A blog by The Independent Single Mum
So, you're getting a divorce...
I feel a little like the Dr character in the Simpsons, like I’m about to hand you a leaflet entitled ‘So you’re getting a divorce…’ while I look at you solemnly. The thing is, if you’re anything like I was, you’ll have had quite enough of being the topic of conversation amongst your family and friends. I thought of it like this (in fact, it helped me leave to think of it like this): for them, this is just idle chit-chat for Tuesday morning. For me, it’s my life.
So first of all, I want to say ‘congratulations’. Congratulations? You may think I’ve lost the plot, but I mean it most sincerely. I haven’t managed to convince the greetings cards companies yet… but I think a lot of divorces are really cause for celebration. Yes, it would have been a beautiful thing if the marriage/ relationship lasted forever… but then again, if it wasn’t working, it really wasn’t going to be a beautiful thing. If we put the rose-tinted glasses down for a minute, you can consider this a good move. An excellent decision. Even if it wasn’t your decision, because you sure as hell shouldn’t be with someone who doesn’t value you enough to want to stay. So whoever made the decision, bravo. Let’s move on.
For me, 2017 was D day. The time came in the summer of that year, that I reached a kind of crisis point where there seemed to be no going back on my commitment to myself to really LIVE my life, unrestricted. I had reached the point that I needed true sovereignty in my life. I needed to take back control of what I did, where I went and who I was. Sharon Blackie, in her excellent book ‘If Women Rose Rooted’, says that this is what women really want. For me, that meant ‘asking for a divorce’. In truth, I declared a divorce was imminent more than asking. The pendulum had swung from one extreme to the other, nothing and no one was going to control me now.
It seems to me that there are two paths to take after separating from a long-term partner. One is to immediately start a new relationship with someone else, and the other is to seek to understand your part in what didn’t work, to engage in some self-enquiry and to grow as a person so that your next relationship is more aligned with what you truly desire. I suppose there is a third path, which is to do neither. As tempting as it is to declare total independence and wall off the heart. It’s brave and liberating work to open up to love again, but in my experience, it takes time and a commitment to raising your level of consciousness around how you turn up, your habitual ways of being and the kinds of relationship dynamics that have been present in your life.
It may be that, like me, you have kids in tow. Frankly, if you don’t- I’m not sure this is the blog for you. Here, I’ll be talking about cooperative coparenting (yes, even if he’s an arsehole), self-healing from painful emotional experiences and walking the path of taking personal responsibility for how you show up as a parent, and in your life more generally. If you don’t have kids- Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book for you called Eat, Pray, Love. Have fun in Bali!
Right, now they’re gone. We can get down to the real stuff. Raising kids primarily on your own is fucking exhausting. Though friends may liken it to their experience when their husband is offshore, or pops out for the afternoon… I’m calling bullshit. There is nothing quite like being the only adult in a house with one or more kids so that you can’t leave after they’re in bed (without incurring significant expense or a visit from the police). That's where the journey really began...
3 powerful mindset shifts I made to quit anxiety as a single mum
The first tip I’ll share is to begin to understand that our thoughts aren’t real. Maybe it’s a controversial one, but to illustrate it let’s do a simple thought experiment. Pick any in animate object around you right now. A book, a chair. Maybe your phone. Now, consider that no matter how hard you think about the object, your thought about it will NEVER be the thing itself. Thoughts are only ever an interpretation of the world around us. They operate like a feedback system, so even if you didn’t catch yourself having a negative thought, you’ll know you did, because you’ll feel rubbish! And that doesn’t *necessarily* mean everything is sh1t, but rather that you have been giving your attention to the negatives rather than the positives, or that you are perceiving things as purely negative rather than actively looking for the positives. It takes practice and awareness to retrain your brain to focus more on the positives, but every time you do, the neural connections strengthen and it becomes easier and easier until your brain gets wise and automates it for you!
We have lives that have outstripped our evolutionary development. What does that mean? It’s means that your body is reacting to threats to your physical or mental wellbeing as if they’re literally a threat to your life. You go into fight/ fright/ flight/ freeze/ submit, which are all controlled by an area of the brain called the amygdala. It keeps us safe from things like being run over by a bus, or an attack from a sabre tooth tiger, it’s not so useful when you’re attempting to parent your kids, or working out your budget for the month. There are simple and effective ways to hack this, many of which involve using your physiology to show your brain that there’s nothing to worry about. Breathing deep, extending your out-breath and dropping your tongue to the base of your mouth are just 3 ways of many more that can calm your body and mind, and allow for more rational (and pleasant!) responses.
This last tip is a counter intuitive one, and it builds on the idea of becoming self aware, so that rather than being totally absorbed in your own process, you get to witness and decide... is this serving me? If something comes up for you and you begin to feel tense, anxious or panicky, you can just observe the thought for a moment. Perhaps it’s something about your kids, about money or work, or your ex. It can be anything, it just needs to be making you feel uncomfortable. For this process, you take the thought to it’s worst possible conclusion. If it’s that you’re not sure you can make rent this month, notice what it is you’re allowing that to mean. Does it mean you’re useless? You’ve failed? You’ve let people down? Does it mean you’ll be homeless? Destitute?
When we notice the thoughts we are having, that are creating the feelings and a pretty rubbish experience, it’s useful to start to look at the meaning we’re making. Because remember, if it’s in the future, you cannot be 100% sure it will happen. So all the time spent worrying gets in the way of creative problem solving. There are more powerful and creative questions to be asking, no matter what the current situation, than ‘how could I have let this happen?’.
Take that negative thought to it’s worst possible conclusion, and then question the validity of it. Is it true? What else could you begin to believe instead, that would give you a chance to be happier, calmer and more positive?