally. Often times, clients need emotional support due to the emotionally triggering nature of their divorce and look to me to act as their therapist. However, my job as their attorney is to represent their legal issues and guide them as best as possible to the extent they are legally entitled. Through Dignified Divorce Coaching, I help women on many levels. Not only do I clarify the legal process and help them make empowered decisions on all family issues, I also coach them on becoming aligned with their core values, as well as developing healthy practices to heal during and after divorce. My mission is to help people navigate divorce and thrive with clarity, confidence and control without wasting time, money and heartache in the process.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Divorce coaching for me actually came to fruition as a result of the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, I worked primarily as a family law attorney at a firm in Rancho Cucamonga, California. We handled all matters related to divorce, child custody and visitation, as well as parentage and guardianships cases.
On January 27, 2020, I became a new mom when I gave birth to my son, Andrew. I was three months into my maternity leave when the Stay-at-Home Orders went into effect in California. Luckily during that time, my son was two months old and I was already at home anyway so the issues related to Covid didn’t affect me much at the time.
However, due to the pandemic, the law firm had to lay off several attorneys and staff because of financial hardships. I was scheduled to return to work, remotely, on April 21, 2020. For over one month after my maternity leave ended, I managed to work from home for the firm, while also raising my infant son. My husband and I did not want to send our then four month-old to a daycare center, or look for outside childcare, especially during the crisis. We did not know what precautions, if any, others took and certainly preferred to stay safe. Additionally, Andrew constantly needed me to hold him in order to feel secure which made working from home nearly impossible. I could not put him down at any point without him crying. We told family members to not come over due to the Stay-at-Home Orders and for our son’s protection. Overall, I was struggling to manage the demands of childcare and work coupled with balancing personal and familial needs. My husband is also an attorney and works at his office each day so I did not have any help during the days when the Stay-at-Home Orders went into effect.
On June 1, 2020, my firm sought to reopen and expected all attorneys to return to the office full-time. Given the fact that I did not have childcare and daycare centers mostly remained closed, I requested to continue to work from home on certain days to care for my infant son. Unfortunately the firm could not accommodate my request. Instead of being devastated by this dilemma, I viewed this as the shining opportunity I had been optimistically waiting for — the chance to focus on and grow my own divorce coaching practice.
Before having a child, I dreamt that I would one day be able to have a business that allowed me the freedom to also be home with the children so that I can raise them myself. I know too many people who put their careers before their families and miss out on the chance to spend quality time with their children. I, on the other hand, wanted to carve out a path which allowed me to work from home while also being with my children at all times.
When the firm couldn’t accommodate my request to continue working from home, I decided to go all in on my divorce coaching practice with the support of my husband. Since then, I have been working as an entrepreneur, helping women navigate the divorce process and thrive without wasting time, money and heartache, by gaining clarity, confidence and control. Although we are dealing with an unprecedented time that presents many uncertain challenges, the chance to serve divorcing clients while also staying at home with my son has been a blessing.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, I’m excited about the online course I am currently in the process of putting together called Conscious Dissolution. The purpose of the course is to teach not only how to navigate the legal issues related to divorce in a peaceful manner, but to also bounce back from the heartache to build a more fulfilling life. This is a comprehensive course with eight (8) modules with a private mentorship component that provides coaching, feedback and authentic support to help clients navigate the divorce process from start to finish, shift their mindset and emotions, as well as gain tools for moving on post-divorce.
The course is for people who are either contemplating divorce and want to understand what to expect or at the start of the process who want help navigating the muddy waters of divorce, while saving time and money in the process. For people who want to either divorce without legal representation or to minimize the costs of having an attorney, this online course will guide them on how to get through it with clarity, confidence and control. I am confident that this online course and coaching program will allow people to get through divorce with ease while also having the tools to use their divorce as the catalyst for their greatest growth. Divorce is a painful experience, but the Conscious Dissolution course will be an amazing resource for divorcing and healing with grace.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many family members and friends that have helped me achieve success. I’m especially grateful for my husband and my mother. My husband has always been supportive of my dreams and passions. Back when we were dating, I had told him about my desire to become a life coach and help people create amazing lives despite their hardships. His response to me was, “What are you waiting for?” It was because of his encouragement that I found the courage to pursue coaching and showing up in the world as my authentic self. Through his continued love and support, I live more purposefully and passionately through my coaching practice, the way in which I feel I was always meant to.
