Embarking on your new life after divorce involves doing things you’ve done many times before, but for the first time as a divorced person. Included are holidays, school functions, parenting and co-parenting, socializing as single person, managing a household by yourself, the list goes on. The reality is, that you are changed as a result of your marriage as well as your divorce. In many ways, everything you do will be a “first” because you’re doing it with the new, and sometimes unwelcome status of a divorced person. Although you have this new aspect to your identity, it is only part of your identity. It feels uncomfortable because it’s new and uncharted territory. Discomfort is inherent in growth and change. Expecting this discomfort and learning to tolerate it can help a great deal.
The discomfort can be mitigated if you can see the territory ahead. The first holidays, for example, will be different. I say embrace the change; develop new traditions and make it deliberately different. It’s helpful to temper this by keeping some aspects of the traditions that may be especially important. Having explicit conversations with your children about this may also help them to have some sense of control amidst all the change. You may find that the process of co-creating the holiday with your children is just as fun as the actual holiday. The first Christmas after my parents divorced we had a tree and presents, but then we went out for Chinese food and a movie. My siblings and I loved it, and I remember feeling great relief because we were not trying to pretend that everything was the same. The point here is to plan for the sense of everything being different, because, let’s face it, it is.
Attending social functions and school functions can be especially awkward. People often experience feeling exposed, and judged by others. Keep your own counsel, particularly about your own self-esteem. You know that you have made the best decisions possible under the circumstances. Others, especially superficial acquaintances in your life, will take your cue. Even if you have to fake it, show up with as much confidence as you can muster. For school functions, focus on your children. Remember to breathe deeply, you can do this without anyone knowing, and smile.
You will find yourself having to learn or re-learn tasks, whether it’s shopping for clothes with your teenage daughter, or managing your finances. Remember that you are facing many of them, on top of enormous emotional upheaval. Don’t expect yourself to learn all of them quickly. Give yourself some slack if you have had a stressful week at work or if you’re not sleeping well. Be kind to yourself. Don’t add to your already high stress level by having unrealistic expectations.
One of the many advantages of a collaborative divorce is that you and your former spouse will have opportunities to anticipate these first events with your Divorce Coach, and work out a collaborative plan so that it works for the entire family. You can customize arrangements that no judge or attorney could possibly think of. The fact that you have some say in developing these arrangements will ease your anxiety. Feeling vulnerable is a common experience I hear among divorcing couples. While some of this is inevitable as you embark on your “Year of Firsts”, maintaining control over your final agreement will make the process as well as the outcome better for everyone.
Sarah Couper, LCSW Psychotherapist/Divorce Coach
Member, Hudson Valley Collaborative Divorce and Dispute Resolution Association, Ltd. www.collabdivorce-ny.com