2016 was a rough year. Between celebrity breakups, celebrity deaths, and an emotionally charged presidential election, many of us were more than happy to kiss the year goodbye this past New Year’s Eve.
2016 was even more eventful for me. In the spring, my marriage hit the rocks; in summer, we separated, and in the fall, we divorced. When we separated, I moved from a 1,450-square-foot 1970s ranch-style house (plus basement!) in an affluent suburb to a 750-square-foot 1930s-era apartment in the city. Luxuries like a large backyard and a dishwasher are things of the past.
My kids changed school districts, which my third-grader claims was more difficult that adjusting to life in two houses. I went from being a “mostly stay-at-home mom” who went on field trips and volunteered at my church to a working single parent, squeezing a 30-hour-a-week job into my kids’ school day so that I can still be with them in early mornings and after school.
In the last several months, I’ve learned a thousand lessons about myself, my kids, and what kind of life and relationships I need to be happy and healthy. I’ve also discovered a few surprising things about the first weeks and months post-divorce that I’d like to share with you:
The Year of Disorganization
I first heard the phrase “year of disorganization” in the state-mandated parenting class I took while going through the divorce. The instructor was walking us through the stages of divorce and post-divorce — similar to the stages of grief. The Year of Disorganization is Year One.
This is the year when somehow all of the pajamas end up at your house but all of the clean underwear has collected in his. The year when a 3-day homework project is passed between houses, only to end up at the wrong one when the project is due. It’s a time to forgive yourself for lost permission slips, missing socks, showing up late to school, or forgetting to pick them up early on an early-release day.
The more the kids go back and forth between houses, the more opportunities there are for disorganization. We split our time with them roughly 50/50, which is great for them and for us, but it makes things like “keeping track of important paperwork and/or matched sets of gloves” much more challenging.
How do you avoid the Year of Disorganization? Well, perhaps if you’re more naturally organized than I am, you can. But at least a little chaos is perfectly normal during this stage. So the best “cure” I’ve found is simply to ride it out with enough patience and grace to cover myself and my ex-spouse. I’ve even explained it in these terms to the kids: Mom and Dad are adjusting, too, and it’s hard for us to work all of this stuff out. We’re going to make mistakes, and we’re going to apologize when we do. But we’ll all get through this and adjust to our new life if we work together.
How Your Friendships Change
Divorce is a traumatic major life event, like death, and people’s reactions vary– especially if you are the “petitioner,” like me, which is the person who initiated the divorce in the first place. While going through the decision-making process, I was surprised when some friends I thought would support me either judged me negatively or simply disappeared. And others who used to be more distant or whom I assumed would be less understanding stepped up and provided the emotional support I needed.
What I had to realize is that the negative reactions I experienced– from actively telling me what I was doing would ruin my life and my kids’ life– to the friends who suddenly became ghosts– weren’t really about me. Maybe they had experienced divorce in their family and were deeply traumatized. Maybe they watched other loved ones go through the pain and thought they were giving me “tough love.” Or perhaps they feared that divorce would be contagious, and my new status would affect their own marriages.
The friends who stepped up and helped were those who could listen objectively and calmly. They were able to sympathize with the difficult choices I was making and really listen to my concerns and fears. They weren’t afraid to be honest with their opinions, but they didn’t get angry or fearful. These friends have the emotional intelligence to support a friend who’s going through a painful situation without taking her problems personally. Not surprisingly, these are the friends I’ve stayed close to during this process.
How Much You Change
My ex-husband and I had been married for 16 years when we divorced. We met in our late teens, married in our early twenties, and separated in our late thirties. Our relationship was long enough to shape our habits, tastes, and lifestyles.
I’d never lived on my own before my separation. In college, I had roommates, and I married my ex right out of college. Suddenly I had my own space (though shared with my children half of the time) and my own schedule. Suddenly I didn’t have to consult anyone on what to eat for dinner or what time to go to bed. It was exciting; it was terrifying.
My habits changed quickly and drastically. I found myself watching less TV and going to bed earlier. I am normally a voracious reader, but for months I couldn’t finish a novel because I had no emotional energy for fictional characters– adjusting to my new life was too distracting. I eat out more and hang out at coffee shops, which I hardly did before. I stopped packing the kids’ lunches every morning because I now have to get myself ready for work while getting them ready for school.
Last, I started a new relationship, which I hadn’t done for 20 years. The dating world is just a wee bit different than it was in the days before text messages, emojis, and social media. A new relationship in a new era of my life has certainly changed me, too.
This is Going to Take a Long Time
Everyone– and all Google searches– will tell you that recovering from divorce is a grieving process. You move through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, though not necessarily in order. It’s often “two steps forward, one step back.” You may think you’re done with “anger” only to flare up again when a sudden memory catches you off-guard. You may think you’re nearly to “acceptance” only to find yourself smack back in “bargaining” as you re-negotiate the past. And “depression” is more than just sadness: it can be days when you can’t eat and nights when you can’t sleep, too.
I’m only several months into this process, and it can take years to reach equilibrium. Many times I’ve had to remind myself to be patient … with myself and my ex, too. We’re both grieving, and though we’re doing it separately, we need to respect each other’s feelings.
But it’s not all sleepless nights and teary realizations. In most ways, my life is better than it was before, when I was deeply unhappy and in denial. I’m a more focused parent because my kids are with me for a limited time each week– and I want to make the best of it. I enjoy my work and my little apartment. I’m going through the work of figuring out my identity apart from the roles of wife and mother.
It’s terrifying at times but it’s pretty exciting too.
Let’s connect on social media, too: