Now that my ex-husband and I have an official agreement and are sending our divorce papers in, I am reaching the "end" of the divorce marathon and wonder how I will truly feel upon that finish line. Interestingly, this is all happening right as the brand-new "divorce selfie" has made a splash on social media. I know without even asking that my ex would have no interest in taking a "divorce selfie," but I remain divided about the idea. Would documenting that moment remind me later on down the line of why I decided to divorce and how we have done it so amicably? Or would it simply be one brief glimpse of the many emotions divorce has brought to the table for me?
Don't get me wrong. The divorce selfie is nice. Seeing people divorce amicably is always refreshing. However, I don't think it's truly indicative of the whole divorce process. To me, that selfie is just a snapshot of a long or for some, short journey to divorce. The questions I found myself asking were: Who were these people at the beginning of the process? The middle? Now at the end? What truly defines someone after divorce — what truly defines a divorced mom once that judge signs the official papers — is how she uses adversity and a tough situation to her favor, to transform her into a stronger, happier, and better person and mother.
That sounds like an earful, doesn't it? I'm sure you're thinking I have high expectations and that may be so, but if a mom doesn't decide to make changes whether large or small after divorce, then the whole experience and all its life lessons were wasted. So divorcing moms and divorced moms, if you don't think you can manage to bust a smile with your official ex-husband for a divorce selfie, don't sweat it! Not everyone is going to be happy on the final divorce day. In fact, some people are sad, and others are just relieved it's finally over. Ignore the Internet sensations and perhaps questions from your friends on whether you'll be taking a snapshot on the big day or how you handled the big moment. Be concerned with who you are now and where you plan to go after divorce.
1. Recognize Your Role in the Marriage
I don't care if your ex was the biggest jerk on the planet. I don't care if you were the perfect wife. Recognize your role in the marriage. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a partner. This is more transformative than some silly selfie. Knowing how you contributed or didn't contribute to the end of your marriage will be crucial to moving on and finding love again.
Even if your ex was an abusive jerk, you entered and stayed (at least for a while) in this marriage. Why? What needs were met or not met by being with this person? You need to understand who you were in the marriage in order to understand how to be a better version of yourself for the next time.
2. Look at Your Own Self-ie
Some of us like taking selfies and others? Not so much. No matter what your stance is on selfies, take a look metaphorically or literally at your own "selfie." Do you like who you have become over the marriage? Over the divorce proceedings? Are you closer to or further away from being the mom and woman you want to be? Only you know the answer.
For me, once my ex and I separated, I knew I needed to put my career in gear, and if I didn't, not only would I personally regret it but I would flounder financially. This meant putting time into finding a better job for me after divorce. This meant taking the time to pursue my passion, which is writing. I knew if I didn't do it now, I never would.
Let's also not forget emotionally. In the year and a half that I have been separated, I have gone through a myriad of feelings. I needed to deal with the guilt, disappointment, anger, relief, and grief that filled my heart. If I look back to who I was then as opposed to who I am today, I am very different. In most ways, I am more optimistic about life after divorce and in a few ways, less so.
Looking at who you are today and comparing it to the mother and woman you were when you first separated from your partner will give you a better idea if your life is headed in the right direction after divorce. If the person you see is stronger, more independent, and more positive, you're winning. If the person you see is bitter and struggling, you've got to find ways to help yourself out of that rut. Divorce is really tough. Make no mistake about that. But somehow, you've got to rise above!
3. Dollars and Cents
Divorce can be a real sh*t show financially. In fact, for many divorced mothers and fathers, it takes a long time to recoup from the financial hit of divorce, so be patient and steadfast in your financial goals.
That said, how you have managed your household budget and finances (if you have one) since the divorce is important. Growing your income and becoming financially independent is a huge process for many divorced mothers, even ones who had stable careers beforehand.
Are you making smart financial choices since the divorce? Have you started paying off debts if you're able and if you have them? Have you spoken to a financial advisor and planned out and/or stuck to a budget?
I reached out to Savvy Ladies, a nonprofit organization that brings financial education to women, and spoke to a financial advisor on budgeting for life after divorce. It was a smart move, and I was able to see the weak spots in my own budget as well as what range of rent I would be able to afford upon losing the marital home. It made me realize that the financial picture was going to be bleak for a while after divorce.
Guess what? It's getting better.
My divorce "selfie" might be a sad one on the day we finalize our divorce, but that's just a snippet in time. The fact that I am building my career, growing my income, and maintaining (mostly) a budget for myself speaks volumes over one "snippet" in time.
Where do you fall? That's what you need to ask yourself.
4. Parental Transformation
How have you changed since becoming a coparent? How have you changed since possibly becoming a full-time single parent, depending on your situation? How has the stress or relief of divorce affected your parenting?
Over the past year and a half since separating, there have been times in which my stress levels rocketed with my new single-mom life, and I felt myself more apt to snap and be less patient with my child. Over time, though, I know my triggers in this postdivorce world and am able to manage well. We all have our moments, though. Is it great my ex and I don't fight around our daughter? Yes, but it's also been a process getting used to being on my own. At this point, I am so used to parenting her without him in the home that another person in my life would be a huge change.
5. Heart Transformation
This is the last and perhaps one of the most important. How have you guarded — or not guarded — your heart since divorce? Did you rush right out to meet someone in order to make the loneliness go away? Have you staunchly refused to give anyone a chance? Where are you in the grieving process? These questions and the answers to them mean so much more than a smiling photo of you and your ex as officially divorced.
For me, I tried to date right out of the gate only to realize it was a bad idea. More than a year later, I am finally dating, and you know what? I am glad I held off because it's hard. It's not easy dating with a child, and it's even harder when you're not 20 anymore. I realize that I am ready to get to know someone on a more serious level, but I still have to be cautious with my heart, and so should you.
Whether you are overjoyed or devastated at the thought of divorce, now is the time to make big changes when there is nothing more to lose and everything to gain. You deserve it!