Similarly, I am also particularly grateful for my mother. Raising a child takes a village. Despite all of her own responsibilities and day-to-day challenges, she manages to help me as often as possible with childcare so that I can focus on my business. There was a time when my son would not nap unless I was the one who put him to sleep. My son did not sleep much but when he did, he only slept in my arms, not in a bassinet or crib. This meant that when he finally slept, I would have to sit on the couch and not move until he woke up. When I started working again after maternity leave ended, my mother was the only person that my husband and I allowed to visit due to the pandemic. Eventually my mother took over the responsibility of putting my son to sleep. Often she would be the one sitting on the couch with her grandson in arms so that he could comfortably sleep while I worked. Without her help, I would not have been able to make the transition and simultaneously manage the responsibilities of being a mother and business owner.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
This pandemic has been difficult in many different ways. The hardest family related challenge I face is navigating and balancing all of my new roles while staying at home due to the pandemic. As a new mother, I’m learning about and handling parenthood for the first time. My son is a very sweet, active, and alert baby who needs constant attention. Tending to his needs alone takes up much of my time, energy and focus. People warned about the sleepless nights after having a baby, but I was not prepared to experience little sleep while also running a business. New mothers are told to nap when the baby naps. I, on the other hand, tend to business related matters, schedule private sessions and spend time with my husband instead. Often finding time for self-care and self-nurturance poses as a challenge.
Additionally, it has been difficult staying indoors for extended periods of time. My husband and I are unable to go anywhere to unwind or have a change of scene due to the pandemic. It helps to be able to go out as a family and enjoy different activities. Unfortunately those luxuries have been on hold for now.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I have mainly been working on maintaining a positive mindset and cultivating patience. I understand everything is temporary — the pandemic will end, childcare will change, and managing day-to-day activities may become easier. As part of my self-care routine, I make sure to dedicate a few minutes each day to listen to a guided meditation, practice mindfulness exercises as well as listen to something inspiring to make sure that I maintain a positive mindset.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
Due to having to balance familial needs while also growing my divorce coaching business, I have not been able to reach my business goals as quickly as I originally planned. As mentioned above, raising an infant poses significant responsibilities in it of itself. Without a predictable and dependable daily childcare routine, it is difficult to anticipate how the day will unfold in advance. It often requires being flexible and adjusting to on-going changes. This can make scheduling problematic as well as interfere with focusing on creative projects.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The way I address these business related challeneges in the following way: being more realistic about my business goals and expectations, being patient and accepting of the current circumstances as well as finding ways to better manage my time.
New businesses require a significant amount of time, planning, action and dedication in order to be successful. At the same time, life and all other responsibilities continue — we are unable to stop everything in order to only focus on building and growing our businesses. As a result, I have chosen to be realistic about what I can and cannot do as a solo practitioner at the moment. My main business related priority is to dedicate time and energy to my private clients. I schedule private virtual sessions in between my son’s nap and nursing schedules. I also work on content for my projects and social media accounts directly on my phone since it is difficult to work comfortably on my computer for an extended period of time. Adjusting my timetable, expectations and the manner in which I create content has helped to address the business related challenges I face from balancing work, life and family needs as a woman in business during the pandemic.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
The advice I can give is based on real life experiences from other working parents who are currently trying to balance working from home with family needs and homeschooling their children. The advice is as follows:
- Have realistic expectations or manage your expectations. It’s hard to homeschool and work from home. Things will not go perfectly and it is unrealistic to expect them to do so. We are experiencing unprecedented times and have had to make many adjustments to the way we work. It helps to remember that there are other people going through this as well. If, for example, your child is yelling, “Mom!” while you are on a conference call, it’s okay. People are very understanding of what is going on right now.
- Be organized. Taking time to prepare for the next day is key. Things will go much more smoothly if you plan ahead. You will have less stress because you know what you need to do and can manage your time better.
