Life after divorcing with children is never what anybody imagines it to be. In a perfect world, we would all get along and make our children top priority, maybe even celebrate events together as a different kind of family, and there would be a smooth transition right into co-parenting.
Yeah…that didn’t happen.
I think I was delusional; telling myself that we are both adults, we both love our children very much, we can rise above our emotions and do the right thing in the name of parenting.
That’s when the expectation hangover kicked my butt, as author Christine Hassler so perfectly coined. You know what they say…expectations lead to suffering. Those expectations came too fast, too soon, and they definitely led to suffering. It took me some time to realize that the family unit I once knew will never be what it originally was, and if I didn’t want to continue suffering I had to mourn its death.
The death of the family unit was very traumatic. The firsts after my divorce were the worst! The first holidays, the first birthdays, the first vacation, the first school event, the first family get-together. While every other family was celebrating with their children, I was torn to pieces. Parts of me felt incomplete. There was a sense of unfamiliarity that I never knew before. We had traditions. We celebrated holidays year after year with our families and friends. We went to school events together. We were a picture-perfect family.
When the dust settled and everything went quiet, I was left with…NOW, WHAT?!
I thought to myself, “So this is what people meant when they would say divorce was like death?” Actually, I think death would have been easier. There is closure in death. Divorce didn’t give me closure. It needed constant navigation. It was as if I had to navigate through a path of landmines, not knowing when I would be triggered by the next explosion of emotional trauma. What came up when I was left to pick up the pieces was much more than I anticipated.
What came to the surface was my baggage of not-enoughness; the baggage of me not being a good enough mother, not being a good enough daughter, not being a good enough wife, not being a good enough friend.
It’s easy to be stuck in blame mode after a divorce. Nobody wants to point the finger inward, but the truth is relationships are 100%/100%, and it was time to own up to how I got here. It wasn’t just the death of the family unit I was mourning, but the death of blame, shame, and guilt. Until I accepted responsibility I couldn’t put the pieces back together to create a new family unit. A stronger more powerful one; one that is built on authenticity, built with me standing in my full power and not in victimhood, built in self-love.
I got rid of the disempowering beliefs– “Poor me, I’m a divorcee now. I’m a terrible mother who doesn’t get to have her kids for every holiday. What will people think of me when I don’t show up with my kids?” This sort of thinking paralyzed my ability to grow and connect with my children in a different way, or connect to anyone for that matter. I had to ask, “Is it true that I am a terrible mother if I can’t be with my kids for Christmas every year? Is it true that my divorce has shamed me and my family?” I didn’t see how my divorce made me a terrible person. I realized that it was guilt and shame, two very useless emotions, that were keeping me in the death of the family unit mentality.
Once I realized that I needed to put the labels down, along with guilt and shame, I thought about ways I could create new traditions with my family. Something that we can look forward to and call our own. The disempowering beliefs only created a wedge between my children and me. We didn’t have to be together for every event in order to be in each other’s lives. With curiosity and patience, I was able to cultivate something more beautiful, with a greater sense of appreciation than I ever had before.
It was then time to get back to me, the real me. The woman that was inspired, had a passion for life and helping people, who had put all that aside for the sake of being everything for everyone else. This was the first step in my healing process. The reason I suffered so much after my divorce was that I lost sight of myself in my marriage, and when my marriage failed I didn’t know who I was anymore without my husband. My relationship isn’t what made me whole, I am whole as I am, standing in the truth of my being.
Healing is possible, and you can come out the other side with a strength you never knew existed. It requires self-compassion and self-love, and time to allow emotions to settle, and it starts and ends with YOU.