There are few things in life that can vigorously shake a person’s whole world, leaving them flailing about like a fish out of water. Can you picture what that looks like? It’s sad to witness: this once flourishing animal dancing in the water, confident in who it is and what it’s made for, until the atmosphere that gave it this confidence is taken away.
Experiencing divorce leaves us feeling like that fish. Flailing about as the anguish of knowing familial death is certain and you have no idea if or when someone will put you back in the water. Picking and choosing which emotion you allow to be present and which emotion to suppress with each physical, verbal, and child-related transaction.
Divorce Brings Guilt, Shame, and Anger
The chief emotions during the first few years after my divorce were guilt, shame, and anger. (I liked anger the most.) I felt intense, gut-wrenching guilt over the reality that my three children now had only one parent regularly available to them. One parent to care for them during the day and put them to bed at night. The guilt of knowing I failed them. I teased them with a life that included two happy parents and one beautiful home but ultimately trapped them in a two-bedroom apartment 3,000 miles away from all they knew and loved. They had no idea that I moved them away to keep them safe.
Shame is such a nasty little emotion. It’s like a vulture that preys on you after you’ve fallen from the battle, and it continues to pick at your wounds. In my perceived failed state, this vulture of shame was felt the most when I’d think of what other people were saying about me. What were they thinking about me when I walked into church with three small kids in tow? Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough to save my marriage. Maybe there was a sign early on but I was too self-absorbed to notice until it was too late. Oh, how those aimless thoughts kept me up at night.
The chief emotions during the first few years after my divorce were guilt, shame, and anger.
The anger I felt toward my children’s father became a giant comforter to wrap the guilt and shame in. It gave me the justification I needed to continue, for years, wallowing in these toxic emotions. I would soothe my nerves with the thought that “this is all his fault!” I wanted zero association with him and would always refer to him as “my children’s father” instead of “my ex-husband.” In my anger-filled mind, calling him my ex-husband somehow gave him power and he deserved none. Anger is a werewolf, and it was doing a great job of transforming me into someone I didn’t recognize.
Divorce Affects Your Parenting
During those bitter years, I was not able to parent my children adequately. I could tell they saw my pain and were trying to comfort me instead of how it should have been: me comforting them. How backward is that? Even though I could see what was happening to my children, the emotions of guilt, shame, and anger were easier for me to settle into than it was for me to muster up the energy required to lovingly attend to them.
But then, one day, after dropping my son off to kindergarten late for the umpteenth time, I knew I was getting out of hand. I knew I had to snap out of it. I recognized that life was not just about me. I could no longer afford to hold on to guilt, shame, or anger if I wanted to actually live and parent my children. Once I turned the focus off of me and put it where it belonged, I was able to start again.
You Can Move On and Be Healthy
It all began with forgiveness.
Such a trite, overused word but a powerful weapon when fully used; I chose to forgive. First, my ex-husband. Then, myself. All the events which led to the ultimate end of that relationship, I had to surrender to the cross and leave it there. Within my heart, I recognized that holding on to those dangerous emotions were hurting my present and poisoning my children’s future.
If this is something you’re struggling with, take my experience as a loving guide. Guilt, shame, and anger are overpowering emotions that will direct your parenting in a manner you’ll later regret. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of establishing a guilt-free atmosphere in your home. You will not continue to apologize for starting a new life without your former husband or boyfriend. If you have not already done so, establish this new foundation of definitive assurance with your children, “This is our life, now let’s make the very best of it.”
Once I turned the focus off of me and put it where it belonged, I was able to start again.
Here are a few tips that may help you:
1. Forgive your ex for his past actions and any current negative behavior. Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Let me tell you, I had to rehearse and live out this quote. But it is true, and you will literally feel the difference within you once you begin to be the light. (You don’t need to verbally tell your ex you forgive them for x-y-z, just do it internally or aloud when you’re alone.)
2. Forgive any third party who played a role in the divorce or breakup. Again, easier said than done but necessary for you to heal! I wouldn’t suggest becoming friends with this person, but to emotionally and spiritually release them from the grip of your anger and unforgiveness.
3. Recognize that your children desperately need you to be your best self. Put yourself in their shoes and think of how you would need your mom to love on you during a difficult time. This was the driving force behind me completely changing our lives for the better.
4. Forgive yourself for any and all actions by you which led to the divorce or breakup. This was the most difficult part and took the longest time. It was easier for me to forgive my ex-husband and others because I could rationalize their good or bad intentions but for me, I had to face the truth and as we know, the truth is hard to swallow at times.
5. Acknowledge that your children are gifts from God and asking Him for help is your greatest asset. If you’re a woman of faith, then by all means pray! Step into your faith, live it out, believe every word of it, and watch God partner with you to take care of His children.
Now, be the woman who overcame divorce! The fish who found a new pond and begin swimming again! Let’s be the intentional parents that our children need in order to become thriving teens, young adults, and future leaders!
Such a trite, overused word but a powerful weapon when fully used; I chose to forgive. First, my ex-husband. Then, myself.
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You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: If You Can’t Avoid Divorce, Can You Do It Honorably? With Attorney Leesha Newkirk Crouch – 059!