- Keep your kids on a schedule. Try to figure out how your schedule fits within your children’s schedule or vice versa. If you know your kids can give you some uninterrupted time when they’re on a break watching tv, use that time to schedule a call or get work done. While you do still have to be flexible as the day unfolds, working with each other’s schedules gives you structure and a plan.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Perhaps you can ask a trusted person to come over and watch the kids for a few hours while you get some work done. It is unrealistic to think we can do everything all by ourselves.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
I believe the best ways to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place is to practice deep relaxation, meditation, and exercise. There are many great videos online and on Youtube that help guide you through a process of deep relaxation and meditation. Even if all you have is 10 minutes each day to yourself, these audios are great for slowing down, tapping in and promoting a sense of serenity. Movement is also a great way to boost your mood and feel stronger. Whether it is going for a walk outside or doing yoga stretches at home, our bodies need movement. There are countless health benefits from exercising and now is a great time to either start an exercise routine or continue to regularly include some form movement as part of your daily practice.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Setbacks prompt breakthroughs. This Crisis called for a complete shut-down and sudden disruption to our daily lives. However, this unexpected change in the way we live our lives may actually be what we needed to bring forth a new and better way of doing things. The Crisis can actually be a calling or an opportunity for some to make drastic changes in the way they live and work. It caused many to lose their jobs, businesses and investments. However, many are getting creative and innovative in how they earn money, or, as in my case, transforming their careers altogether. For example, while many businesses are shutting down or laying off employees, more people are starting their own businesses amid this pandemic in order to address the needs of society and the market at this time. I believe that some of our biggest transformations come after major setbacks.
- The Crisis is temporary. As the adage goes, “This too shall pass.” The only thing that is constant in life is change. Nothing lasts forever. While many businesses have shut down and life in general has been drastically altered on a global scale, eventually things will reopen and life will resume albeit with modifications.
- This is a time to come together as one. Globally, we are all dealing with the Crisis. While some take the Crisis seriously and others are indifferent about it, in some way we are all impacted by the pandemic. Everyone plays a role at this time. The Crisis exposed our interconnectedness. Similarly, more people are experiencing and showing compassion for one another; for those most at risk, those who lost loved ones, and those who are struggling financially by its impact. It’s great to see people working together and creating methods to not only connect but to also help those in need. There is a spotlight now on unity, collaboration, harmony and collective resilience on a global level.
- This is an opportunity to slow down. In general, people in countries such as the United States tend to be overworked and over-stressed.There is pressure to do more, to go faster and hustle at all costs. These lead to health related illnesses and a decrease in quality of life. Although the pandemic has triggered many other causes of fear and worry, this is a time to shift the focus to wellness, towards introspection and accepting a slower pace than we had previously. It is a call to be present and grounded; to focus on what really matters in life, personally and professionally. By slowing down, and checking-in with ourselves and our surroundings, we develop a hightened awareness. We gain clarity that aids in making better decisions, as well as having more energy to tackle any challenge and seize the opportunities in front of us.We see that life is happening right now and this present moment is all we have. It is this moment that we must cherish.
- We see that there is more to life. Sometimes it takes a significant event to trigger a massive shift in our perspective. This Crisis teaches us that there is more to life than money, striving for success and amassing material possessions. With so many people dealing with loss and things stripped away, we see that what we are left with is what truly matters. Often, these are the intangibles: quality time with family, kindness and generosity seen among society, a deeper connection to our purpose, and an appreciation for life.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I believe a helpful way to offer support to a loved one who is feeling anxious is to have free-flowing conversation while being an active listener, without judgment. Sometimes people need an outlet to express their thoughts without necessarily wanting advice or solutions. Saying neutral and validating statements such as, “I can see how that would bother you” helps the other to feel comfortable. Sometimes simply spending time and talking with your loved one in a caring and understanding way helps them feel supported. Other ideas involve being active together. Some suggestions are to go for walks together, exercise, or find hobbies you both enjoy. The point is to connect in a way that allows both to be in the present moment and not worrying about what will happen in the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength,” by Marcus Aurelius. What I love about this quote is that it enourages us to stop giving our power away to our circumstances, other people and things external to us. We cannot control what happens to us but we can control what we think and how we feel about it. This is what it means to have inner strength.
This perspective has helped me overcome many adversities and hardships which felt as those they were imposed upon me. When I felt powerless and helpless to change my circumstances, I knew that I could, at the very least, change the way I viewed things. By changing the way I looked at things, I developed a resilient mindset.
How can our readers follow you online?
Facebook and Instagram @dignifieddivorcecoaching
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you for the opportunity. It has been a pleasure!